Latinx drag performer Jean Decay discusses the LGBTQ community’s growing pains as social media ups the ante in racial, sexual, and identity politics across the board. In the global society, it’s vital for everyone to be heard.
I love my community with all my heart. I have been a drag queen in Los Angeles for almost two years now and I have never felt more at home. Every night that I go out, I see performers dance, death drop, sing and work every inch of their stage. I am in awe of so much of the talent that exists here and have made so many lifelong bonds with people I already consider family. As a queer community that harbors many different types of people, the voices of our group are varied and extensive. Whether on the stage or in a Facebook post, it is evident that many queens/performers have very different ideas on how they view the world. More importantly, they have very different views of where drag should go. As our community grows larger, extends out of Los Angeles and becomes even more influenced by fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the toxicity of the discussions we have are far more nefarious. The ease with which we can all have immediate reactions to literally everything makes it extremely difficult to not go on the attack.
Power dynamics are enacted in every facet of every community, even in spaces that purport equality. Figures like Audre Lorde and Cherrie Moraga constantly criticized the racism and homophobia that existed in feminist spaces. Trans women have been extremely vocal about the transphobia in “gay” spaces that, just like feminist space, espouse equal rights. I remember my professor in college, Alicia Gaspar De Alba, mentioning the pyramid of tyrants. Oppressed people will enact the same prejudiced habits of their oppressors to others that are even more subject to these traumas. This exists in feminist circles, Latinx spaces, and even my own drag community.
Those varying voices can be angry and ignorant and really, really racist. Yes, there were queens who were upset about black and brown stripes on a pride flag while they dressed up as a fictional evil creature dubbed “a gay icon.” I’ve lost track of how many white queens who use Mo’Nique’s monologue from the film Precious as comedic relief in their performances. I dare not even talk about cultural appropriation at length. “It’s only for entertainment. You shouldn’t bring up that stuff at the club.” Our varying voices are very much expressed on the stage. There are many performers who stick to fun dance tracks that only express love. That is an act of resistance. There are queens, however, who desire to use their time on stage to bring up various sociopolitical issues. These goals of drag have always existed; they’ve never felt separate up until now. As we come into a society that is more aware of the words they use, drag queens are met at an impasse. As counterculture creatures, the initial thought is to attack every taboo. Within these dialogues, the pain of growth can be felt. With social media and a slightly more mainstream reputation, the dialogue doesn’t just stop at the gig.
I’d argue that a drag queen’s newest spot to perform is her social media profile. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – all become a part of her/his/their persona. Apply the very confusing social decorum to brass queer people and the result is very divisive. In this modern age, you must be: politically correct, progressive but not tyrannical, up to date on politics but not overbearing, know who is an internet pariah and who is back in, every current internet meme, and finally petty but also give no fucks (which is a confusing one to say the least). As a new performative space, the same issues that exist interpersonally are exhibited for the whole world to see. Facebook fights, disses on Twitter and Instagram stories explaining why one queen doesn’t like another infiltrate my social media accounts to no end.
Opinions. The quickness at which we hear opinions due to social media is a rate of mere seconds. If you don’t agree with someone, you simply unfriend. You create a community within a community that suits your mentality. Humans on a physiological level do not process disagreeing views/facts to theirs well. Anything we agree with, we process it logically, anything we disagree with is met with an emotional response. So we keep unfriending, drag queens keep pushing buttons, the community pains grow. In this aggressive performative space, social media becomes a part of the role we play within our group and negatively affects our personal connections. With the rate at which we hear opinions, our dismissiveness of any countering opposition grows. Even when those voices have valid reasons for feeling something, they get thrown away. I don’t think this makes someone bad. This isn’t a discussion of morality, rather an incapability to empathize when there is too much noise and voices to be heard. It is in part, a by-product of our nature and the new way we communicate. As drag queens, how should we situate ourselves? Are our performances not cries to be heard? A space to tell our story and give people insight to a life they may not know about? Are we not, partly, drag queens because of the dismissiveness of our stories? We are subversive creatures, but those most marginalized don’t need to be told how to live their lives. We are meant to dismantle the patriarchy, not re-create the power structures it uses to oppress us as queer people.
Our community keeps getting larger. Queens are created every day, I myself being the byproduct of a famous TV show’s popularity. I have been so humbled to have been met with open arms by the Los Angeles scene and thank those who helped me crack that shell. We have such an amazing capacity to be open and spread kindness. I envision a community that honors intersectionality, isn’t quick to judge, humorous, still subversive, and divine. It isn’t quite there yet, but I have to believe my community can do better, that I can do better.
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. Learn more about Jean on Twitter and Instagram.
Continue to follow Honeysuckle for Jean’s regular online column regarding racism, gender identity and a perspective granted to her by a unique life story.