Guest columnist Hors D’oeuvres: ‘At a fundamental level, we’re all doing drag’

  • Hors D’oeuvres was emcee for the entertainment at Northampton’s 38th annual Pride Day on May 4. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 6/10/2019 8:59:32 AM

JM Sorrell got one thing right in her piece on drag performance (“Not a drag,” June 5): A lot has changed since Northampton’s first Pride march in 1982, where many participants wore bags over their heads to avoid persecution.

In 1989, Massachusetts became the second state to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, matters of credit, housing, and public accommodations; 2011 saw gender identity added for every category but public accommodations, which was expanded in 2015.

Marriage laws were amended in 2003 to allow same-sex couples to wed and benefit from systems granting financial and legal protections starting in 2004.

The last few years have seen initiatives to further these protections, from 2018’s X gender initiative and the defeat of the proposed repeal of protections for the trans community, to the long-overdue legislation outlawing conversion therapy programs trying to rid the world of LGBTQ+ people.

For the LGBTQ+ community, these are no small feats. In 28 states, it is still legal to deny health care, housing, and employment to people based on nothing more than sexual orientation or gender identity. As a child of a military family from the South, I grew up and had formative experiences in many of these states and I’ve also seen the ways that drag activism helps enact change.

From the beginning of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, there have been drag performers of all gender identities and sexual orientations fighting the good fight for civil rights and equality, pushing back against bigotry outside of and within our own communities, and sacrificing our lives. We are still fighting for equal rights, year after year, fundraising and pushing for campaigns to protect and uplift members of our community.

At a fundamental level, we’re all doing drag. None of us are born with social norms telling us who can and cannot wear certain types of clothing or how we should behave. These ideas are reinforced within a system where hegemonic masculinity is the norm.

We are taught that a binary exists where men are supposed to be emotionless and masculine, while women are supposed to be nurturing and feminine, but drag provides a platform as both entertainment and a tool for resistance. Drag gives space for people to experiment with gender expression, art, performance, and build community; it is not “gender expression … unleashed only to oppress women,” nor is it “akin to blackface,” a horribly offensive assertion.

Can drag performers fall into the trap of misogyny and other social ills? Absolutely. Misogyny is so deeply ingrained into systems in the United States — even in Northampton’s rich feminist tapestry — in both covert and overt ways, from blatant, gendered pay gaps in the workforce to more covert misogyny in fields like health care where women’s concerns are often dismissed.

Intersectional feminism teaches us that women are still persecuted and mistreated based on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, wealth, class, and numerous other categories that come together to paint larger pictures of haves and have-nots.

But is drag as an artform, a tool for activism, and a part of Noho Pride inherently misogynistic? Absolutely not.

Entertainment at Noho Pride 2019, organized by Loo D’Flyest Priestly and myself, was done via an open application for anyone interested in performing and, as anyone in attendance can attest, was not a “daylong drag show.”

At 2019’s Noho Pride we had a proclamation read by Northampton’s Mayor David Narkewicz, along with the introduction of political figures, a beautiful wedding with a lesbian couple, live sets by local band Kalliope Jones and singer-songwriter Tyler Conroy, dance accompaniment by The Duffy Academy of Irish Dance, Storytime with the Drag Kings and Queens, workshops on LGBTQ+ history and activism, an area for children and teens to craft and learn about resources, and yes, by popular demand and with a packed audience, themed drag shows.

These drag shows had cis, trans and non-binary performers, lesbian, gay, straight, pansexual, asexual, and bisexual (not “bisexual”) performers, people of different racial backgrounds, economic backgrounds, body types, and ages performing as both drag kings, queens, and non-binary artists. We had performances in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language. This is our community reflected through art. This is a show of solidarity, love, and acceptance.

That’s the real beauty of drag at Noho Pride: the ability to connect people from so many different worlds in a way that celebrates their diversity. And that’s why we’re going to keep doing what we do, inviting people of all gender identities, sexualities, classes, races, and ages to experience the love that surrounds Noho Pride both on and off stage.

Applications for entertainment and workshops open at the end of summer; help us continue to make Noho Pride better each and every year by applying to perform or volunteering with the organization. I hear we have an opening for a new media spokesperson.

Hors D’oeuvres is a drag performer, feminist, local activist, organizer with Noho Pride, and producer of shows like “Drag Brunch with Hors and Friends,” “Bon Appetit Burlesque,” and “D’oeuvres Court Charity Drag Competition.”


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