Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show
Dis Charge shares some thoughts on Drag Linguistics.
With the recent and stratospheric rise of drag culture, the mainstream as well as gay and alternative strands of society, have bore witness to an astonishing increase in the popularity of terminology specific to ball and drag culture. I have lost count as to how many times I have overheard men and women throwing around terms such as ‘Shade‘ or ‘Realness‘, been asked if my comments regarding someone’s image or character could be described as a ‘Read’ and of course, the perennial favourite; ‘THE LIBRARY IS OPEN DAWWLINGS!’
It is extremely exciting in many ways. The increase in profitability and the sheer number of new recruits to the culture and its power to provide strong and highly visible images of outsider culture newly positioned within the overarching mainstream is astonishing. The queens have returned to seize the throne as it were, asserting their dominance again over a too often heard and negatively impacting category of, ‘straight-acting’ models of behaviour popularised in the late nineties/early noughties. News flash honey, if you have to ‘ACT’ straight, then you fucking aren’t.
Whilst there are many fantastic benefits to this re-positioning and appropriation of the culture, there has also been an increase in a very specific and damaging category that relates to the language used to describe and interpret femininity. The category is… FISH.
As someone who has always appreciated ‘Outsider’ or ‘Terrorist’ drag aesthetics such as those exhibited by Vaginal Davis, Leigh Bowery or Squeaky Blonde, I came at the drag scene initially contrasting a highly developed character of grotesque excess that was clearly masculine whilst donning a ‘feminine’ aesthetic.
I was a terrible chanteuse who ridiculed a staple of french art cinema, it was a parody of what was expected of myself and a method for me to perform an image that was aimed as an attack at mainstream celebrity culture. Ultimately this image was too all consuming and detrimental to my involvement with the alt. queer scene who (before RuPaul had fully come back into vogue) had me become the focus of aggressive anti-drag rhetoric, but that’s another story…
I took time away to reformulate my stance and continued to DJ with the Psycho:Drama family (who were always supportive) before returning with my latest creation… Dis Charge. An amalgamation of tranimal and terrorist drag aesthetics, inspired by my heroes/heroines and by the punk and goth scenes that I love so much. Miss Dis provided me with a malleable and at times A-Gendered image, offering an escape from the traditional references of gay male and drag culture that, whilst I appreciate, held little interest to me.
The reason I dislike/d these images was not because they didnt carry a mastery of makeup technique or offer an interesting interpretation of womanly archetypes within culture, though I do resent the constant need to ape images of fascile and uninteresting celebrity consumerism without any critical lense, but because of the language that was so readily associated with these archetypes.
‘Serving Fish’, is inherantly misogynistic. There, I said it. There is passing evidence for this lexis to be considered an evocative attempt to mimic the full lips and large eyes of a cartoon goldfish as referenced by performers and artists such as Mathu Andersen, but let’s face it, what I’m hearing you really say is; ‘I look so real you can practically smell my cunt.’ I would love to be proved wrong here, but the mock horror that so many drag queens present when they encounter a vaginal image is so brutally aggressive, that it speaks of another cultural perception – that a woman’s body is somehow instantly dirty.
We’ve all heard the school yard jibes, vaginas are gross blah blah blah they smell like FISH (?!) blah blah blah. This playground bullying stems DIRECTLY from a consistant effort to force young men into relegating women into a weakened position and for women to instantaneously feel shamed, thereby adopting said position and remaining – you guessed it – in subservience. Often, these young men don’t know where these assumptions come from (after all, most gay men haven’t been near a vagina since birth!) and certainly we have all been, at some point, guilty of this, either by being complicit in this behaviour or by not speaking out against it. It’s all about the way in which men AND women (because i’ve heard enough women use this terminology) view their bodies and how we are educated into accepting an image of grotesquerie that plays into the divisions between images of gender and sexuality, that have been set in place to keep us from talking and to keep us from advancing.
The ‘Fishy’ archetype smells fucking rotten and drag culture is being co-opted by people who want to make it a tool for lazy discrimination. Do not be fooled.
The language is wrong, the culture is slowly being deformed and soon, the divisions could be insurmountable. They don’t have to be however. Relegating the terminologies that are ultimately harmful to a mute standpoint or by subverting them in a positive manner is the way forward. I do not want to hear another queen ask if I want to ‘Serve Fish’. No I fucking don’t because guess what, I don’t want to slap my friends in the face.
When I see a glamourous or monstrous drag queen perform, I think, ‘Wow! How elegant/refined/beautiful/masterful/powerful they seem!’ THIS, is the legacy of great drag! To embody an image of transformative power. I thought the same when I first saw images of Divine and Squeaky and also, when I saw pictures and performances of Diamanda Galas, Kathleen Hanna, Kat Bjelland or Nomy Lamm.
The idea should not be to parrot, mimic or simply present a 2-dimensional representation of a mass-marketed vision of femininity – how fucking dull. If I wanted to be like a Kardashian I’d have had a lobotomy. I want to see something powerful that transcends and embodies all of the best things about life and aesthetics. I want to see true beauty, and to strive towards it. The last thing I want on my menu is an out-dated, out moded and wholly offensive attack on my sisters – Thank you very much.