Drag Queen 3

Drag Queen 3480
Permalink to this Image | Gallery of Rachel's Works

2 Essays

  1. Joan Michele Ryan | 2010 Third Prize Winner says:

    Within the city faintly recognized as New York in the background, sits a concentrated intersection of people of different identities – cultural, racial and even sexual. It is hard to miss the flamboyant character in the foreground and it is easy to guess why Tanur chose to focus her photograph on this individual. The fact that he dons a brilliant green dress is deceivingly obvious – the true phenomenon of gender socialization that lies beneath this single instance proves richer and more captivating to sociologists.

    From a young age, girls are taught to play with dolls while boys with guns. This is usually in accordance to the way their parents were brought up, as well as their parents’ parents and so on. With most of us abiding by the social norms within the social structures we interact within, children are taught and thus differentially socialized to behave and acquire tastes only specific to their gender roles – as a man or woman. This assignment of gender roles is further solidified through a child’s social learning where he is punished or rewarded for specific behaviours. Having been brought up in this existing system, the child will eventually internalize these norms and further reinforce them through his own behaviour and subsequent rearing of his offspring. This social reproduction of reality will thus perpetuate through future generations.

    This serves to explain why the surface of lesbian, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals was first frowned upon as deviance from a social norm. While alternative gender lifestyles have persisted through the ages, it was only in the previous century that communities formed and gained public interest. Once set apart something different and displeasing, behaviour straying from the typical heterosexual behaviour became labelled as ‘deviance’. Interestingly, it was the very act of labelling such behaviour as deviance that innervated its actors to proliferate such behaviour. According to labelling theory, actors labelled as deviant would eventually identify with the stigma and are subsequently driven to fulfil our expectations of them. Also, the labelling of individuals facilitates their association with others similarly labelled and this association encourages them to perpetuate their ‘deviance’, together. Indeed, the formal labelling of transvestism as deviance from gender norms and its subsequent perpetuation is best summed up by an excerpt from Feinbloom’s Transvestites and Transsexuals. In a letter, a transsexual comments:

    “...inner conflict leaves little energy for interaction with others... it is easier to get some attention and satisfaction as a flamboyant and fascinating freak than to try and relate to other people as a full human person... On the other hand, our "normal" person, by favouring curiosity over repulsion, can easily accept our "abnormal" human being -- as a freak. It is a miniature social contract.”

    When transsexuals can be accepted only as freaks or otherwise rejected as a normal person, it leaves them little choice. In fact, there are transsexual communities that even exploit society’s labelling as ‘freaks’. The hijras in India hinge upon the strange captivation they hold over society to earn their keep. They boldly demand money along the streets or at ceremonies and many oblige for fear of being mystically cursed by the hijra or even having him expose his genitals.

    Where the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ were once synonymous, we find in today a growing separation between the two that sets them as distinct. West and Zimmerman drive this distinction home by defining sex as ‘a determination made through the application of socially agreed upon biological criteria’ while gender is defined as ‘the activity of managing situated conduct in light of normative conceptions of attitudes and activities appropriate for one’s sex category’ i.e. male or female. It is worth noting that even in this attempt to distinguish between the two, gender is still defined in terms of sex. Would this not then create an a priori notion necessitating that it is natural for gender and sexual identities to remain congruent, since the determinate nature of sex is embodied in the very definition of gender? Perhaps then it might help to further enhance the separation between the two, maintaining the close relation between them but yet still addressing them as two independently distinct concepts. Maybe only then can we remove ourselves from our current frames of mind and move beyond gawking in morbid fascination like the man in the background of this scene.


    Feinbloom, D. (1977). Transvestites and transsexuals. Dell Publishing. 
Ravaging the vulnerable. (2003, August).
    Human Rights Watch, 15(6), 1 - 53.
West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender & Society, 1(2), 125 - 151.

  2. mtt76812 says:

    Ordinary, everyday life—the quotidian—is a complicated and variable condition. It is the taken-for-granted routine of our day-to-day lives, our “habits of thought, conduct and expression” (Striphas 2009:10; Hallinan and Striphas 2014:3). Regular, repetitive, and driven by convention, the ordinary rarely becomes, as Rita Felski points out, “an object of conscious attention” (2000:27; see also Felski 2002; Silverstone 1994:994). Our day-to-day lives are composed of and, indeed, structured by countless mundane and banal practices—waking, getting dressed, queuing up, and walking down the street. The repetitiveness of our everyday lives—what Henri Lefebvre calls “everydayness” (1987)—allows us to reduce our cognitive load by making these kinds of activities become automatic and thus inconspicuous. They are, in a way, withdrawn, almost invisible. Rarely consciously reflecting on our actions, we approach them with what Alfred Schütz calls the “natural attitude” (1970), carrying out much of our daily lives and habits with little forethought or deep consideration.
    In “Drag Queen 3,” we see a moment—a kind of rupture in the fabric of social reality—where the rhythm and texture of ordinary life meets with the extraordinary and the performative. A young man in drag, his body draped in vibrant green taffeta and his head, adorned with a burgundy beehive wig, walks down the streets of New York City. Onlookers, stop, and stare. This young man isn’t trying to pass as female. He is instead embodying a kind of heightened and intensified image of femininity. This is not simply a passive, unconscious way of being. His actions are overt and contrived. This is an artistic performance, carefully crafted, and put on display in the streets of New York. The main subject’s actions in the image produce what German dramatist Bertolt Brecht called called Verfremdungseffekt—or alienation effect—in his epic theater (1964). That is to say, that the main subject’s actions—his deliberate performance of femininity, in drag—forces the onlookers captured in the background of Tanur’s photo to suddenly examine their own style of comportment and behavior within public space. What once had seemed natural, innate, and seemingly self-regulating and automated, suddenly when placed in juxtaposition to this drag performance, becomes visible and present in jolting moments of difference and shock. This seemingly simple, almost meaningless act of walking down the street of New York City suddenly becomes a moment of mutual illumination. The young man in drag’s presence objectifies and reframes the performance of gender and presents it as an object of examination itself.