I was hanging out last Friday night when I came upon an unusual sight: my roommate wearing a red tutu and golden heels. It’s not that I’m completely unfamiliar with the getup; he wore something similar for Halloween last year. But there was something strange about the whole experience.
I was at the QPenn drag show in College Hall — my first drag show — and one of my first events with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. Miss Lisa Lisa, who referred to herself as a transsexual, led the audience through the evening of drag-queen performances. At one point, Lisa Lisa paused to ask the lesbians in the audience to cheer. Then she asked the straight women, and then the gay guys. Loud cheers and some enthusiastic yelling met all three questions. And then she asked the straight guys to cheer. Obligingly, my friend, College sophomore Sebastian Rowland, and I put our hands together and started yelling. And no one else did. Just us. Out of about 60 people, just the two of us.
We felt discomfort, some embarrassment and a large amount of awkward humor. The question is: why? In everyday life, sexual minorities are generally invisible. With some exceptions, we have no idea about the gender or sexual identity of the people we pass. This is true for strangers, but it’s also probably true of people we know and love; we may not have a clear idea about the gender or sexual identity of our friends or of our family either. Maybe we’re not even sure about ourselves.
For that single brief moment at the drag show, my sexual identity was on display. For the first time, my friend and I were obviously a sexual minority. But I’m ultimately glad I had this experience. Being a minority at this event got me out of my comfort zone, and emphasized that discomfort with exploring gender or sexual identity is completely unnecessary.
Beyond all the banter, the sexual jokes and the display of cross-dressing prowess, drag shows bring up questions about personal identity. If an individual hasn’t found a community to help them “articulate concepts of gender and sexuality,” explained College sophomore and QPenn treasurer Victor Galli, it’s “easy for them to think ‘oh, I don’t like rainbows or feather boas, so I must be heterosexual then.’” Or they may “have a variant gender identity, but not realize it because of their comfort with their own sexuality,” Galli said. Drag shows intentionally confuse the stereotypes and assumptions.
Those of us who are heterosexual, said Rowland, “are encouraged not to explore these issues because it automatically categorizes us as LGBTQ.” Both heterosexuals and those in the LGBTQ community are stereotyped in ways that define them as separate and distinct.
This separation is wrong. “I love hearing our advocacy/our community referred to as ‘LGBTQA,’” Wharton and Engineering sophomore and Lambda Alliance president Tyler Ernst wrote in an e-mail. The “A” that he includes stands for allies: those who speak out on behalf of LGBTQ rights “purposefully with a larger advocacy goal always in mind.”
Ernst added that friends are “especially important” as well, “because every time a non-LGBTQ person makes an LGBTQ friend, it makes gender/sexual minorities a little less scary, a little less foreign.”
Though a drag show certainly isn’t representative of the LGBTQ community, it shows that there are circumstances where gay and straight communities are too separate. On the one hand, that speaks to the nature of drag shows; there are certainly more comfortable places and ways to interact with the LGBTQ community. But we heterosexuals should not be so uncomfortable with questioning our gender identity, and people of all identities need to intentionally be a part of the same community more often.
Russell Trimmer is a Wharton sophomore from Lexington, Va . His e-mail address is email@example.com. Russell-ing the Leaves appears on alternate Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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