February 12, 2015


Because when I jump into a controversy, I like to do it late!


Drag icon Lady Bunny sounds off on what Mary Cheney doesn’t understand about drag.

So Mary Cheney, the ex-Vice President’s daughter, saw an ad for Drag Race and wondered aloud on Facebook, "Why is it socially acceptable—as a form of entertainment—for men to put on dresses, make-up, and high heels and act out every offensive stereotype of women (bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty, etc.). But it is not socially acceptable—as a form of entertainment—for a white person to put on blackface and act out offensive stereotypes of African Americans?”

If Cheney thinks drag and blackface are the same, that proves how little lesbians know about makeup! It’s an absurd pronouncement—as if those no-talent Drag Race queens could never learn to tap or play the banjo!

Jokes aside, there is a similarity between the two. With both drag and blackface, you dress up as someone you’re not, and this can be offensive to the group you’re portraying. With that in mind, there are a few things to consider.

Queens use drag to express themselves; it’s not a comment on women at all. From RuPaul to Dame Edna, most queens are not motivated by a desire to denigrate women. We just want to look our most glamorous, sexiest, and funniest. And we’re not trying to suggest that we’re actual women; we're just pulling from women’s practice and attire to create our own personas. Everything has influences it pulls from. The lip-sync standard, “Lady Marmalade,” uses French and Creole to tell the story of a New Orleans hooker. Should the English-speaking songwriters not have written this treasure because it might offend people of French or Creole heritage, or the New Orleans prostitutes—the most famous being Bianca Del Rio’s mother? Of course not! And nor should drag queens be prevented from wearing women’s clothing to cook up a character.

Despite our intent to entertain, Cheney is insulted, and that's her right. But we should not stop doing drag just because someone is offended. She faults drag for perpetuating “bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty“ stereotypes. Onstage, I’ve fit all of these descriptions, as have many other queens. But the root of this behavior is the cattiness of gay men reading each other and their love of outrageous sexual humor. Just see how far you get impersonating Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. This is part of the much wider debate between political correctness and free speech that we've seen everywhere from “trannygate” to Charlie Hebdo.

I understand that Cheney may feel especially resentful of the impossible beauty standards our male-dominated society dictates for women. Fashion magazines and other media play a huge part in this problem, and women, especially in the entertainment industry, often succeed or fail based on how fuckable they are deemed, and it just isn't fair.

But don’t blame drag queens for perpetuating this. If anything, a man renouncing his dominant position to dress in drag subverts these standards by mocking them. However, we can’t deny that women have the right to be sensitive as an oppressed class, which is why blackface fell from popularity. I just feel Cheney is barking up the wrong tree. Aside from gay men, a queen is most likely to get a compliment from a girl who appreciates all the work we put in and might even want a pointer or two. Would Mary argue that these girls suffer from Stockholm syndrome?

Perhaps what I find oddest, though, is that Cheney belongs to a political party that seeks to deny women equal pay and access to reproductive medicine. Many conservatives have recently raised eyebrows by publicly asserting that even rape victims should be forced to give birth to their attacker’s children. So if Cheney is slamming drag for being misogynistic and establishing herself as a champion of women, I can’t help but wonder why she belongs to a party that systematically denies women equality—but that’s for another column entirely.