Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Whatever happened to the American drag queen?

Imagine its January the year 2025. The roaring twenties are back and we that are 25 plus today find ourselves viewed as the old prudes of the second Victorian age. Kids are doing the Charleston again to remix versions of electro swing. The economy is booming and everyone’s making big money again. The aids epidemic has ended thanks to the release of the cure. Breast Cancer is no longer an issue, now treatable with a few doses of medicine. Gay marriage is legal in all fifty states. The tea party and Republicans are a thing of the past. Lady Gaga is now a proud grandma of three beautiful monsters and today the newly crowned Miss Universe thanks the crowd and Judges. “I’m honored to be the new Miss Universe. I’m humbled at the struggles of those that came before me. Twelve years ago today, Kylan Arianna Wenzel became the first transgender to legally compete in the pageant system. And today I proudly accept the crown as the first transgender Miss Universe. Thank you so much and I will not let you down.” The crowd goes wild.

St. Marsha P. Johnson
Flashback to 1969, a local transgender (referred to as drag queen at the time) Sylvia Rivera and friends were constantly harassed by the NYC police department. As the law of the day was; any man or woman found not wearing a least one article of clothing fitting their biological gender would be arrested. Most gay bars at the time were ran by organized crime and controlled by paid bigoted police. Hormone treatment was not as commonly available to the middle class as they are today. Many drag queens at the time regardless of lack of breast considered themselves transgender. Transgender riots were happening even in 1966 and by the summer of ‘69 transgender along with the other lgb community members had their fill of harassment. In 1969 the Stonewall Inn, at the time, was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known to be popular with the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, hustlers, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn, and attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. The riots are now remembered as the birthing point of the gay movement. Though the transgender communities part and efforts has been attempted to be white washed and erased from an eager to be seen as mainstream gay community, Sylvia Rivera did her best until death in 2002 to remind those that (transgender) were on the front line of the riots. Sylvia has become known as the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement, a term that was not even coined until two decades after Stonewall. Sadly though, you can even notice in pictures today that the statues outside of where the Stonewall Inn was located, depict two gay men and two lesbians. Transgender are not represented.
Picute of rioters below in 1969



Since then the gay movement joined with the lesbian movement, fought for the visibility in what was then termed Homosexual rights, during the 70’s. Before there could be equal rights everyone must know they have a gay or lesbian in their family or community, were words once echoed by Harvey Milk. By the eighties the movement became largely known as the lgbt movement. Thanks in part to folks like Sylvia Rivera that would not allow the Trans community to be erased from history. Today we may even use LGBTQ or LGBTQIA, for the ever growing need for people of different sexual and gender identity. During those days and especially in the 70’s the lgbt community thrived with its own culture. Drag shows/ t-house parties/leathermen/ bath houses were all common things celebrated within the community. Later for many reasons suppressed, maybe for reasons, was to not to seem as threatening to a bigoted mainstream society and or possibly due to the aids scare of the 1980’s. What has lasted the longest were the elaborate pageant systems for drag queens. Miss America which mostly celebrated the handsomeness of males transforming through make up into beautiful females. Miss USA, the more liberal, was open to many levels. Not only could you be a proud gay male that excel in the art form of gender illusion but you could be a transgender female as well. Finally, there’s the Miss Continental, grand pageant, displaying transgender female beauty since 1980.

Over the years for many Trans-females and later Trans-males as drag kings, displaying yourself as the gender you felt more comfortable with or that you enjoyed the art form of illusion, was only the first step. The more important step came as you must stand in front of all your peers and the community you lived and perform. If your lip syncing was on point and your presentation of how you looked was together. If you pleased the crowd you were on your way. You’d enjoy the next few decades of your party bar life for free, as you’d earn income from your performances. To be even more professional many drag queens and kings went on to enter pageants. For example, to enter the national level of Miss gay USA you’d enter one of many preliminaries on local levels such as Miss Atlanta USA. If you passed that hurdle you’d be welcomed to compete at state levels. With a state crown you then stood among the representatives of every state including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and some parts of Canada and Mexico. There are even more pageants systems such as Entertainer of the year and the Miss World Pageant, the latter being the largest. For many decades this was part of a large number of transgender women’s expression of who they are all while making a few bucks and making friends and connections. Since no transgender female could enter the mainstream pageant circuit, this was your outlet. Many over the years attempt and pushed the limit of mainstream society’s Miss USA or Universe system, but to no avail. Until December 2012, after recent scandals of transgender contestants the Miss Universe Pageant system announced it would allow transgender post-op contestants.  On January 12, 2013, Kylan Arianna Wenzel became the first openly transgender to compete legally in the Miss California USA Pageant a preliminary to the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageant.

On the eve of this monumental achievement in Transgender equality what now will become of the last remnant of gay culture, drag pageants? Surely for now little will change but over the years younger girls will come up and see no need to enter drag pageants in gay clubs across the country. The older of us gals will continue the tradition I’m sure but year after year at least, for transgender contestants in Drag pageantry, will there still be a need? Considering all contestants in the Miss Continental system are transgender, especially in a decade or two, what will become of that pageant system. For the gay culture of my state of South Carolina, a state that has always leaned to the appreciation of the complete transformation from man to woman on stage, I’m sure many are pleased for different reasons. Many transgender performers, especially post op trans-females, are shunned from performing or entering drag shows or pageants. Will there be increased Gay on Trans discrimination in the gay community regarding transgender contestants in drag pageants? Will most people feel that now that it is legal. Many will ask the question," why are you here at a gay bar competing?"

Now that Mrs. Kylan is competing, you can be assured of out pours of protest and boycotting by the right wing. It would be nice if they’d just shut the f… up, but we all know them by know don’t we? But given time, determination and not turn back on this landmark event. We as a transgender community can look up at the day, maybe 2025, when a Trans-female is crowned Miss Universe. Or even an openly Lesbian winner. In a very similar way we as african-americans did at the winning of Vanessa Williams in 1984. And though we celebrate this great achievement let’s also remain supportive of the drag culture as it will continue over the next decades to redefine itself and continue to be relevant. And it should, as it is not only an art form of make-up artistry and hair but a remaining aspect of Lgbtq culture that persist to this day as a constant connection to the day when as a community, in 1969, we stood with bricks and bats in ‘OUR’ hands screaming and singing to the bigots, ' We are the Stonewall girls We wear our hair in curls We wear no underwear We show our pubic hair...We wear our dungarees, Above our nelly knees!
Sabrina Samone, TMP

Suggested other related info:
Stonewall the film (highly recommened)
After Stonewall the documentary

O ther films dipicting the history of the Transgender struggle
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