Date of Award
Undergraduate Honors Thesis
Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
We live in a world of constant performance. Simultaneously being performer and audience, we navigate every day situated in the suspension of disbelief due to society’s spectacle. We are continuously enacting, evaluating, providing feedback, and adjusting in order to perform just well enough to be accepted into mainstream society. Gender is often understood and constructed in rigid binaries where performing too much or too little can lead to exclusion from acceptance into society. However, there are some who purposefully perform in order to criticize the binaries and cultivate an area of limbo between masculine and feminine. I am referring to the ambivalent, anarchic, drag queen. Through the queer sensibilities of camp, irony, and glamour, these queens turn the “normal” and “natural” on its head by providing convincing and over the top performances of gender.
The work of drag is structured on the grounds of a society whose basic fabric is founded upon oppression. Oppression it is best understood as a concept that “designates the disadvantages and injustice some people suffer not because a tyrannical power intends to keep them down, but because of the everyday practices of well-intentioned liberal society….Oppression is systematically reproduced in major economic, political, and cultural institutions,” (Young, 1988, p. 271). The power of oppression is found in its evolution that allows for it to exist in the absence of overt discrimination, manifested in ordinary interactions, the media and cultural stereotypes, structural features of bureaucratic hierarchy and market mechanisms, and essentially the ongoing processes of everyday life (Young, 1988). Oppression outside of overt discrimination can be categorized into five areas: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. These forms of oppression that groups are subjected to by the dominant group are important as we understand our bodies to be constructed texts that function as sites of control. It is also important to note that some groups face multiple forms of oppression that compile on top of one another due to their intersecting identities. What is understood as “natural” and “normal” in the ongoing process of everyday life is reinforced by the repetitive behaviors the dominant group puts in place, however, these performances of what is “natural” are not the experience of life for all.
In light of these factors this research investigates how a society whose basic fabric is oppression, supports alternative systems where we can trace out the history and tactics that have made drag queens able to turn that fabric of oppression into a glamorous outfit through queer sensibilities of camp and transformance. By fleshing out key features and conventions of drag history that are still utilized in today’s club and ballroom drag scenes, and implementing Debord’s theory of modern society being predicated and saturated in spectacle, seeing queer politics at play in gay clubs and bars allows for a transformance in the appropriation of gender spectacle to liberate society from normative and restricting gender binaries. The meta-performance of gender performance dismantles its inherent normality allowing for the performer and audience to co-construct a gendered utopia in liminal and regulated society.
Digital USD Citation
Henry, Tyler J., "Drag: Spectacle,Transformance, and the Construction of Gender Utopia" (2017). Undergraduate Honors Theses. 36.