One group says, “Act like a man.” One group says, “Femme it up.” Icon does neither.
Although gender expectations and roles are changing, some people, some groups, still have very rigid ideas of how people should dress and behave, how they should perform gender.
Icon got this pressure from two worlds, one who wanted him to be more stereotypically masculine, one who wanted him to be more stereotypically feminine. It was all about conforming to their ideals, regardless of who he was as a person.
In his words:
My name is Icon, and I’m from Philadelphia, PA.
I’ve always had a fascination with arts and performance and theater, growing up watching people like Michael Jackson or Janet Jackson or even RuPaul do their thing on stage. As a kid I always thought, “Hm, how can I be like them, how can I reach that level?”
I would dress differently than other people, particularly because I went to a predominantly black high school in Inner City so they didn’t see anyone like me. Graduating from high school I thought those things would change, somewhere I could just start over. This place was Lockhaven University.
Everyone seemed pretty accepting. I got very comfortable very fast because everyone around me was new. When I joined the ministry and joined the choir, I found out about the Praise Dance program and they did shows every year. Praise Dance is a dance where you express yourself naturally through words of the gospel, so you move and you kind of feel the message coming from the Gospel. My clothes would be very bright, very form-fitting, very flamboyant. Slowly but surely they would start to complain that I was a little bit too feminine during my performance. “You’re a man, you’re supposed to like position yourself like a man up there when you’re spreading the good news of the Lord.”
I was like, “Okay. Wow.”
I was very upset, I was very pissed, I was like, “I’m out of here, forget it, whatever.”
And then I got this long email saying they were disappointed in me and they cut my part out because they felt like it wasn’t right for the night, that the spirit wasn’t there for me that night.
When I started to have family issues I had to return back home and not return back there after my Freshman year. During that time I kind of started to find myself a lot more. The first time I started experimenting with my gender bending was when one year at Halloween when I worked at Sephora I dressed up as Grace Jones. I had a bar across my head, heels, tights, the whole bit. I thought, hm, maybe I’m on to something.
I remember doing this 10-week competition at this one club. It’s kind of like The Voice meets Drag Race. I had a full-on big ass bushy beard and I would wear a gown with no breasts and I would sing “I’m Every Woman.”
I remember getting a lot of comments from people saying, “If you’re going to do drag you’re going to have to femme it up. Oh you’re a big black girl, you just need to get up there with a big ol’ wig and snap, snap, snap and be sassy.”
I don’t have to fit into a standard of gender, I don’t have to fit into a standard of what’s blackness and what’s masculinity and what’s femininity and what’s being gay and what’s being queer. For anybody out there who wants to express themselves as far as performance, if you’re going to do it, just own it. I’m not just gay, I’m not just male. I’m like everything sprinkled all on top of one chocolate cake, one big old chocolate cake.
Originally posted at ImFromDriftwood.com. I’m From Driftwood envisions a world where every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer person feels understood and accepted, and every straight person is an ally.