Men In Dresses

Earlier this week, John Scalzi and Jim Hines did a charity thing in which they did parodies of a “silly female pose” book cover. If you haven’t seen the pictures then you have probably seen people laughing at them. Well, this morning I woke up to discover that concerned feminists were angry about this. Apparently anyone who laughed at the pictures was guilty of transphobia. Jim even saw fit to issue a public apology. Update: Scalzi also has a post on the subject here.

Let me see. I didn’t exactly laugh out loud, but I did groan and appreciate the joke. I guess that makes me a wicked transphobe.

No, wait, let’s step back a minute. What John and Jim were doing was drag. Now drag is a complex phenomenon that I’ve never been part of, but I do know some stuff about it. I know, for example, that it can take many forms, from gross parody in which the performer is making fun of extreme forms of gender presentation, to impersonation, where the idea is to look convincing when cross-dressed. I also know that some drag performers self-identify as trans, while others adamantly do not. And I know that some cis people mistakenly believe that drag and trans are one and the same thing.

Now what John and Jim were doing was pretty clearly in the parody category. They weren’t trying to look like women, and they were deliberately mocking the way that women are portrayed on book covers.

In contrast, trans people, for the most part, are not intending to parody anything, though some may do so at times to make a political point. It’s true that there are genderqueer folks who enjoy mixing and matching elements of gender presentation, but they take pride in their appearance. Indeed, some of the genderqueer people I know are incredibly stylish and good-looking. Even the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Goddess bless them, have their own, off-the-wall aesthetic, as exemplified by Project Nunway.

I note also that drag performers (with one or two dishonorable exceptions) do not set out to mock trans people, they are mocking cis people.

It never crossed my mind that John & Jim might be seen as mocking trans people. Of course there are going to be idiots who comment on the pictures saying things like, “Hur, hur, u look like a tr*nny!” That’s why you should never read the comments. But the connection between parody drag and trans people was in their minds already, John and Jim didn’t put it there.

The connection can be in other minds too. When I hear someone say, “Anyone who laughs at those pictures is transphobic”, what I actually hear is, “Well, we know that trans women are actually ugly men in dresses, and can never be anything else, but you still shouldn’t laugh at them.”

You know, I appreciate the concern, but I’m not sure that I want to be defended by people who think I look like John & Jim do in those pictures. Nor do I want the idea spread that those pictures are what trans people look like.

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10 Responses to Men In Dresses

  1. Fred Kiesche says:

    Hopefully…what is not overlooked by everybody: Jim & John are doing this for charity.

  2. No, wait, let’s step back a minute. What John and Jim were doing was drag.

    More specifically, it’s trash drag, though they may not have thought of it as such. It’s a delightfully half-assed job doing the bare minimum necessary to evoke the original image.

    I note also that drag performers (with one or two dishonorable exceptions) do not set out to mock trans people, they are mocking cis people.

    Drag humor has a lot in common with borscht-belt Jewish humor, it’s all about vulnerability and self-deprecation.

    Of course there are going to be idiots who comment on the pictures saying things like, “Hur, hur, u look like a tr*nny!” That’s why you should never read the comments.

    Except on Whatever and jimchines.com. They have good commenting communities, and those sorts of comments are met with erudite derision.

    You know, I appreciate the concern, but I’m not sure that I want to be defended by people who think I look like John & Jim do in those pictures. Nor do I want the idea spread that those pictures are what trans people look like.

    Yeah.

    I don’t think the offended-on-behalf parties even understand the objectionable white knighting they’re engaging in. I expect they’re the sort of people who believe they couldn’t possibly engage in white knighting.

    • Cheryl says:

      Well, some of them doubtless believe that any trans woman who doesn’t look like those pictures is Doing Trans Wrong for failing to subvert the Binary. I’ve been told off for not growing a beard before now.

      And of course others will assume that people who are mentally ill are not capable of defending themselves.

  3. Kevin Roche says:

    I’ve done parody, camp, and try-to-look-real drag (although my parody and camp attempts worked best when the foundation was try-to-look-real and the wardrobe/production were the over-the-top component).
    I stopped in part because of all the stupid assumptions people made about drag performers.

  4. @Petréa, reading a bit more deeply into the reactions to The Hawkeye Initiative, the complaints were over some submissions where the humor was all about “let’s put makeup and false eyelashes on Hawkeye” and “let’s make Hawkeye kiss Batman” instead of “let’s use Hawkeye to show what a joke this pose/framing is.”

  5. And the Sisters themselves include people whose gender identities cover the whole spectrum, including stuff you haven’t thought of yet. And then some of us are just faux Bears in bad drag.

  6. Carolyn says:

    Yeah, exactly, and well said. When I ponder it I find I think of trans and drag as being two entirely separate things, and that’s absolutely still the case when the drag performers identify as trans people. To confuse a drag performance with something that’s intrinsically a subset of being a trans person seems, and I’m putting this as mildly as possible, not only ill-informed but unevolved.

  7. Mary Frances says:

    To be clear, too, Hines and Scalzi issued apologies/explanations not for the act of trash-drag-to-make-a-point itself but for the distance from the original “posing” explanation and the “pose-off for charity” set up; I don’t know if I’d feel that that was necessary were I in their positions (um; sorry for the pun–I just meant, the back-links were there), but I can see why both men might be concerned about people coming into the middle of the conversation, as it were. I do think that offering an explanation was a valid thing for them to do, because–as both men are apparently aware, and as the generally civilized conversations over on Scalzi’s Whatever and Hines’s blog would seem to indicate–context does matter.

    Beyond that–yeah. I agree.