“All gender is drag,” Riki Wilchins writes, in an essay entitled “A Continuous Nonverbal Communication.” To a certain extent, I understand Wilchins’ argument. Sometimes I can even manage to treat clothing as nothing more than a costume, a way to play with the ways that people view me. At the same time, something like the Drag Ball that my college’s rugby team recently hosted complicates the issue. It becomes more than a matter of mere clothing—societal expectations and messages about who I am become tied up in the question of what I should wear. Suddenly, the question of what form of drag I’m going to wear to Drag Ball seems a matter of paramount significance to the overall question of my gender identity, and I feel overwhelmed and nearly incapable of deciding anything.
Generally, when I think about dressing in drag, I mean looking like a gender-conforming, feminine woman—miniskirts, heels, cleavage, makeup, and the like. That feels “other”—it’s not what I’d otherwise wear. Wearing “boy clothes” is what I feel comfortable in; it’s what I usually wear. Given that I attend a women’s college, it is almost expected that people will dress like boys for Drag Ball. It puts me in a really awkward position: Boy clothes isn’t drag to me, but I tend to feel really uncomfortable in feminine clothing.
Because it’s Drag Ball, if I wear a button-down (by which I mean a nice men’s dress shirt) and a tie, I blend in with the numerous girls who will toss on a button-down or tie and call it drag. The message I would effectively be sending would be that I am a woman, or at least that I have a feminine gender presentation. That is basically the last message I want to send.
However, there are problems with wearing “dressing like a girl,” the first of which being that I just don’t want people to see me like that. On the few occasions that I do dress in an explicitly feminine way—and to be honest, it’s generally as a costume—I have difficulties bringing myself to even leave my room. Secondly, I worry that people won’t “get” it—that they won’t understand that for me, women’s clothing is, to large extent, drag. If they don’t understand that, my trans identity becomes invisible. People don’t generally read me as trans or genderqueer, even when my presentation is as androgynous/borderline masculine as I can pull off, which is stressful enough on its own. But to be seen as femme woman, especially when I’m trying to make the opposite statement, is more than I can manage.
Understand, I don’t think that there’s anything inherently gendered about clothing. I strongly believe that people should be allowed to wear whatever clothing they wish to wear, regardless of gender, without fear of judgment, ostracization, or violence. I don’t buy into the idea that clothing should be split into “boy” clothing and “girl” clothing, although I will, on occasion, refer to clothing as such for the sake of convenience. Nevertheless, I recognize that much of the society in which I live views clothing in a binarily gendered fashion. Because of that, people will make judgments about me based on my clothing, and I’m not yet at a point in my life where I can manage to simply not be affected by what other people think of me.
Wilchins, Riki. “A Continuous Nonverbal Communication.” GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary. Nestle, Joan, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins, eds. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 2002. 11-17.