Sasha

Why I Love (and Hate) Drag Culture

drag

Photograph by Leland Bobbé

We’ve all heard about them. Boldly going where few have gone before; glitzy, fabulous, eccentric, experimental and sometimes tacky, these over-the-top stage acts boast strong, notorious personalities.  I’m talking, of course, about drag performers.

Consisting of a diverse community of singers, dancers, models and actors, the drag world offers a unique opportunity for people to express themselves creatively as an entirely different gender. Through simultaneous exaggeration and parody of reality, those who perform drag openly mock expectations of gender through purposefully distorting it. For many the drag experience is liberating. The results, while at times problematic, are often fabulous. Where I often find myself shaking my head is in the portrayals themselves.

First off, there is a disproportional amount of men in the business of drag. It’s not even so much the male domination of the field that bothers me, it’s that cisgender men have no idea what being a female-bodied person is like, and the result is often hyper-feminized, over-sexualized, unrealistic and borderline offensive portrayals of femininity. Admittedly, big hair, make-up and heels are a part of many women’s beauty regimen. However, the beauty standard set by drag queens in their definition of “womanhood” is nearly unattainable by most of society – drag queens included. Those who do not conform to the impossible beauty standard set by queens, by choice or otherwise, are often stigmatized and shunned from the community. This hierarchy of queens who pass as “female” and those who don’t also results in some problematic language usage that borders on flat-out transphobia.

It really doesn’t help that the dominant culture of drag appears to be a celebration of gay men successfully ‘passing’ as straight women. Drag queens who successfully measure up as “women” for a living can still take the wigs and dresses off to resume their place of privilege within the patriarchy, and in turn, do not live under constant criticism of whether or not they are “woman enough”. They do not want to live their whole lives within this space, and many just seek to exploit this particular status of oppression for profit. Branding those who don’t measure up in appearances as “she-males” reflects a communal intolerance of trans people, and continuing to use terms like “tranny” or “ladyboy” in spite of the transgender community expressing how offensive these terms are is downright malicious and intentional. Yet while Ru Paul may apologize for using these terms on national television, he is still a cisgender man who has no idea what it’s like to be transgender. Furthermore, defining womanhood solely in terms of sexuality and physical attractiveness only reinforces the power held by the male gaze within society. This is clear to see as queens reconstruct femininity in the lives of everyday women through Ru Paul’s “Drag U” process on national television.

Maybe that’s why it doesn’t take long to see that there are far more drag queens than drag kings in the dance halls, on stages and featured in popular media. While Ru Paul and his collection of reality TV shows have enabled many queens to become household names and role models, the distinct lack of kings that are featured in the drag spotlight seems to be the one topic that remains taboo within drag culture. In fact, on the few occasions where male drag is presented in mainstreamed venues, it is often belittled and critiqued as “inauthentic” or less than other performances by default.

Perhaps I shouldn’t find any of this surprising; after all, we still live in a highly patriarchal culture. Allowing a handful of men to embrace, reconstruct and shape notions of being a “woman” does very little to challenge the power held by masculinity within society. Any shifts in privilege are temporary, and participants in this shift typically do not address it. However, allowing females the opportunity to do the same for being a “man” threatens the gender hierarchy too much. It challenges the definition of who gets to hold power that is traditionally masculine, and that’s why it’s so hard to find. The transgender experience only challenges this hierarchy further by allowing for greater fluidity between genders than drag condones.

In short, I love drag because it is based in illusion.
But perhaps it’s time to admit that the greatest illusion in its performance is the illusion of acceptance.

 

Written by Sasha Bassett, MOSAIC Diversity Advocate Intern

 

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Climate Change is a Human Rights Struggle

Photo courtesy of epa.gov

Photo courtesy of: epa.gov

Recently I stumbled upon this post on Buzzfeed: 11 Foods Climate Change Could Ruin Forever. Then I came across this one: 7 Stupid Things People Say About Climate Change That Aren’t At All True.  It got me thinking about how serious people take (or fail to take) global climate change as an issue. There is no scientific debate about the existence of climate change at this point; in fact, it is painfully obvious that humans are responsible for it. New information on global climate change emerges every day, yet the progress we are making to combat it appears almost invisible. With such a daunting task to solve, it’s reasonable to hesitate in taking the problem on. It’s hard to see how a single person can contribute to solving the problem when so many of us don’t really understand what’s happening.

