Gender and Drag
How Drag Helped Me Understand My Gender Identity
I have wanted to write this piece for a while now, for a variety of reasons, but I have struggled to put pen to paper every time I’ve tried to start. This is an issue of great importance to me, and I wanted this piece to be perfect, and say everything that I wanted to say without any regrets. I wanted to post this piece now, more than ever, as a reminder to all of us who value the Drag community to reach out and support our friendly neighbourhood drag queens during this difficult time.
I was born in, and spent my early childhood in, Ukraine. I was an only child, and I recall having only one close girl friend. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the culture surrounding gender was, and still is, quite different from Ireland, which is where I ended up living from the age of seven upwards. Acclimatising to a completely different culture and language was very difficult, and for the majority of my childhood, I felt like I didn’t really fit in. I was never “one of the girls”, and felt so alienated from my own gender that, at the age of ten I decided I simply didn’t want to be one of them anymore.
I took a scissors to my hair in the bathroom, and once my mother saw the disaster that was now on my head, she took me to Peter Mark, where they ended up having to cut it even shorter in order to make it look like it hadn’t been hacked to bits with a chainsaw. My hair was something that I was picked on about into my mid teens; I remember a boy on my road used to call me a “tranny” whenever he cycled past me.
I never really did “girly” things - it wasn’t that I didn’t want to; It was just that, when I did, I felt clunky and clownish and fake. When my mother would stick me into a pastry-like dress for dinner parties or birthdays, do my hair and paint my face, I would simply feel like a boy pretending to be a girl.
This was something I struggled with for a long time, and even in my late teens I found myself “trying” to be a girl more so than just “being” one. I would sometimes wear makeup to school, and people would ask why, or if I got dressed up nicely to just go out my friends would make comments about what I was wearing. It felt like I was always too much or not enough, and it made me feel angry and frustrated and just... lost.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I’m sixteen. I’m walking through Dublin city center, and this tall, beautiful blonde woman is walking towards me down Grafton Street. It takes me a moment to clock that she’s actually a Drag Queen. Even after the fact, my stomach turns with jealousy. How is it possible that a man can do a better job of being a woman than I can? I’m mildly frustrated, but highly impressed. This was my first ever distant encounter with Mizza Queeria, and it wasn’t the last. I went on to attend many of her shows at the George, without ever losing the initial wonder and awe that I felt the first time I ever saw her stomp past me in her six inch heels.
It took me a while to really familiarize myself with (and, I’m shameful to admit, accept) various aspects of LGBTQ+ culture. I grew up with an older army dad, who was always supportive of “the gays”, but was hyper masculine and didn’t really get it. I had lashed out on a few occasions with statements that lacked understanding, and that reflected my background of ignorance towards issues like trans rights and queer culture. However, that all began to change when my interest in the drag community piqued.
I started delving more into the world of the George and Pride Festival and RuPauls Drag Race, and was very quickly informed on what I had been missing out on all along. The more I got to know Drag, the more I felt I got to know myself. I can’t explain with words the magic of watching Drag performers - I really can’t. There is nothing like it. People who do Drag will tell you that you learn a lot about yourself from getting into Drag, and putting on that persona, but watching Drag taught me a lot about myself that I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
These beautiful Queens, they can do anything - be anything, and I really admired that. I fell in love with the fluidity of the art form - the Boy Drag, the Girl Drag, the Comedy Drag, the High Fashion Drag...it was a whole new world to me.
These queens have such powerful messages for the world, and I think they are so important. Drag made me realize that there could be a playful element to my gender identity; I didn’t always have to be this person that I didn’t recognize and didn’t relate to. I could put on a persona, a cute outfit and a wig, beat my face, and go out and live that and enjoy it, but I could also come home and accept myself and love myself when all of that comes off.
I think if it wasn’t for me having discovered Drag and everything that comes with it, I would still be a very insecure person who is very uncomfortable in their skin and their identity. Drag really helped educate me on the importance of identity, and the validation of, that I might not have understood until much later in life, if at all. I’m so grateful for everything that Drag Artists have shared with the world, and what they have taught me about myself. The world would be a lot darker without them (not to mention, less sparkly!), so please remember to support your local Queens and Drag Community, because they need our love and support as much as we need them!