The most feminine people I know are men who dress up and call themselves drag queens. The fact they can do that so convincingly, calls into question the notion of femininity and masculinity.
According to Judith Butler in her book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, gender is constructed by repeated performance of behaviors that belong stereotypically to men or women. Girls play with dolls; boys shoot each other with guns. Women wear dresses; men only wear pants. Women use makeup; men seem unconcerned with how they look. Women flounce; men hulk. Women lilt; men proclaim, when they are not grunting or mumbling. When a man, despite being a man, flouts convention and presents himself as a woman, he exposes gender as a performance, not as anything real. When drag queens take femininity to an extreme and parody the feminine, they ridicule our cultural norms and expose them as lies.
I’m not here to debate or affirm Butler’s ideas, but to take them into an area I know well, the feelings. When you have a feeling long enough, or often enough, that feeling will become part of your identity. Stomp around a lot and people will say you’re an angry person. Cry, and they’ll say you’re sad. Have fears, and you’ll be a scaredy cat. If you’re always happy, you might be the most annoying person they know.
It’s important to realize that the things you feel are not your essence. You are not happy, sad, mad, or glad because of any happy, sad, mad, or glad genes prominent in your DNA. You are a happy, sad, mad, or glad person because of repeated performance of behaviors that belong stereotypically to happy, sad, mad, or glad people.
In other words, you are not your feelings. Your feelings are a performance.
If you want to see what I mean, try being a drag queen with your feelings. That is, if you have a feeling, take it to the extreme that drag queens take femininity. If your feeling is sad, put on a sad face. Now go further. Make it the most extreme sad face you can manage. Start crying, but don’t just weep softly. Keen, wail, howl, bay until your throat is sore, your eyes are red, and those walrus tusks of snot come out your nose. Beat your breasts, tear your hair, put on sackcloth, and cover yourself in ashes. Make everyone come to see what’s wrong. Create a parody of sadness.
As Judith Butler would say, ridiculing normative cultural expressions and performances is an important way to resist the power structures which regulate your life and identity. Being a drag queen with your feelings will loosen the hold they have on you. It’ll destabilize the “truth” of your emotional identity.
By playing your feelings, you will no longer be your feelings. Your feelings will be exposed as a performance.
This post was previously published on Change Becomes You.
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