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We’re All Born Naked…

More than 30 years ago, Judith Butler explored and theorized on the performativity of gender in their book, “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.”

“The effect of gender is produced through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self,” they wrote. “…[W]oman itself is a term in process, a becoming, a constructing that cannot rightfully be said to originate or to end.”

RuPaul echoed a similar sentiment in layman’s terms (or should I say gayman’s terms?) in 2014: “We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag.” While not all of us are drag queens, the performance of gender is something that impacts us all.

So-called “feminist” critics of drag claim that drag queens use stereotypes of women to turn us into caricature. Even if all drag performers were attempting to be female illusionists (which, if you’ve been to any sort of alternative drag show, you know is certainly not the case), this raises the question: where does one’s construction of femininity as a cis woman cross the line from caricature into something “genuine”? If a drag queen constructs their persona off stereotypes because they have big boobs and wear dresses and makeup and heels, then, by that logic, so do the cisgender women for whom all of that is also true.

When you understand the fact that, whichever way you decide to perform femininity, masculinity, or gender fluidity, it is a performance nonetheless, it opens you up to new interpretations of how you choose to perform.

Drag has liberated my own expression as a woman. Watching drag performers interpret gender in different, creative, and inventive ways (especially at alternative shows like Drag-On’s Den or Alt3r) drastically transformed how I interact with my own interpretation of gender. Seeing my womanhood as a costume or even a character, both an earnest part of me and an alter ego, is so much more fun than assuming it to be something “natural” — especially when the assumptions of femininity inevitably feel unnatural; I no longer feel as if something is wrong with me or push myself to uncomfortably conform to that assumption, I simply adjust the way I wish to perform.

Sometimes, I like to be feminine by wearing over-the-top makeup and attention-grabbing clothes and showing significant cleavage. However, that performance no longer feels natural when, for example, I’m on my period. I’m bloated and exhausted, so I prefer to wear comfortable, loose-fitting, masculine silhouettes that I feel award me less visibility than my high femme presentation does in public. Instead of feeling like my body isn’t “worthy” of the more stereotypically feminine performance, I feel as if I’m honoring the gender expression that feels the most authentic to me in that moment.

That’s what drag offers us: the possibility for invention and reinvention. It gives us the power to define ourselves instead of giving that same power away to institutions and assumptions that were never made for us, the freedom to feel good enough in a world that profits off our insecurity. The recent widespread legislative attacks against drag are an attempt to police our honest and inventive expression, to make evil the imagination of something new, outside the bounds of social construction — attacks that will never be successful.