On Wednesdays We Play With Gender
1st May 2020
Oscar Soler (Or Kara when in Drag), one of our European Solidarity Corps Volunteers, gives their thoughts about gender, femininity and drag 💃
It Is an established notion that clothing, footwear or accessories are perceived by humanity as a way to define ourselves, and if you look at it without any assumption, it sounds wonderful, it’s just another tool that can help you express who you are. But, since when in human history have been things so simple?
I’m saying that, because at the same time, clothes have been used and, even nowadays, are being used to define the wealthy and the powerful, but also the binarism that exists in of our society. “Man should wear this; women should wear that”, it is as easy as going to any clothes shop and observing how It is divided, and what products each section has.
This, to oversimplify it, comes from an overly passed due take of sexism and the social construct of what each gender should wear, and how to act. Man, the “stronger sex” must be masculine, and woman “the weaker sex” must be feminine. And they have to dress accordingly.
As an example of this imbalance (explained through clothes), between masculinity and femininity, man and woman, we could take a look into the past and observe Christian’s Dior Belle epoque inspired garments, that could weigh up to 30 kilograms, corseted the woman and turned them an accessory for men to carry, as a sign of status for them to show off.
In the 20’s, Coco Chanel did the unthinkable, she created clothes keeping in mind the woman herself, not for their fathers or spouses, she created clothes for their comfort, for their actual bodies. One of the things she did was to put pants into the woman’s closet. An act as simple as that, created a tremor around society, the most conservative ones raised their hands to the sky in disbelief of what was occurring, women wearing pants, a symbol of power and masculinity, turned into a sign of woman reclaiming their power, reclaiming their independence. Through the use of clothing.
Nowadays, even though we still find binarism in clothing shops (and sadly sexism hasn’t been eradicated) at least we can see that all the “menswear” can also be found in the woman section. And also, we can see that women have reclaimed their right to express their femininity and masculinity in a healthy way.
But we haven’t seen the other way around happening. There have been some unisex clothing campaigns going around on mainstream clothes chains (but these are comprised in their entirety by clothes that can be already found inside the mens section). And also, the cis straight man (and the cis gay man too) haven’t found a way to reconect with the femininity that they do have.
So how are the men breaking the chains imposed by sexism that don’t allow them to express their femininity? As the world keeps moving forward, it is more apparent how fragile the concept of toxic masculinity is, and how much is needed that the men should escape these old notions of themselves. Little by little we’re seeing more and more glimpses of advance: famous individuals that put themselves out there challenging the norm, through their words or appearance. We can see it around the LGBTQ+ community. But, as far as it goes, there hasn’t been a “masculine Coco Chanel moment” that eventually has gone mainstream. Because the man acquiring feminine notions doesn’t align with the sexist concept of being “A MAN”, that is still so rooted into our minds. And, the only way we can do this is through awareness and education.
Let me exemplify this through my own experience. Personally, as a Cis gay man, I knew I was feminine, but I didn’t want to accept it or show it. There were a lot of things considered feminine that I didn’t dare to do, even when I wanted to, because at that moment I was scared, not only because of what the others would say, or how the people around me would react, but from a rooted sense of wrongness that stemmed from a childhood of hearing certain notions that being feminine, gay, etc, as a man was wrong. To word it somehow, I did suffer from “femmephobia”, and as all internalised fears, these are really sticky band aids that you can’t rip in one go.
Ironically, I found the strength to reconnect with my femininity doing it in the most extreme and polarizing way to express this, through Drag.
To try to define what drag is, I could use the words of one famous drag queen that says that: “we are all born naked and the rest is drag”. In other words, drag is a representation of ourselves that is constructed around our body, and every morning when you wake up and decide to wear some clothes and not others you are already defining who you are, but also how you’re going to act or present yourself. I mean, it’s curious how the human mind works, but depending on what you are wearing, you tap and enhance different parts of your persona, and you carry yourself in a different way. And it doesn’t mean that you’re changing who you are, it just shows how malleable we are. Drag allows you to play with that. So for me, the closest word that could help define what drag is its freedom.
It allows us to intersect a lot of different pathways, someone can do drag, just because of the way that drag can make you feel without the need for a character, someone else will create a new complete persona that surfaces when getting into drag. Others will use it as a gateway to perform, or to get involved into fashion. Even just for fun. There are lots of different reasons, but at the end, the best thing it brings, is that it allows you to play around with your gender.
I remember myself as a teenager looking at those extravagant over the top dresses and fashion that celebrities would wear and I thought that the only way to be able to do those things was to become famous. And that’s utter nonsense, we don’t need any excuse to play with who we are. We just need to do it.
Because, as I said, the best thing that drag provides is how easy is to play with our gender, and our persona/personality, there are no rules: experiment femininity to the maximum extent possible, experiment masculinity at its peak, play with both at the same time, discover androgyny.
We spend our teenage years trying to fabricate ourselves to fit, to be able to present in a desirable way, to be accepted, but also to be unique. And at the end, when you play with your gender, first, you affirm how little sense these rules about gender and binarism make. Second, it’s easier to visualize that clothes do not have gender, only the conceptions we’ve attributed to them and that there’s no need for gendered sections in clothing shops. And third, that you can explore and discover sides of yourself that ultimately allow you to grow as a person.
From my own journey, I know that this can be difficult at first, I’ve seen people scared of trying to get into drag, to play with their gender, and once they do it in a safe space and leave their preconceptions aside, they thoroughly enjoy it and helps them face parts of themselves that they didn’t know how to experiment. For myself, drag has allowed me to re encounter with who I am, and one of the best things about this is that once you get out of drag, you take with you all the things you’ve discovered and learned, so you can keep using them in your daily life.
At this point, what can I say besides the fact that everyone should try drag, really, just try it.
I don’t know if it is the magical pill that will solve all the issues that society has with gender and the issues the man has with femininity but, as I said before, the only way to do it is through awareness and education, and I do know that drag allows to discover that who we are is something more malleable than we’re set to believe, that all this rules, notions and social constructs that society upholds are bull****, and that ultimately, drag can be so so so much fun.
Oscar is a European Solidarity Corps Volunteer from Spain, currently on placement with LEAP Sports.