Drag!

Andy Warhol

SAN FRANCISCO, 5 August — Today United States District Judge Vaughn R. Walker struck down anti-same-sex-marriage “Proposition 8”:

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples… Because Proposition 8 disadvantages gays and lesbians without any rational justification, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

CONCLUSION
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Andy Warhol & Jane Forth

It may seem a bit elliptical to use Judge Walker’s ruling yesterday as the springboard for a blog post on Drag (Queens)… but give me enough rope… and we’ll see if I can make my case…

Rrose Sélavy

First, a few definitions from Wikipedia:

DRAG
usually referring to the clothing associated with one gender role when worn by a person of the other gender. The term originated in Athens, Greece in the fourth century BCE when it was common practice for gender-noncomforming people to be dragged through the streets as punishment.

Andy Warhol

DRAG QUEEN
A drag queen is usually a man who dresses, and usually acts, like a caricature woman often for the purpose of entertaining or performing… Although many drag queens are presumed to be gay men or transgender people, there are drag artists of all genders and sexualities who do drag for various reasons…

Drag has come to be a celebrated aspect of modern gay life… However, within the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) communities drag queens are sometimes criticized for project[ing] a limited and harmful image of gay people and impede[ing] a broader social acceptance… A common criticism of drag queens is that they promote harmful stereotypes of women, comparable to blackface portrayal of African-Americans by white performers that was popular in the early 20th century. Drag queens, however, have wildly varying styles and ideologies so applying this to all practitioners is impractical.

Drag queens are sometimes criticized by members of the transgender community—especially, but not exclusively, by many transwomen—because of fears that they themselves may be stereotyped as drag queens. Canadian transgender activist Star Maris wrote a song entitled “I’m Not A Fucking Drag Queen”

2nd European Transgender Council (click image for flickr page)

TRANSGENDER
Transgender is the state of one’s “gender identity” (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s “assigned sex” (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex). “Transgender” does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation.

ARTISTS IN DRAG
Over the years a number of artists have “done drag,” including, for example, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968.) Interestingly, both passed away pre-2003 and so never had the opportunity to “do drag in Second Life.”

(nice article on Duchamp, Man Ray & Picabia in drag:
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article3391223.ece

One wonders about their clunky, ironic drag queens, if they might have chosen to be transgender instead, if it had been a viable option to them. We can cite the camp aspects of their oeuvres to suggest that they specifically wanted the kitschier aspects of drag, but we can never really know since they had no viable, non-heroic means of being “convincing” transgender women.

While First Life (FL) is filled with Drag Queens, and even a reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RuPaul%27s_Drag_Race

you don’t see many drag queens in Second Life (SL.) Or perhaps they’re there and I’ve just not traveled in the right circles. Undoubtedly there are female avatars who have male typists, but at least in outward appearance, I suspect they are more “transgender” than “drag.”

While I haven’t seen SL Drag Queens, I have seen many SL Shemales and the occasional SL Femboy. While an FL Drag Queen is, in a manner of speaking, a “real” male with some “fake” female parts – hair, breasts, makeup, and so on… an SL Shemale seems often to be a “real” female with “fake” male parts, eg, a prim penis attachment. Again, it may just be my own limited travels, but I haven’t actually seen females or shemales with male features. In fact the only time I’ve seen a female shape with chest hair was our own Ze Moo in VB17 before the infamous body waxing by VB/CO Stage Manager Forceme Silverspar.

Although I haven’t really seen avatars in more gender-complex spaces, I do see that Renoir Design sells Femboy, Sissyboy and Glamboy skins.


http://slurl.com/secondlife/7Seas/238/16/1001

And while my sheltered life hasn’t introduced me to SL Drag Queens, I did come across this image on flickr:

Turlututu Chaffe by Andromega (click image for flickr page)

Still, it may be that in SL where “convincing” transgender is “free & easy,” unlike FL, a lot of peeps choose to be “transgender” rather than drag.

PASSING
At least to some degree, one distinction between Drag and Transgender is the idea of Passing. In drag the presentation of the other gender is often exaggerated and satiric, in transgender it’s a more serious attempt to alter the appearance of “assigned sex” to match one’s “gender identity.”

This brings to mind the work of artist Adrian Piper. Piper is a fair skinned black woman who passes for white. She’s created a body of work that explores racial identity, the idea of passing, and the attitudes of the dominant culture.

I searched online for a copy of Piper’s “card” and found something better… a “meta-copy” of it:

Adrian Piper's "card" as found on dtronics tumblr page (click image for page)

GENES VS MEMES

A popular media trope these days is the paternity test. In this spectacle parties await a piece of paper with some sequence of the letters G-T-C-A on it… given one sequence, the “father” pledges undying love and commits to a lifetime investment of time and money in his pride and joy. Given a different sequence of the letters G-T-C-A the same individual is outraged at the shameless manipulation of this bitch and her bastard child, and storms off vowing never again to cast his gaze upon these wretched sub-humans.

How dumb.

FUCK GENETICS!

MEMES ARE WHERE OUR HUMANITY LIVES!

