‘Tis the season for trick-or-treating, candy chomping and costume wearing. And if you’re not a fan of those, at the very least, you can curl up your couch and enjoy a cult classic, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The movie, starring Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, the “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania,” is overtly sexual in nature. The British rock comedy paints Furter as a lunatic and sex crazed mad scientist, who is still loved by audiences everywhere who watch the film religiously or don a Furter Halloween costume.
Furter is merely fictional, and the end of the film reminds us all that he is just Tim Curry in drag. That’s the thing: He’s playing a transvestite, but he’s merely a man fulfilling a role for entertainment purposes.
But we have transvestites and drag queens in the real world and here in Philadelphia. Drag kings and queens get decked out in their best attire for the annual Henry David Halloween Ball. Lisa Lisa’s Thursday night shows at Bob & Barbara’s, at 15th and South streets, are well received – and full of drag performers.
Many mistakenly think of transvestites and drag queens as synonymous terms. The fact is, transvestites cross-dress, or wear the clothing of opposite sex to fulfill some sort of gratification, which can sometimes be sexual. Drag queens are different and are typically men who dress in female clothes and put on makeup for some sort of routine. The term for females impersonating male counterparts is drag king.
Regardless, my concerns arise when people in and outside of LGBTQ culture start associating any type of cross-dressing with transgender individuals.
“There’s a difference between being a transgender person and a cross-dresser,” Director of Women’s Studies Laura Levitt said. “They are different kinds of identifications. Cross-dressing can be done by straight people and can be performative, using the performative space as a venue for trying things out.”
Not knowing the difference is mostly a matter of being misinformed, and sadly, that’s the fault of media, society and even individuals within the LGBTQ movement.
As a friend once said, the “B” and the “T” are often left out in the alphabet-soup acronym for queer culture and the battle for equality. I will continually bring this up in succeeding columns, because it’s the truth. When we leave out or neglect people from our community who aren’t fitting in with the mainstream idea of queer, we’re doing them and ourselves a great deal of injustice.
To be a transgender individual as opposed to someone who is cross-dressing as a drag queen or king or transvestite is very different.
“A drag performance is not the same thing as a transgender person working on performitivity of their gender identification in the culture, and the stakes are higher,” Levitt added.
Those stakes include but are not limited to discrimination of various forms, verbal harassment and violence being the more extreme forms.
In regards to any confusion of transgender and drag or transvestitism Ash Yezuita, a junior history and Asian studies major, says “it’s problematic because at the end of the day [cross-dressers] can take off the clothes and be done with it because they’re still a guy dressing in girls clothes and visa versa.
“But in the trans community, to sort of cross them is completely off the mark because it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m wearing girls or guys clothes, it’s my body, and it’s who I am,” he added.
It’s important to understand this difference. In spite of it all, there are some things drag culture specifically does for the LGBT community that are positive.
When I went to Bob & Barbara’s for the first time with my friends, I never expected to see such a diverse crowd, and by that, I’m referring to the equal ratio of queer to straight attendees. When Lisa Lisa began her drag show, everyone in the crowded bar was enthusiastic and eager to interact with her and her fellow drag queen performers.
My assessment is that drag culture is somewhat helpful in presenting individuals of all backgrounds with a positive message about the LGBTQ community.
Cross-dressing — whether it be for role fulfillment as in the case of transvestitism or for entertainment purposes for drag queens and kings — has its pros and cons. Stereotypes about the gay community can perpetuate and add confusion about transgender individuals.
If we can keep in mind that it’s all different and take into account that drag culture can be used to the LGBTQ community’s advantage, we can sit back and enjoy the show, whether that be Lisa Lisa’s Thursday nights performances at Bobs & Barbara’s or The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Joshua Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.