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Reflecting on drag and offense and apologies.

So another drag queen has been offensive.

1. And this drag queen (the one writing this) is not making any excuses for her but yet she feels, as does her brother, that the anger and charges of racism and demands for apology and indeed the subsequent apology from Miss Kitty Litter are somewhat misplaced or misguided.

2. Drag queens are characters separate from the performers playing them. This line is sometimes blurred by the fact that the performance is often fluid and involves a fair amount improvisation, but they are still characters separate from the (usually) men who play them.

Miss Kitty Litter (MKL) is a character. And from all accounts, she is a character who does not believe in political correctness. Some of us might even call her character racist. She was hired by the Pride Committee to host a show. During that show she was her usual (again as far as has been reported) politically incorrect and/or racist self. A person in the audience complained, loudly and publicly. And now MKL has issued an apology and asked us not to blame the Pride Committee. But you see, I do. I blame them entirely.

3. As far as I am concerned, MKL was hired to do a job and she did it. Indeed going by the passion of the response, she did it very well. She has nothing to apologize for, perhaps hurt feelings, but she should feel absolutely no need to take any of what she said back, because her character is not interested in political correctness. Her character says things that are hurtful, and that was what she was hired to do, play her character.

More than once, in comments on this blog, it has been voiced that it is unbelievable that in 2007, people find racist jokes funny. I disagree, racist jokes can be funny. What is unbelievable is that in 2007, people can’t see why what they are laughing at is offensive.

4. Expecting political correctness from a drag queen is really problematic. More than once now on this blog, a drag queen has been called racist. Yet not once yet have I heard a drag queen called a misogynist. Why Are drag characters always either overtly sexual to the point of being two dimentional or silly? Can women not have a voice as opposed to moving their lips to what someone else is singing? No, and yet I never hear the charge of misogyny. Why do we ignore one kind of hate and oppression but jump all over another? What is really happening here?

I am personally disinterested in political correctness, I find that all it does is illuminate what a speaker is uncomfortable saying.

Now we might say, “but Boston Pride had no way of knowing EVERY thing that came out of her mouth”. To which I can only ask if Boston Pride knew the work of the artist they were hiring.

If they did, then the blame falls squarely on them. They didn’t need to know exactly what she would say. If they knew her work, then they should have known she is not interested in being politically correct.

If they didn’t know her work, then there is a lot more explaining to do. Why would you hire an artist whose work you don’t know? I’m guessing she was paid, it seems like a bad idea to invest in an unknown commodity. If she wasn’t paid, why was Boston Pride shipping a queen in from Rhode Island giving her publicity and prestige instead of supporting one of its own?

5. Why pick a drag queen if you don’t know her work? Certainly there is an appreciation at Boston Pride that all queens are different. Surely there is recognition that every drag queen brings with her something other than color and a dress. Drag queens are not, in fact, an indistinguishable mass of eyelashes, heels and sequins. They are in fact individuals. And ought to be treated as such.

If the Boston Pride Committee doesn’t know that, then I might ask, where have they been every year at well, Pride?

Again I ask, what’s really happening here?


Don said...

Why would anyone choose to make their character a "racist" one? It isn't like there is no coice in the matter, it is not a play or a musical. People like Shirly Q. Liquor are choosing to create racict drag characters and it's stupid and tired. And yeah becca, I think misogyny in drag culture is messed up too. I agree with your #5.

Becca D'Bus said...

As was alluded to, albeit almost in passing, I do think that racist/sexist/(fill in the blank)ist jokes can be funny. And if told well, they often are. BUT, it is important to understand that they are offensive and why.

By the way, I do think that racist characters are often also really funny.

Shirley Q Liquor presents a much more complicated issue that i might get into one day, but suffice to say that I am not completely convinced that what she does is racist, though it certainly makes many of us feel uncomfortable.

alex said...

thanks for bringing this up. i think this is an important discussion that we should be having.

a few points of repsonse...

as for MKL (which, btw, is a disturbingly similiar anagram of MLK) being a character... yes, that is true. she is character. a work of the imagination of the individual who created her. but that doesn't mean that the creator/perfomer is free of responisibility for the character(s) he creates. the things that MKL says and does have real impact in the world, and we need to hold the performer responible for these actions. artistic license is a license to be artistic. not oppressive.

as for the need for MKL to apologize... she most certainly does. and not just for "hurt feelings." her jokes (which i fortunately was not present for) have far reaching impact that expands beyond the hurt feelings of those wise enough to be offended in that room. racist humor perpetuates both literal and psychic violence against people of color. you argue that racist jokes can be funny, and the problem lies not within the teller of the jokes, but the inability of the audience to properly receive them. in some ways, i think this is true. if people actually understood how harmful these racist jokes are, then perhaps they could have somewhat of a pained laugh, acknowledging that people actually think this way and how disturbing and sad that is. sort of laughing at racism as opposed to laughing with racism. but, this depends on the perfomer to deliver the jokes in an ironic way. performers like margaret cho, dave chappelle, etc, draw on the racism of their lives and deploy it in their performances. but, they do so in a way that calls attention to the fucked-up-ness of the racism, rather than reinforcing it. they make jokes about racism in an effort to subvert it, not racist jokes that have a vested interest in perpetuating at the expense of people of color. from my understanding of MKL's performance, there was nothing ironic or subversive about her humor, and therein lies the difference and the problem.

with regard to the alleged misogyny of drag queens, i think this is a conversation that has been going on for years, but i think it's important that we revisit it. while i obviously can't speak about all drag queens, in general, i would say that the idea of drag and most performers are not being sexist. it's camp. it's an over the top performance of hyperfemininity. if anything, drag queens are celebrating the hyperfeminine, something that is, in my opinion, feminist. the hypersexuality of a drag queen is valorizing feminine(female?) sexuality in a way that is not generally acceptable, and says, "hey, being sexual, being femine, being campy, etc. is great! and we shouldn't demonize femininity!" it also mocks popular notions of femininity. as if it say, "this what you think womanhood is?" and takes that distorted notion of what women are like and runs with it, reclaims it, and celebrates it.

this isn't to say that drag queens are never sexist. shirley q. liquor, for example, (we obviously disagree about this one) perpetuates a specific raced/classed version of sexism that is wholly destructive in her lack of irony.

as you say, "Drag queens are not, in fact, an indistinguishable mass of eyelashes, heels and sequins. They are in fact individuals. And ought to be treated as such."

i wholeheartedly agree with you. as a result, i think we need to hold these individuals responsible for the words that come out of their mouth.

Becca D'Bus said...

I think this is a comment on artistry. MKL shouldn't apologize. maybe the man who plays her might. My point though is Boston Pride needs to make soem kind of statement about this, and not soem cowardly attempt at passing th buck.

Anonymous said...

Boston Pride will be making a public statement & Miss Kitty Already apologized.