Post-Binary Drag: Performing Identity as a Spectrum

The first time I lip synced on a stage in a dress and makeup was five years ago, though my drag roots go back much further than that.

Still, it wasn’t until last year that I truly got hooked. For the better part of 2015, I performed a number every Tuesday in variety show, Meow Mix at Stud SF, as well as various shows that bumped me up 2-7 numbers some weeks. In that time, I’ve performed a wide spectrum of identities and explored many performance styles.

2015 was the first year I explored male drag on stage, and putting on a gruff bravado feels simultaneously as natural and as much of an act as the soft grace of my female drag performances. My choice in numbers usually has to do with fitting the weekly Meow Mix theme, and I portray whatever identity I feel best suites the song I choose for that theme.

Chenille Stems 2015

A spectrum of performed identities

On stage last year I was a clean-shaven boy, a clean-shaven girl, a half-shaved hybrid, filled my natural beard with glitter, and glued a mustache to my face. I painted over my eyebrows to hide them, and I darkened my eyebrows to accentuate them.

On stage last year I wore my natural hair, I wore wigs, and I wore headpieces. I wore realistic fake breasts and padded my hips and butt to have curves. Last year I got more comfortable with my natural body and showed it off in dresses and in nothing but duct tape.

In 2015 I performed numbers I’ve done before and re-contextualized, I did numbers for the first time that I had thought about for months, and I performed numbers that I came up with at the last minute. Sometimes I step onto stage knowing what I’m going to do when, other times all I know are the words to my song. For some numbers I’ve abstained until after performing, and others I wouldn’t want to be sober for.

Outside of the Box

Outside of the Box

I’ve tap danced in drag numbers, I’ve break danced, I’ve done head stands and tumbles, I’ve operated puppets, I’ve had props, I’ve torn away costumes, I’ve put on costumes, and I’ve performed with nothing but the single look on my body. I’ve done group numbers, duets, been backup in other performers’ numbers, and done plenty of solos.

I’ve spent 2 hours on my makeup and I’ve spent 10 minutes. I’ve sewed and crafted costumes and thrifted costumes and put together new looks from old things, all at the last minute, and I’ve made costume check lists and gathered things weeks in advance.

By trying so many approaches to performing so many identities, I have fostered an adaptability that serves me well. I trust my process, and find that everything always comes together. If I can’t find the costume or makeup I’m looking for, I use what’s around. I manage to maintain a balance between having a direction for what I want and following the direction of what comes my way.

When I do drag I usually get ready for three hours and perform for three minutes. The process has always been as important to my art as the product and whether I’m spending the bulk of those three hours on my look, or spend them rehearsing my number, I work hard to deliver something in my three minutes on stage. When people see me perform, I want to blur the lines for them. What is drag? What is masculine? What is feminine?

I also want to entertain people. Even if the audience hasn’t seen me before I hope they will come away from my performance smiling and thinking. People who have seen a lot of my looks or performances have a wider context for the fluidity of my performed identities.

Drag is often an exaggeration of femininity or masculinity. While it sometimes fits into that binary system, my drag is often an exaggeration of Other, of a Post-Binary identity.

Many people have a narrow vision of what drag is, and much of what I do falls into the gray area of definitely-performance-art-may-or-may-not-be-drag. To me, drag is about living your fantasy. My fantasy may be different from other drag performers, it might be drastically different night-to-night, but I live it out for three minutes on stage and that is drag.

Gender is often a performance, but much of the spectrum goes unperformed. When I step onto stage presenting something more androgynous or alien, I am bringing visibility to Post-Binary identities. I’ve made huge bounds and had a great time exploring, expressing, and exaggerating my fluid gender. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to perform throughout the Bay Area, and can’t wait to bring my art to more venues and a wider audience.

 

Read my previous post explaining more of what I mean by Post-Binary Drag here!
Read a writeup about Meow Mix from SF Weekly here!