“An exploration of gender…” Notes (Ella)

Douglas Knutson,  Julie M. Koch, Jenilee Sneed, Anthony Lee & Mar Chung. An exploration of gender from the perspective of cisgender male drag queens, Journal of Gender Studies (2020) , 29:3, 325-337, DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2019.1668260

  • “Sexual orientation and gender identity are distinguished from one another in landmark documents such as the American Psychological Association (APA) (2015) guidelines on therapy with transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Still, scholars debate the meaning of drag for sex and gender, both on a societal level and within each individual (Marinucci, 2016). Given that drag performance parodies gender identity (Butler, 2006) and is performed primarily by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals (Newton, 1979), drag queens are sometimes considered gender diverse, gender fluid, or transgender due to the nature or style of their performance (Brammer & Ginicola, 2017). Drag queens may also be conceptualized as existing somewhere between transgender, gay and cisgender communities (Bailey, 2003; Levitt et al., 2017).” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 325-326)
  • “Focusing on the way drag is received and interpreted by audiences, Hankins (2015) suggests that drag performance is the combination of two components: the drag queen’s intention and a given audience member’s read of the performance within their social context.” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 326)
  • “While conducting interviews, we found that our participants seemed largely unprepared to talk directly and candidly about gender and/or their own gender identity development. Therefore, while it is common practice to remove verbal fillers (e.g., um, uh, you know) from quotes presented in qualitative manuscripts (Hill, 2015), we have retained these fillers in order to illustrate the ways our participants took time to define and to verbally process concepts surrounding gender. Our analysis resulted in four primary domains, making sense of gender, gender expectations, female impersonation, and transition through drag, as well as nine categories (Table 1).” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 329)
  • “When commenting on gender identity as a concept, participants tended to make observations about the gender expressions of others. This is to say that they externalized the concept of gender identity and discussed it as an abstract concept that was characteristic of or exemplified in other people. Our participants suggested that gender arises from one’s felt sense and that it may be part of one’s ‘soul.’” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 329)
  • “Participants also discussed the role of biological sex in gender identity. In some cases, they suggested that gender arises from one’s genetics, neurobiological and/or anatomical factors. These responses also resulted when participants were asked to define gender. Whereas the gender identity domain focused more on social factors related to gender identity, the biological sex domain formed around a set of responses that suggested nature plays a role in gender identity as well. Participants were intentional about pointing out that gender identity is not a choice.” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 330)
  • “For example, Stan stated, ‘I love shoes and hair and makeup and fabric and all that and I have it in my room right now, but I don’t want to wear that twenty-four-seven.’ George also offered, ‘I don’t understand why I would ever want to transform to another gender permanently because I’m not that. I’m far more the drag queen side than the, uh, I don’t know, the transgender side.’ Phil stated, ‘I’ve dressed in girl’s clothing whenever I was a little kid with my sister . . . I mean, it was fun, but I always knew that I was a boy.’ He later added with a laugh, ‘I’ve never really, uh, seen signs or felt signs of, you know, wanting to be a girl. I was just really, really gay.’” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 330)
  • “At times, participants mirrored the biases held by society. While discussing his attraction to cisgender men, George stated, ‘I like men. Like, I like men to be men.’ He went on to state, ‘I’ve always thought that, my whole gay career, that masculine men were far more attractive, and more appealing than feminine men.’ Greg discussed a process of acclimating to the LGBT community. He said, ‘And then I came to a gay bar the first time and I saw boys wearing makeup . . . and I was like, “Who the hell are these people?” . . . but then when I started getting involved in the gay community and I started doing drag and I started getting around these people and these people weren’t just freaks, they were my friends.’ Participants also highlighted the impact that their geographic location could have on the way society treats them. Greg suggested, ‘It just depends on where you are in society and what location you are in the country of what’s accepted or what’s not. We’re right here in the Bible Belt so things would be different for us than it’s going to be somewhere else.’ The Bible Belt climate he described was more restrictive, and cultivated a judgemental attitude towards gender variance. Phil also said, ‘I think that growing up in a very rednecky kind of town, you hear, “Get up, you’re a boy, you can handle this, you can do this, you can take that, you’re a guy . . . ”’ Still, our participants offered examples of ways that society and/or leadership have become more open to gender diversity. Phil stated, ‘An example is Obama . . . with the toys at Christmastime, you know . . . all the trucks went to the boys. Well, he was like, “No, girls like to play with trucks.”’ Tom noted, ‘I come from Europe where things are just so far more progressed than this [current location]. Um, and it’s not an issue.’” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 331)
  • “In these stories, participants expressed an awareness that other people may
  • assume that they wish to be women or that they are more feminine because of their participation in drag. Participants rejected these misperceptions and expressed frustration about them especially when these misperceptions impacted their social lives. Personal experiences reached into both family and broader social relationships.” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 331-332)
  • “Shelton addressed other physical demands, clarifying what he meant when he said that drag is painful, ‘Well not bad physical pain, just like you’re corseted up so of course it’s hard to breathe sometimes or your toes hurt from wearing heels, your face is sore from the shaving . . . ’ Greg offered insight into ways that drag may impact one’s full-time vocation when he said, ‘I think that my real career was starting to be overshadowed by the fact that I had this little part-time job as [drag name omitted] that was growing and big and just getting bigger and bigger and bigger and I was putting more focus and emphasis on drag than I was on my career and my career was suffering.’” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 333)
  • “Throughout each interview, our participants consistently expressed that they identify as men. In this way, our participants seemed to contradict suggestions that drag performance, as a whole, represents an alternate gender or genders (Rupp et al., 2010) or that drag queens are a missing link between gay men and transgender individuals (Bailey, 2003). Whether or not audiences perceive drag queens to be gender diverse is another question altogether, but our participants were clear that they have constructed a character for performance and that, either for comedy or when they forget their surroundings, they let the character slip and their ‘maleness’ shows through. This finding seems to support the idea that drag queens maintain both an internal identity and an external performative expression (Newton, 1979).” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 334)
  • “They also suggested that their families and society in general may conflate gender identity and sexual orientation and may reject them based on the multiple identities they are assigned. Throughout the interviews we conducted, our participants responded to questions about gender with reflections on their coming out process as gay men, indicating that their identities had been shaped by a diversity of factors and difficulties. As Newton (1979) suggested, for our sample, being gay and coming out appeared to be first step towards participating in drag performance.” (Knutson, Koch, Sneed, Lee, & Chung 334)

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