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I’ve been thinking more about gender over the past year, trying to get a sense of what gender is and what it means to me. After spending some time with the amazingly talented Karin Webb of ABCs Of Kink, I decided to take the plunge and try playing with gender in a more explicit way by taking…well, private drag king lessons.
Why learn to be a drag king?
About two years ago, I realized that I wanted to look more interesting. I was mainly dressing in t-shirts and khaki cargo skirts at the time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I started to feel like…I wanted it to be more obvious when people looked at me that I’m an interesting person. I can’t control what other people think when they see me, but I can decide what I want to show them.
A dear friend of mine took me under her wing, went clothes shopping with me, and helped me learn how to find clothes that look good on me and how to put outfits together. Her style is very femme, so my style became very femme.
I’ve really enjoyed this change! I like looking cute. I also have to admit I like messing with people’s expectations. If you saw someone who looked like this walking down the street, would you guess that they have a Ph.D. in robotics, or make sex toys, or blog about sex, or are a sex-positive entrepreneur?
I’ve had fun playing in femme-space, but I’d like more options in how I dress which reflect all of the thinking I’ve been doing around gender.
My Self Portrait
The first thing that I did at Karin’s class was draw a picture of myself (the light purple below). Here I am, wearing a cute dress and stockings, on my tiptoes with my arms outstretched. I’m embracing the world.
Then Karin asked me to draw my “blocks”, the things that I feel keep me from succeeding (which I drew in mauve on top of my picture). See if you can match what I drew to:
My height. I am very conscious of my size and how little space I take up in the world. I’m conscious of the fact that I am about the least scary-looking person you could imagine: I’m a small white girl who wears braids and dresses. It’s not that I particularly want to look scary or intimidating…but there are people who look bad-ass, and I’m not one of them.
My weight. I’m pretty happy with how much I weigh now, and I’d like to keep my weight about the same. This is something I am aware of every day when I choose what to eat and how much to eat.
My trichotillomania. I’m doing less self-harm than I used to, but it’s still a struggle.
My fibromyalgia. I’ve got to deal with pain on a regular basis, which is annoying; almost worse is the chronic fatigue. It’s hard to get things done when your body is hurting and tired.
My family and my past. I was raised in a conservative, religious family, and I’m still fighting against some of the beliefs and expectations that were instilled in me when I was growing up. I haven’t come out to most of my family about what I do these days, and I know that eventually I’ll have to deal with that, too.
My perfectionism. On the one hand, I appreciate that my perfectionism keeps me motivated to do things the best that I can — on the other hand, I have to learn when is “good enough” and to be able to relax sometimes.
My legacy. As far as I can tell, I only have this one life, so I’ve got to make the best of it. I want to leave the world — or at least some small part of the world — a better place than I found it. This is hard because I wonder…will I ever be satisfied with how much I’ve done?
Phew. It’s an intense list, but at least I’m glad I’m aware of all of these challenges. I’m getting better and better at recognizing when I’m hung up on one of these things, and I’m getting better at getting myself unstuck.
Karin asked me to outline three goals related to my drag king lessons:
1. By the end of my time with Karin, I want to have a character, costume, and short performance piece for my debut as a drag king. I don’t know when that debut will be or what form it will take — maybe I’ll just invite friends over to my house — but I like having this as a concrete goal.
2. Within three months of finishing, I want to feel comfortable doing “boy drag” on some days, as an alternative to my usual “girl drag”.
3. Within six months to a year of finishing, I want to have launched my startup and have a way to talk about my gender on the site (places like the “About Us” page).
I don’t have much background in gender theory, so I’m going to hit the books. Here’s what Karin suggested for me, which you might want to look at too:
Gender Outlaws by Kate Bornstein & S. Bear Bergman
Trans Liberation by Leslie Feinberg
Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling
- Undoing Gender by Judith Butler