Drag through the Mud: Classism, Radical Feminism, and Transgressive Expression

Feminism isn’t in danger, but the efficacy of radical feminist ideas is. While mainstream rhetoric has begun to adopt feminist concepts with the speed of a glacial melt, there is a dilemma present in how long ­respected feminist ideas (born in academia) are being interpreted by the masses. Take for instance, the case of Advocate writer Parker Marie Molloy: she has been labeled a hate­monger by half of her peers and a representative voice by others. Molloy’s stances are well ­known in the blogosphere; she is noted for her negative cognitive attitudes regarding trans sex work and drag outsider art. She hates RuPaul, doesn’t like “drag queen” trans representatives like transgender model and reality TV alum Carmen Carrera, and is probably elated at the decision of Free Pride Glasgow to ban drag performances from this year’s celebration. Ms. Molloy is an educated trans woman (she attended Columbia College Chicago where tuition is currently in the range of $22,000 a year), she is successful, and represents a lot of trans women just like herself­­ — she is their voice. However, Parker Marie Molloy (along with those who treat her ideas as dogma) is not a problem solver and blatantly ignores the language of intersectionality, and this is the issue with radical feminist efficacy. None of the voices representing well­ educated, moneyed, and upwardly mobile feminists care to solve the dilemmas of those in lower classes than themselves.
 

The issue with regard to radical academic feminism’s origin is that the entire mode of thinking is privileged.
 

Feminist rhetoric is both beautiful and academic in nature, and therein lies the issue: while its beauty entices the socially conscious mind, its academic roots act as a barrier to its adoption by the layman. It’s not that the arguments are too complex for the layman to understand, as many academic feminists examine everyday experiences. They observe and describe their effects on those pockets of society who are simply not as fortunate as the straight, white, cisgendered male. The issue with regard to radical academic feminism’s origin is that the entire mode of thinking is privileged. Academic theory is not readily accessible knowledge to laymen, particularly those who will never gain access to the ivory tower. Even bridge-­building trans role models Laverne Cox and Janet Mock attended college. Its not unreasonable to assume they were exposed to the benefits of critical thinking and synthesizing academic theory. Perhaps that is why the current movement seeks to disseminate this knowledge to the masses—­­to “raise consciousness,” if you will. However, the disconnect between these consciousness-­raising efforts and their positive effects on the layman is almost never examined in radical feminism. How do you explain academic rhetoric to someone who is unaware of ideas regarding sex and gender, that conflict with what they observe in their rent-­controlled neighborhood. How do you explain academic ideas to people who have no interest in intellectual growth because their position in the hierarchy of needs is the position of striving to survive? Has the efficacy of consciousness-­raising efforts with regards to people worlds away from the Parker Marie Molloys of the world ever been empirically evaluated without confirmation bias?
 

Combine the shortcomings of feminism with the visceral, hyperbolic tendencies of current radical ideas propagated by people like Molloy and you get blanket bans, the erasing of transgressive gender expression, and an odd desire for everyone who is trans to be “normal.”
 

There are suggestions in research that the adoption of feminist ideas by women is influenced by socioeconomic status. Sociologist Randa Nasser published a 2010 survey study in the peer­reviewed journal Feminist Formations which examined “the nature, patterns, and determinants of feminist attitudes and praxis among Palestinian women who are politically active in national and/or women's movements.” The study found that while the majority of politically active Palestinian women believed in gender equality, the willingness to accept feminist ideas outside of the work environment still “necessitates higher socioeconomic positioning.” Of course, cultural factors must be accounted for. However, this mirrors American attitudes regarding feminism. Those in lower socioeconomic positions do not tend to hold feminist ideas outside of the work environment (where they feel they should be fairly compensated), and are often excluded from the discussion of feminism by their more privileged peers. As a result, academic Black Feminism exists to marry the dilemmas of sexism, class, and race by focusing on those intersectionalities. Combine the shortcomings of feminism with the visceral, hyperbolic tendencies of current radical ideas propagated by people like Molloy and you get blanket bans, the erasing of transgressive gender expression, and an odd desire for everyone who is trans to be “normal.”

Superficially, it appears that some radical feminists look down upon those who are different from them. In particular, those who are flamboyantly expressive, those who subscribe to rhetoric which is perceived as not good for them, those who simply don’t have the resources to pursue higher educational opportunities, and people of color. These are not arbitrarily chosen categories, as these categories describe those who thrive in the worlds of drag art, underground ballroom, and sex work. Even though these people have been significant progenitors of popular culture and progressive thinking, they have not been in the position of some feminist leaders to take credit for their ideas and contribution to the movement towards acceptance. Free Pride Glasgow* (a secondary pride created by radical feminists) banned drag performances and a social media firestorm erupted. The motion was meant to protect transgender attendees from feeling rejected and mocked. Eventually, an exception was made for trans performers. However, is it improbable (though in this case, inappropriate) to think that perhaps drag and gender expression exist side-­by-­side on a spectrum of distinct and autonomic identity? Personally, I am a trans woman who found acceptance of my own gender identity through the outsider art of drag. Although it’s an anecdotal claim, I do not believe that I would have achieved the courage to transition had I never performed in drag. Further, drag expression has acted as the social binding of communities marginalized by the oppressive cultural tendencies of their heterosexual peers. For instance, the ballroom scenes of New York and other large urban centers provide community for participants who were most likely also victims of their respective culture’s attitudes regarding nonconformity. What do they do at those balls? Well, there are dance battles, runway walks, and perhaps­­—all across the board­­—there is drag. These people are too busy hustling and probably would never have time to even consider attending Columbia College Chicago, like the sage representatives of their communities once did. Now, are some drag queens gratuitously offensive? Yes. Are all drag queens agents of gender bias and discrimination? Certainly not.
 

Although it’s an anecdotal claim, I do not believe that I would have achieved the courage to transition had I never performed in drag.
 

Many radical feminists believe that the “joke” of drag is to simply mock women. A minstrel show meant to degrade women for eight hours (the typical length of a ball) while drunk onlookers throw money and cheer. This functional attitude couldn’t be further from the truth. Drag exists as a means of transgressive expression. Even while reality TV exposes the masses to drag, the larger portion of society still does not understand it. Drag queens are still subject to violence while out and about—­­and though the risk may be temporary, it is still risk. To risk one’s well­-being for the sake of expressing gender nonconforming ideas and attitudes, does not a misogynist make.

Choosing to ignore intersectionalities in favor of a selfishly realized “ideal world” is the hallmark of a feminist who has lost their way.

The application of a blanket ban on drag seems like an act of compassion while it’s more a product of the dilemma I mentioned earlier: the total lack of problem solvers in the new radical feminist movement. Currently, no individual thinker, writer, representative, or advocate is in a position to say that they have seen the big picture of progress and want to help bridge the many gaps that lie within the movement and change the minds of those outside it. Banning ideas, expression, and rhetoric does little to yield a brood of motivated, socially aware participants. Further, doing so will leave some people—­­the drag queens, the ballroom kids, the trans sex workers­­—wondering why, after becoming infatuated with the concept of feminine autonomy, they still can’t find a place to call home.

*After this article was published, Free Pride Glasgow lifted the ban on Drag performers.

Cayenne Rouge (Zaida J.) is currently a student at GSU, drag performer, and self-described transgender loud mouth.

Special thanks to Chris Kaluzienski (WUSSY MAG) and Catherine Rush (not for human consumption) for their editing contributions.