a guest Sep 11th, 2019 91 Never
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- So, it's late here and I have a transcontinental flight tomorrow and I don't have the time or energy to spare for going digging for all kinds of sources on this. But I do want to say that my biggest problem with the way you keep framing this entire discussion is the stark separation you're drawing between cis gay history and trans history.
- Those aren't two different things.
- The idea that they are two easily distinguishable things only really bears out from about the 1980s.
- The idea of drag balls, as you present them, being an exclusively trans space that was later coopted by cis gay culture is also not actually borne out by history.
- There have always been gay men dressing and/or performing as women, alongside the trans women who were the more consistent "street queens." Likewise lesbians and trans men. Likewise people of both assigned sexes who might now be better understood as nonbinary. Queer history is a mutable mix of gender and sexuality, and we have always been blurring those lines, regardless of which side of it we came from.
- It is absolutely true that cis gay men as we now conceive them were historically considered "gender variant" or "not really men" (and vice versa for lesbians)—this was part of Magnus Hirschfeld's research and theories on sexuality and gender, and it also shows up in the work of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who was a precursor to Hirschfeld (see "the homosexual gender" and the various gradations of "uranian" if you want to look into that).
- In current discourse it's very typical to see trans people drawing sharp lines between ourselves and our assigned genders, and trust me, I COMPLETELY understand where that comes from. But historically (and if we're talking about the history of drag we have to put it in its historical context), that was not how we saw ourselves.
- Not to say that AMAB individuals who consistently presented themselves as women weren't really women, because they certainly were. But the idea that there was a strong and clear-cut difference between a person we would now call a trans woman, and a person we would now call a cis gay man—that's just not true. And the reason it's not true is not because ~the trans people weren't really trans~, it's because the CIS people weren't "really cis." At least, not according to the conception of the time, and frequently not according to their own self-conception either.
- So. Regardless of the entire other argument about whether drag-as-performance is problematic or harmful to trans people, which is not a discussion I'm particularly interested in having here: it is not true that the history of drag belongs exclusively to the trans community. It is not true that "the trans community" is historically separate or entirely distinguishable from "the gay community." It is not true that cis gay people (as presently defined) have always seen THEMSELVES as distinct from US. Our history is inextricably intertwined, and while it's usually possible to say whether a specific INDIVIDUAL falls more to one side or the other of a hypothetical trans-or-gay debate, it is somewhere between impossible to downright laughable to say the same of a cultural or community institution. That's one of the reasons the term "queer" is so valuable—often all we can do with our historical culture is identify it as queer and leave it at that.
- Oh and also the idea that drag ball culture was all about passing and getting tips on passing is a HUGE oversimplification. Yeah, that was certainly one of the things about drag balls, but they were also about celebrating gender variance and queer culture and all the things that make us distinct from straight culture in a visible way. Just because people in drag weren't performing for the cis people they sometimes rented out viewing space to doesn't mean they weren't performing at all. They were performing for each other.
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