Several of my closest friends have told me that my gender expression leaps over high femme to a category described as a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body. I’m the glitter-doused, high-haired, no-false-eyelash-left-behind kind of lady. I dress like a super-size showgirl, and not just after the sun goes down.
I thought this characterization was an anomaly — an inside joke perpetrated by those few companions. It wasn’t until I read Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation that I realized there are at least two other people in this world who have been categorized similarly.
In the collection of essays, cartoons and stories edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman, the first passage that really piqued my interest was an interview with Adrian Dalton, a drag queen born in a female body.
I know what you are thinking: “What is this queer world coming to? What’s next? A self-identified genderqueer man who performs as a drag king who cross-dresses as a woman, goes by feminine gender pronouns and moonlights as a furry?”
First, I’m sure there is already someone out there who falls into that category. Second, as inconceivable as it may sound, these stories are not only interesting, they make quite a bit of sense.
“I became more aware on a conscious level that I felt like a gay man,” Dalton wrote. “I wasn’t actually ready to come out and tell people [I was transgender], so my compromise was femme drag. I became even more over-the-top — wearing wigs, massive false eyelashes, tons of make-up and vertiginous heels in the hope that I would pass as a drag queen.”
After devouring Dalton’s recount of how he came to drag, I immediately skipped to “Glitter, Glitter On The Wall, Who’s The Queerest Of Them All?” I whole-heartedly saw this as an opportunity to be irritated by someone competing for the gold in the oppression olympics; however, I was pleasantly relieved when I read Esmé Rodríquez’s account of life as a drag queen that was assigned female at birth.
“Some people wonder how it is that I can be born a drag queen, having been born without a penis,” Rodríquez wrote. “I explain that being a drag queen is not always definable as ‘living as a gay man who wear a dress on stage.’ We, as queens, present, examine, question, incarnate and reinvent the ideas of femininities and masculinities.”
Regardless of their sexes, gender identities, gender expressions or what they were assigned at birth, Dalton, Rodríquez and all of the contributors to Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation lead me blindfolded down a familiar path, but we still somehow ended up in a place I had never been before.
Of course, I was expecting the latest rendition of Gender Outlaws to entertain me and possibly even teach me a thing or two, but this collection circumvents the traditional transgender rhetoric, celebrates a spectrum of identities and completely blows the lid off the gender binary without making cisgender people feel bad. And that is a rare accomplishment.