Gender is a mimic, an imitation of an imitation which no essential origin. We all walk, talk and act in ways which consolidate an impression of being masculine or feminine fuelled by representations within visual media, society and culture. However, hegemonic “norms” cease to exist. The normative ideas that men should be masculine, large, muscular, sport trousers and facial hair whilst women should be feminine, petite, rounded and wear dresses with heels whilst both possessing a mutual heterosexual desire toward one another is an “illusion”.
The socially and culturally accepted formula that sex equals gender equals sexuality is flawed. None of these states can sufficiently reflect one another. And whilst fashion serves to reproduce gender it cannot sufficiently reflect each and every part of a person’s identity. Think of the appearance of a New York drag queen or a female body builder. Their genders certainly break away from the normative aesthetics associated with their biological genitalia right? And so I propose as did Butler, that we are all drag artists and that gender is free-floating. Thus, the appearance of drag performers, transsexuals and transgendered individuals really needn’t be categorized as other or “outside the box”.
Cross-dressing in relation to fashion and gender is an interesting phenomenon to examine, especially when considering the “performative” nature of gender identity. Through my images I want to challenge or at least highlight the very conventions, items and styles of which ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ operate. And cross dressing exposes the very arbitrary nature of these conventions. As an outcome I hope to photograph not only transgendered or gender-bending individuals but also those who cross dress as well as real life drag artist. I feel photographing cross dressers and those who can confortable pass as the opposite sex whilst their biological sex and sexuality are safely left intact will be deeply intriguing. It will also reinforce further that the socially accepted link between sex, gender and sexuality in reality don’t link at all.
Marjorie Garber in Vested Interests proposes that transvestism offers a critique of binary sex and gender distinctions, “…because it denaturalizes, destabilizes, and defamiliarizes sex and gender signs” (p.147). Drag queens accentuate all stereotypical “normal” and “ideal” femininities whilst drag kings accentuate all stereotypical masculinities but both maintain, although hidden, their biological sex. The deconstructive nature of transvestitism/drag is what makes it interesting. We are faced with something which is aggressively reflecting the “norms” and “ideals” that engulf our lives day to day but drag offers a quest of discovery, “Will his penis slip?” which is an exciting and challenging game. Thus, most drag artists are in the entertainment industry, elevated to objects of enjoyment, because their appearances are deemed exciting and different.
If everyone is conforming to the idea of an “ideal” there should be a big issue with the appearance of drag queens, kings or transvestites. We all possess performative genders and styles, we are all conforming and expressing stereotypes, so the act of drag is not unique at all: we are all drag artists. Wigs, false breasts, cosmetics surgeries, socks down men boxers, protein supplements, chicken fillets, fake eye lashes, hair dye, make-up, stockings and so on are used by “normal” males and females, so the presence of them on a drag artist really shouldn’t be a big deal. Our “normal” genders are as constructed as transvestites and even transsexuals. In fact even those mainstream celebrity idols are rampant cross-dressers and drag artists and have been throughout history.
Upon completing this brief analysis I can’t help but to agree with both Butler and Garber that cross-dressers and drag performers are the perfect candidates for attesting to the “performative” and constructed nature of gender. Therefore, I’ve decided to find and photograph individuals that not only blur gender but are actually drag performers and cross-dressers. It will add context to the overall project as well as authenticity. And here’s a little break down of the identities my project will be exploring.
Transvestite: Individuals who find pleasure often sexual in dressing in clothing belonging to the opposite sex.
Cross Dresser: Individuals who dress and act in the opposite gender.
Drag Artist: Individuals who perform as the opposite sex as a means of entertainment or profession.
Gender Fluid: Individuals that prefer to adopt a dual identity as opposed to just male or female.
Transgender: Individuals who feel a lack of fit between their own internal gender and the gender roles made by their society.
Transsexual: Individuals who believe their assigned sex at birth is wrong and their correct sex is one that aligns with their internal feelings. Some may go as far to have sex confirmation surgery.
Butler, J (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge.
Garber, M (1991) Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. London: Routledge.