Latinax drag performer Jean Decay talks Tina Fey, being raised by women, the fluidity of femininity, and why it’s so important to see ourselves reflected in TV and entertainment.
I always said that I felt like an old white woman growing up, a sentiment created out of the otherness I endured throughout my childhood. Already in kindergarten, kids knew that I didn’t fit in. Juxtaposed by the hard-edged living of my home, San Bernardino, I was undeniably effeminate and opinionated. I existed in the traditionally feminine. Girl video game characters, girl singers, girl actresses, girly colors, girly interests, all contrasted against my cropped black hair and brown skin. I was un-mistakenly Chicano, a body that took me years to love. My dysmorphia did not stem from gender identity but a feminine crisis. I grew up believing my brown skin/male body did not match the pinks and soft hues I loved dearly. Kids everyday reminded me that I was not natural or normal, certainly not accepted.
When I was twelve, my sister’s ex argued to the point of yelling at her for letting me watch the exceedingly inappropriate tv-show “Golden Girls.” This is pre-Born this Way, post Will and Grace. “That’s just not something a young boy should watch.” Homophobia coded in claims of concern. An older white man, he went on the attack to fight for what he believed to be real. My sister yelled back, defended me and told me to keep on watching the show. That moment has been repeated in my life so many times. A privileged voice, disconnected from WHAT being “othered” means, as they slash their tongues and invalidate the lived experiences of the oppressed. My sister, strong-willed, Chicanx, and unafraid of her femininity, is what still inspires me to this day. She was never gonna let a man tell her what to do, especially in regards to her little brother. The youngest of three girls and one gay brother, my pull to the feminine is evoked in my passion, drag.
As I paint my armor on, I think of my strong-willed sisters, my hard-working mother, my gentle-giant dad, and my brother playing with his Spice Girl dolls. My references exist where femininity meets intersectionality. There can be no discourse in the absence of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Jean Decay is founded on that premise.
The general consensus regarding Latinidad in connection to femininity is that machismo reigns champion. Like every culture, there are plenty of issues within toxic masculinity. However, this idea that Latinx people are somehow more indoctrinated, erases a lot of the realities for many in the community. The statistics actually argue that lgbt families of color are more accepting than their white counterparts. A lot of my drag in relation to the feminine is to dismantle the notion that we as people of color are the true disparagers of it. Culturally, all I had growing up was La Virgen de Guadalupe, Selena, and Frida Kahlo (now I have Adore Delano and Valentina as amazingly talented cultural markers to get inspired by.) The Latinas popularized in pop culture today play the same few one-dimensional roles. The hot-blooded wife who goes “Ricky Ricardos” at any slight, the exotified mistress, and maid. With these limited tropes, the idea where Latinx people fit within the feminine can be constricting. Because of that, my exposure to the feminine at a young age centered itself around the strong women who, while not Latina, represented the ideals I found important.
Besides my sisters, La Virgen, Selena and Frida Kahlo, are my cultural markers for strong women and are not Latinx. I had a picture of Gwen Stefani glued to my math book as I wore a Harajuku Lovers watch and put my lunch money in a Harajuku Lovers wallet. She was (and honestly to this day) my everything. Much like my family, her music provided a space where I was a strong feminine individual who was unashamed in feeling emotions and writing from a place many disparage. In her Luxurious video, an ode to the Latinx community she grew up in, she places herself in the middle of scenes I knew all too well: low-riders bumping, cholos n’ cholitas getting ready, parties at the park, and lots of pinatas. Cultural appropriation arguments aside, I remember being so excited to see myself on the tv. I was her. I was that white girl at the party who couldn’t speak Spanish, tried their hardest to fit in and yet still stuck out like a thumb with a limp wrist. I often still feel like that, even in the drag community. As an overly-analytical, snarky, awkward person, there is only woman in the whole world that truly gets me: Tina Fey.
People nod their heads when I say that Tina Fey is my lord and savior but they don’t realize how deep my love is for her, almost obsessive. I recently did a mix to Katy Perry’s “Bon Appetit” dressed as Liz Lemon as a way to subvert the sexually objective premise of the song. I purposely wore my “boy” clothes and “boy” shoes as I swayed my hips with as much sensuality as I could muster. Who is to say that Liz Lemon’s brand of femininity is less sexual than Katy Perry’s? Why can’t a 22-year-old gay man who dresses up as 40-something-year-old fictional character with commitment issues be feminine, sexual, AND funny. The brilliant part of drag is the ability to challenge what femininity is. Does it always need to be soft, pretty, delicate? The simplest answer is of course not! Drag is still a microcosm of the world and the same inhibiting rules can still be enforced on you.
Without the tv I probably would have ended up in a gang. Without my sister I certainly would have ended up in an unhappy life. The feminine has provided me a space to live the way I want to. That is why visibility matter. That is why drag matters. That is why allowing the conversation of femininity to be intersectional matters. Without a wide net of options, we close our perceptions of what is possible. For thousands of years, our definition of gender has continued to change. I try as hard as I can in my drag to take what has shaped me over the course of my life and provide a space where the audience can look at it, take it in, and maybe think about their own place in the world. Drag is not only to make fun at what society deems as true, but to provide a space of self-reflection in the guise of humor and levity. Femininity is such an important factor in that because it doesn’t carry the same toxicity and self-loathing associated with masculinity.
Masculinity and Femininity are not two separate static truths, they are malleable cultural markers that can be subverted, defined, re-defined and ignored. Too often in contextualizing femininity, our scope is strictly defined by a traditional sense of the two. Where drag becomes so important is delegitimizing this idea of a static image of femininity and broadening of what it means to be feminine and a woman. My femininity is intrinsically connected to the color of my skin just as it is connected to my queerness. As a femme brown Chicanx drag queen, it is my hope and desire that my art allows people to feel safer and excited about dismantling the traditional sense of gender and femininity. Visibility matters. Part of the reason why I always called myself an old white woman was because they were the only group I could identify with when I was younger. I love honoring the iconic women that I grew up watching but I hope that my art provides new presentations of femininity that I didn’t have. A queer-brown-male-body can equate to femininity.
**Jean Decay is a writer/performer drag queen based in Los Angeles . She focuses on politically charged messages in hopes of mobilizing her community for the better. She has her own drag house called the “Church of Decay” that she runs as an art collective with her partner.
Jean will be writing a monthly online column for Honeysuckle regarding racism, gender identity and a perspective granted to her by a unique life story.