I do not need a DNA test to know if you and I are related. If you rape the land, if you have no tolerance for diversity, if you have no interest in, as Socrates encouraged us, examining your life, or as the Buddha suggested, of personal experience of that which we believe, then I don’t see how we can be part of the same family.

If you respect the land and the creatures, large and small, that live on it, if you strive to understand yourself better and to live in a diverse, inclusive world (in spite of any shortcomings, lapses and occasional hypocrisy that “real” peeps like Vaneeesa are, ahem,  from time-to-time guilty of) then I don’t see how you and I can be anything less than sisters.

T and her Transgender? Lesbian? Gay? Bisexual? Fine by me. shirt, by benchilada (click image for flickr page)

STEREOTYPES
Our man Hamlet has wrtten on several occasions about

“the second most corrosive meme directed by detractors at Second Life. The first being, ‘Second Life is for people without a first life,’ which as I’ve said before, is not accurate in any meaningful sense. A related meme is about as inaccurate, and goes something like this: ‘Attractive Second Life avatars are really just fat naked guys in their parents’ basement.'”

http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2010/03/sl-fat-naked-guy-meme.html

http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2009/12/five-favorite-mixed-reality-profiles.html

It’s wonderful that Hamlet debunks these myths. He probably does so for many reasons, among them I imagine, because he believes the stereotype/myth hurts the grid. It’s also true that the stereotype hurts the individual avatar. Whether you say that the sexy avatar is “really dumpy IRL” or whether you say that the sexy FL person is “really stupid,” these are all manipulative attempts to take something away from someone. Sure you seem desirable, but give me a little time and I can destroy you, regardless of who you are. This doesn’t just happen to catty avatars, it happens in FL all the time. It happened to Princess Diana, it happened to Bill Clinton. As far as I know, ice skater Nancy Kerrigan holds the record for fastest ascent & descent as we made her our angel and then threw her on the rocks over some minor comment.

Andy Warhol

So Hamlet loves displaying SL::FL  isomorphs where sexy young, and even sometimes distinguished old, avatars look remarkably like their typists. That’s great. In a capacious world like ours, Dwight Schrute the typist should always be able to work for an identical looking avatar.

But let’s not forget that we live in a world occupied by people whose avatars are Tiny, Neko, Vamps, Dragons, and occasionally even The Planet Saturn. And if “ugly naked guy” wants to offer typing services to “sexy avatar” then there’s room for that too.

What matters is not how similar or different Avatar and Typist look, not what Typist.Credentials may happen to be, all that matters is that if Avatar is boring, shallow, superficial and has little of interest to say or do… then… Avatar is boring and shallow!

Whether Typist happens to also be boring and shallow, or dynamic and amazing, who cares? All I really need to know is that when I encounter Avatar it’s a rich and rewarding experience or it’s a shallow and unsatisfying experience. The rest is just “bullshit and chickpeas.”

photo by Lisa Sanderson (click image for flickr page)

IDENTITY PLAY
One of the stereotypes that I was exposed to was the idea that large-breasted women avatars had male typists. This is undoubtedly true sometimes… just as it is likely sometimes the case that Tiny Avatars have Homosexual Irish Atheist typists… or that Real Estate Selling Avatars sometimes have Australian College Student typists.

Once again, I just don’t see the value in thinking you can read, deconstruct, and destroy an avatar… a person… FL culture privileges large-breasted women, but then seeks to destroy them as “fake.” Yes, some women have breasts as “fake” as the fillings in their teeth and the bluetooth in their ears.

Indeed I know SL women who have enormous breasts and who, not-that-it-matters-but, I’m certain have, indeed “real” female typists. Let’s not marginalize women because they have large breasts. Let’s not marginalize women because they are “flat chested.” Hey, I know… let’s NOT marginalize women! FL culture has covered that destructive territory well for a few millennia now, I don’t think we ever need to go there again. I definitely don’t think we need to import the manipulative tactics of privilege and exclusion to our new world.

To balance the “ugly naked guy” typing for the “sexy avatar” stereotype, I should mention that I know a number of FL women who type for SL men. To name one scenario, I’ll call the typist Jennifer and I’ll call the avatar Axel.

Axel is a large, maybe early 30’s, African-American male. Jennifer is a tiny, 19 year-old, Taiwanese woman. I’m not sure how deeply immersive Jennifer’s relationship to Axel is, she probably employs some stereotypes and some superficialities in that relationship, but I can tell you she has a lot of fun working for Axel and she enjoys giving voice to aspects of persona that she doesn’t inhabit in FL.

Madonna

ISOMORPHS
While many “Role Playing” residents of Second Life adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude toward Second Life and First Life, it is also true that various residents including many Business, Education, Arts and other peeps prefer to link their Physical World (First Life) Identity with their Virtual World (Second Life) Identity, that is, to create SL::FL isomorphs.

Of course that should always be an option, one should always be free to associate an FL identity with an SL identity if one chooses to. I choose not to because I believe creating that isomorph marginalizes the avatar. Instead of a sentient being, it reduces the avatar to a mask that the “real” person puts on and off. I believe that to be a truly sentient being, the avatar is served best by standing on their own character and credentials rather than asserting that “this avatar is valid because of something that my typist has done or because of some identity or credentials that my typist possesses in the physical world.”

