Sexiness is Subjective: Celebrating Drag’s Possibilities
“The very closed-minded queen-centric femme-presenting image of drag... is often misogynistic and encourages people to have a tunnel-vision when it comes to what they think drag can be. ”
“When I put on drag, I don’t just feel like I’m taking off my clothes... I’m removing the pressure to conform or fit in, I’m embracing my clumsiness, my silliness, my flirtatiousness. ”
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK (RPDRUK) has been a massive success for the drag scene in the UK in many different respects. It’s putting the mainstream spotlight onto the art of drag, and will no doubt bring new audiences into venues that might never normally have been there. Whilst we appreciate all the exposure and the platform it has given some drag queens, it’s undeniable that the show lacks in representation. The very closed-minded queen-centric femme-presenting image of drag that the show perpetuates is often misogynistic and encourages people to have a tunnel-vision when it comes to what they think drag can be.
My experience of being ‘born’ into the drag world came from a very different perspective, and I find it troubling that this show might be the way that many people see and try drag for the first time. My name is Carrot, I’m a gender-non-conforming person and a non-binary drag artist. My drag act is not a queen, not a king, and I don’t consider myself a drag ‘thing’ either (sorry Dr. Suess), I’m just a drag artist. Drag has been an important part of coming to terms with my gender identity, as it has been for many people historically. But as well as my gender identity, creating and performing as Carrot has really helped me to embrace my body and sexuality in a way that I hadn’t before.
In an episode of RPDRUK a couple of weeks ago, we saw some amazing conversations about being non-binary, and how often non-binary people struggle to find themselves attractive or feel sexy. The narrative on the show was that in order to be sexy and glamorous, you have to present yourself as stereotypically feminine – wear hip pads, a breast plate, high heels, a wig, a dress etc. For me, although the chat about being non-binary and struggling with identity was an amazing discourse to see on a mainstream platform, this narrative was actually quite damaging. It suggested that there is a ‘goal’ to be this glamorous, sexy, voluptuous drag queen – and that is the only way to feel sexy. That’s not true.
For me, personally, I have found feeling sexy and attractive in my drag and non-binary-ness to be a lot less about trying to cover up my body and re-shape it with clothes and pads, and more about taking things off. When I say taking things off, I mean that in a literal physical sense, and a metaphorical sense as well.
It is important to acknowledge at this point that people have their views of sexiness informed by what society has deemed to be the ‘pinnacle’ of sexy through constant representations of the archetypical ‘man’ and ‘woman’ throughout media and culture. One problem with this, amongst many others, is where do non-binary people fit into that?
The answer is: we don’t. There are no archetypes for what a sexy non-binary person looks like, there are no representations of that in media or culture. So I believe that many non-binary folks spend their lives, especially in their younger years, truly believing they are just ugly. We are told we don’t exist, we aren’t valid, we’re going through a phase. We don’t belong, we don’t fit in. People will not find us attractive. In all honestly, it’s no wonder we don’t feel sexy a lot fo the time. For me, drag has been an important part of discovering that the bottom line of it is that sexiness and attractiveness is subjective. How you feel sexy, and how you are perceived as attractive to others, are different things and are often out of your control.
I take my clothes off and wear very little in drag because that is how I feel sexy and confident. I find clothes and pads and breast plates and even wigs can be restrictive. Feeling sexy, for me, is about embracing my body, all my curves and lumps and bumps. Not tucking my bulge away, but loving it and showing it off, for example. The same goes in a metaphorical sense. When I put on drag, I don’t just feel like I’m taking off my clothes, I feel like I’m removing all expectations and preconceptions of what sexiness and drag is. I’m removing the pressure to conform or fit in, I’m embracing my clumsiness, my silliness, my flirtatiousness.
Whilst the pinnacle of sexy drag is often seen as a curvaceous ‘passing’ woman (and I do see the appeal, of course) it doesn’t always do it for me. And it doesn’t do it for many others either. I’ve always found the sexiest drag artists to be the ones who are pushing boundaries, exploring gender in new ways, and are embracing their own sexuality.
Drag, for many, is an escape. A way to ‘be’ someone else and use the character to make them feel more sexy, more confident, funnier. That’s totally fabulous and completely valid. For me, I’ve always wanted Carrot to be an almost completely sincere version of myself. Normal me, but without the inhibitions I might have in my normal life. Again, taking things off. Removing pressures. I’m not covering up, I’m embracing and showing off. That is what sexiness is all about, for me.
I was lucky enough to come into a very accepting and experimental group of people when I started out in drag, doing the Art of Drag Course at queer cabaret institution the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. On this course we were taught two key things: 1, how to not be a dick when performing at a gig, and 2, that drag can be anything. And those are the two things I bring forward to any work I’m lucky enough to get and has informed everything I’ve done since. It has always been clear to me from starting this course, and from attending other grassroots cabaret and drag shows like Bar Wotever, that drag is not just about creating something to be judged or approved by others. It’s also about how the artist feels on the stage, and how that lifts them up, gives them a voice and allows them to feel empowered and sexy. It creates a feeling of euphoria in an audience which, in turn, lifts the community and encourages political statements and movements.
My drag has always been very silly, but just because something is silly – that does not mean it can’t also be sexy, of a high quality or any less political. So when you see someone wearing drag, and it’s not fitting into your preconceptions of what sexy drag should look like, check yourself before judging them. Drag is not a rule book. Drag is not about looking a certain way to appease others. Drag is about how it makes you feel. It is a vessel that can be used however you choose.
So use it wisely.
Sexiness is Subjective: Celebrating Drag’s Possibilities