Culture

Somewhere, Under the Rainbow

Drag queens in Los Angeles, October 2014. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty)
Never mind the atomic ayatollahs, it’s a trans/drag girl fight!

Somewhere in Iran, a team of very studious, serious, and likely bespectacled men is working, diligently and tirelessly, to build a nuclear weapon. Perhaps it will be detonated in Jerusalem. Perhaps it will be detonated in New York City, and perhaps these men describe their work, with grim humor, as “the Manhattan project.”

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, the West is not concerned with men strapping on their armor, but about whether some men who strap on wigs and brassieres are offensive to other men who strap on wigs and brassieres. Our Kat Timpf reports that Glasgow’s biggest gay-pride festival banned and then unbanned performances by some drag queens (but only some! A bit more on that in a bit) from its annual march.

Drag queens have been a part of gay life in the Western world for many years, from New York’s Halloween parade to London cabaret acts. Under pressure from transgender activists, the Glasgow festival banned so-called cisnormative drag queens — drag queens who are, underneath the makeup, men who enjoy dressing up as women rather than men who believe themselves to be women, i.e., good old-fashioned weirdos without the delusional psychotherapeutic window-dressing — on the basis that their costumes lampoon femininity, which offends transgendered women, i.e., men who believe themselves to be women. That a theatrical group of almost exclusively gay men should have non-nonconformist attitudes toward femininity is not entirely surprising; what is almost surprising — but not quite —  is that we are expected to take seriously the proposition that we must suppress this affront to the feminine identity because it offends women who have penises and testicles.

The organizers of the “LGBTQIA+” (what, no asterisk? Oh, the bigotry!) festival explained:

The decision was taken by transgender individuals who were uncomfortable with having drag performances at the event. It was felt that it would make some of those who were transgender or questioning their gender uncomfortable. It was felt by the group within the Trans/Non Binary Caucus that some drag performance, particularly cis drag, hinges on the social view of gender and making it into a joke, however transgender individuals do not feel as though their gender identity is a joke.

Sexuality has been many things over the course of human history: an “orientation,” a taste, an inclination, an indulgence — only in the dreary, ugly, neo-puritanical days of the early 21st century is it a “caucus.” I’ve always been of the opinion that what a man likes to do with his own caucus is pretty much his own business, assuming consent and the absence of barnyard animals or construction equipment, but that is far too happy-go-lucky an attitude for these times.

I don’t care if you skip down Broadway with a walrus tusk tucked into your hat band, but don’t expect me to pretend that you’re a unicorn.

The scolds in Glasgow add: “We will be reinforcing our safer spaces policy at the event and asking that no one assume anyone else[’s] gender and remember to always ask pronouns.” “Asking pronouns” is part of our new, elaborate Victorian-revivalist code of etiquette: If you see a six-foot-four fellow with a long beard and a size 48 jacket, make sure to ask whether he (but don’t say “he!” for goodness’ sake!) prefers to be called “he,” “she,” “they,” “illa,” “Zoltan,” “the mighty Quinn,” or whatever.

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Organized homosexuality grows ever more authoritarian: It has been seriously suggested by some transgender activists that I should be arrested — not criticized, not shunned, but locked in a cage — because I decline to describe Bradley Manning, Laverne Cox, et al. as women, because I don’t “ask pronouns” and then play along, because I decline to participate in the delusion that these men are women. My own attitude toward these things has always been live-and-let-live: I don’t care if you skip down Broadway with a walrus tusk tucked into your hat band, but don’t expect me to pretend that you’re a unicorn. Drag queens have always understood that what they do is a genre of theater, but when all the world’s your stage, as it is for the purportedly transgendered, then live-and-let-live won’t do.

These teapot totalitarians always end up eating one another, and that’s amusing to watch. Rugby-loving gay men who live on egg whites and spend four hours a day at the gym and have no time for the flabby and the swishy are criticized for reinforcing narrow and stereotypical approaches to masculinity; well-meaning people who affirm that Bruce Jenner makes a fetching Caitlyn face similar criticism; feminists who demand more funding for research into breast cancer and ovarian cancer are vulnerable to charges that their priorities marginalize women who do not have breasts and who have testes instead of ovaries; drag queens are held to be offensive because they’re in it for kicks. The old bacchanalian attitude of the sexual demimonde had its shortcomings, to be sure, but at least you didn’t have some third-rate junior-class president barking orders at you: “Ask pronouns! Enforce safer spaces!”

#related#The Glaswegians reversed themselves, incidentally, after protests from the drag queens. The emerging sexual hierarchy — the endless question of who’s on top, socially speaking — still is being contested.

Somewhere in Iran, a very studious, serious, and likely bespectacled man takes a break from his work to peruse the news, nonplussed by the faraway social combat between a group of men pretending to be women for an evening and a group of men pretending to be women full-time.

And then he gets back to work.

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