So in short, here’s the issue:

In our region, climate change means increasing temperatures that will cause frequent, severe droughts that will likely worsen existing competition for water resources as well as raise chances for wildfire. This will cause unpredictable changes in species’ geographic ranges likely causing invasive species and pests to threaten native forests and ecosystems. (epa.gov) Additionally, warming temperatures will likely make it more difficult for our rapidly growing cities to meet air quality standards. For example, more than 90% of California’s population lives in areas that violate state air quality standards for ground-level ozone or small particles, with air pollutants causing an estimated 8,800 deaths and over $1 billion in health care costs every year (epa.gov).

This doesn’t even begin to describe the total impact of climate change on the rest of the United States, let alone the rest of the world. One thing is pretty certain though, temperatures will continue to become more and more extreme, storms will get stronger and more destructive, and weather patterns will become generally less predictable worldwide.

While some continue to dispute the existence of climate change, the rise in extreme weather events happening around the world (and the consequent lack of resources and funding to perform repairs) make it hard to ignore climate change for long. It’s a well-known fact that New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina; the storm that claimed over 1500 lives and caused approximately $81 billion in property damage in 2005. Similarly, Hurricane Sandy was responsible for over $50 billion in damages throughout the United States and Caribbean as well as over 250 deaths in 2012. The Philippines are still reeling from Typhoon Haiyan with early estimates of the economic cost already around $15 billion. This does not even start to describe the reality facing roughly 7 million people who have been made homeless, nor the fact that over 2,000 people have died as a direct result of that storm alone.

Let’s also not forget that none of the statistics for any of these storms include the perspective of indigenous groups, which are often impacted the most. These groups not only face costly damages but complete land loss and in some cases cultural extinction.

Who do you suppose usually ends up paying for these restitutions? In the United States, it’s taxpayers. That’s right – YOU help pay for the damage caused by global climate change. However, prevention projects seem equally expensive. The proposed levee project to protect New York City from climate change is already estimated to cost $20 billion, and by the time construction begins it will likely need to be expanded or modified (which will only add to the cost paid by taxpayers).

For these reasons, and many more, climate change poses a huge threat to humanity’s safety, infrastructure, agriculture, and recreational activities.

Considering all of this, it’s easy to see how overwhelming the issue of climate change can be, but that doesn’t mean that we are powerless to stop it. There are several legal actions we could take, such as placing caps of emissions and strict penalties on polluters or encouraging the EPA to regulate the industry more closely. You can support social movements in the fight against climate change. The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Idle No More are but a few of the organizations on the ground trying to make a difference.

There are also LOTS of small steps we can take to lower our carbon footprint and help slow climate change in our daily lives. For your convenience, we’ve gathered a short list of easy things you can do today to start making an impact (taken from www.nature.org):

1. Reduce Your Usage: 

  • Walk or bike short trips instead of driving a car. Cars and trucks run on fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In the United States, this produces over 20 percent of total carbon emissions.
  • If you must drive, make sure your tires have the right amount of air. It will get better gas mileage when the tires are fully inflated, so it will burn less gas and emit less carbon.
  • Turn down the heat. Heating and air conditioning draw more than half of the energy that a home uses in the United States, so turn down the heat or air conditioning when you leave the house or go to bed. You can easily install a programmable thermostat that can help save money and carbon.

2. Go “Green”

  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. These energy-efficient bulbs help fight climate change because they reduce the amount of fossil fuels that utilities burn.
  • Recycle and use recycled products. Products made from recycled paper, glass, metal and plastic reduce carbon emissions because they use less energy to manufacture than products made from completely new materials. Recycling paper also saves trees and lets them continue to reduce climate change naturally as they remain in the forest, where they remove carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Use renewable energy.  A growing number of utilities generate electricity from renewable energy sources with solar panels, windmills and other technologies. If your utility offers renewable energy, invest in it.

3. Be Proactive:

  • Plant native trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and use it as their energy source, producing oxygen for us to breathe. A tree that shades a house can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.
  • Eat local.  The foods you buy may be shipped in from the other parts of the world, burning fossil fuels the entire trip. Shop at local farmers markets and you will find fresh, healthy food that will help save our climate.

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the greatest problems that our kind will face; it is the product of years of inattention, ignorance and over-exploitation of our resources. However that does not mean we can’t make an impact, nor does that mean we’re doomed as some could claim. We are already paying the price of climate change, whether we are aware of it, but by making small changes and acting mindfully I firmly believe we can begin trends that will turn this situation around. All we need to do is start.

Written by Sasha Bassett, MOSAIC Diversity Advocate Intern