Torley Linden (click image for flickr page)

Of course a Business/Edu/Arts person might want an SL::FL isomorph, but in that case, why even bother with the avatar? Why not just “be” the FL person piloting a cartoon? The problem is, if our world is reduced to a form of video conferencing for a business meeting, well, that’s great if it helps someone complete some task at hand, but video conferencing with the London office and then “turning the thing off” just isn’t as culturally compelling an idea as living in this world.

That’s what (besides a shitty viewer) always bugged me so much about M Linden and T Linden. I felt like their refusal to even take names was a refusal to exist in this world. I understand that developing this world does indeed take time away from living in it. Still, I can’t see how someone who doesn’t really live here can create tools that really work here.

So whatever degrees and other crap Vaneeesa.typist may hold, *I* don’t need it. MY credentials are my work in this world and I stand on that.

Harisu

IDENTITY / CHOICE?
I am embarrassed and ashamed to even referencing this example, I can only hope that the value of its illustration equals the insult of the reopened wound: There is a famous newspaper editor who has been outed – more than once.

It breaks my heart.

First, it’s rape. When you force your will on someone else’s life without their consent, that’s rape. Horrific, humiliating, monstrous, rape.

Second, it’s the worst kind of chauvinism. We live in a world that has too often done little in the face of racism, misogyny, and homophobia. In many ways our culture is barbaric. And yet, while the SETI program is only in its infancy, so far this imperfect world of ours is the most intelligent, most enlightened place in the known universe. We can hope that there is a better world out there somewhere, but for now, we are it, and we must do better, or face the harsh judgement of our progeny.

Is it our aim to bring the narrow-minded chauvinism of the old world to the shores of the new world?

Josh by Plutor (click image for flickr page)

CIVIL RIGHTS
I remember, like yesterday, that day in New Caledonia when the now slain civil rights leader stood before the sim-crashing crowd and challenged us to abandon our self-indulgent creed that “all avatars are created equal, but some avatars are more equal.” She said, “I have a dream that one day this grid will judge avatars not by the identity of their typists, but by the content of their character.”

Many people believe that unless you know details of someone’s typist, that they aren’t being “honest,” that you don’t *really* know them. I believe the opposite. I am not interested in your genetic history, I want to know who you are in this place and in our time.

Lady Gaga

SUPER JOE WELLER
A passage that for me is a beautiful ode on allowing someone to determine their own identity comes from the character Super Joe Weller in John Bishop’s play The Trip Back Down.

GREY MATTER
Actually, authors may understand avatar identity better than most. How many times have you been to an author talk and heard her say that she’d planned for the character to do A or B or C… but that when they got there, the character simply refused to do it, and instead asserted their right to do X or Y or Z instead?

Perhaps the true test of a well-rounded character is their ability to surprise their author! Yes the character comes from the same grey matter as the author, but the character is enmeshed in a different social matrix that is not deterministic from the perspective of the grey matter of the author. With playwriting, that social matrix isn’t too far outside the author’s grey matter… in a virtual world that social matrix includes bodies, clothes, worlds and complex social relationships all originating from other intelligences. An avatar is not isomorphic with her typist. An avatar, or at least one that strives to lead a “real” life, is a unique, sentient being.

Jade by Fausto Fernos (click image for flickr page)

Anyway, Super Joe was lucky to get a good typist, and when Super Joe goes to visit his friend Bobby Horvath whose re-wedding dreams have apparently failed, SuperJoe offers:

You know I got interviewed by a chick from… (can’t remember the name)… a national magazine yesterday. Guess she ran outta things to ask Petty and Yarborough, so over she comes to me. There’s her and her photographer and another guy runnin’ her tape recorder. “You think, Joe, that auto racin’ is a form of male sex substitute? A rather childish, but compulsive proving of one’s masculinity?” “Fuck yeah,” I said. “What the fuck isn’t? Everything is provin’ something to somebody. It’s all bullshit and chickpeas. Whatta you provin’ with that fuckin’ microphone?” They shut me off. (He takes a drink.) Hell, people never learn, Bobby. Just ’cause you’re doin’ somethin’, don’t mean that’s what you are. You just do what you do and leave it alone.”

Ten words: “You just do what you do and leave it alone.”

What a simple and elegant way of saying you should let people be who they choose to be and not the identity that we would like to force onto them. Ten words that say we should accept people for who they are. Ten words that say we’re all just trying to get by in our lives, why not help each other instead of believing that our success can only be measured in the destruction of others. (I think that is called World of Warcraft! Ha ha ha. Sorry. Ouch. Sorry.)

Thank you Judge Walker. Thank you John Bishop. Thank you Super Joe. Thank you for your elegant words. Thank you for your belief in civil rights. I can’t imagine ever reducing that powerful, extraordinary, sublime idea into any fewer than ten simple words:

“You just do what you do and leave it alone.”

Well… maybe it can be said with less… maybe it can be said in five words:

I rez, therefore I am.

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Categories: Identity

Author:Vanessa Anne Blaylock

As a Virtual Public Artist my work invites virtual communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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