Identity and the performance of identity are topics that constantly surround the LGBTQ community. Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that identity is “the relation established by psychological identification”. Throughout time we have seen people self-identify with certain genders yet there is a portion of one’s identity is decided through societal expectations of masculinity and femininity. For transgender people and drag performers, what gender they personally identify with and how they define that gender through how the behave and dress live outside the norms of cis-gender society.
"Sex is the biological (e.g., male/female); gender is the social (e.g., masculine, feminine, androgynous); sexuality is the erotic (e.g., heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, autosexual, celibate)," -C Lynn. Carr
What’s the T?
A transgender person is typically described as someone who has identifies or expresses themselves as a gender that differs from sex they were assigned at birth. Being trans* (the umbrella term for all trans people) can vary depending on the person but encompases people who alter their gender identity or expression from :
Male to female
Female to male
Male or Female to genderqueer (a non binary identity in which a person either identities with both genders, neither genders or is fluid between genders)
Being trans* is about how each individual person views themselves as. Some transgender people undergo gender-reassignment surgery and hormone replacement but surgery is not necessary in order to identify as trans*.
If someone doesn’t present themselves as what society has determined a man or woman looks like, there can be some hesitancy as to what to address a transgender person. As Trans actress and model Hari Nef noted in an interview with The Coveteur, “People see trans as presentational, hence inauthentic; people see trans bodies as ‘inauthentic’ in themselves. Even if I’m wearing a baggy sweatshirt and pajama pants, it’s still ‘Yaaaaas!’ and ‘Slay!’ from the peanut gallery”. But trans* people are also still people, they are not objects or drag queens. So...
Call someone a “tranny” or a “transvestite”
Call someone a “he-she” or “she-he” or “it”
Ask someone what their preferred gender pronouns are
Apologize if you mistake someone’s pronouns
Use gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, theirs), if you feel uncomfortable asking someone what their pronouns are, or if that is actually what pronouns they’d prefer.
Many politics surrounding trans* culture has been evolving and shifting throughout the past few decades.Even just a few years ago, drag superstar RuPaul came under fire for her use of the term “she-mail” and “tranny” on her show RuPauls’ Drag Race, terms that RuPaul no longer uses on the show. One of the best ways to be a trans* ally is to keep your ears and minds open as the trans community, like any other community, continues to shape itself.
A drag performer is not the same thing as a transgender person. Being trans* is more about how a person identifies whereas drag is about the performance of gender. Drag is often both an expression and exaggeration of gender and sexuality. When a drag performer is dressed in their performative attire they should be addressed as their perceived. However, once they are out of drag, they should be addressed by the gender they identify as. So for instance: RuPaul the drag superstar, would be referred to with female pronouns whereas RuPaul Charles the man under the makeup goes by male pronouns.
The drag and trans* world does intersect at times however. There are some people who started out as drag performers and then through the process, realize that they identify as transgender. As trans model Carmen Carrera explained in W Magazine, “Eventually, I didn’t want to act like a woman anymore—I wanted to become one. I went to a doctor, and he prescribed what I needed. But I sat on it for a little bit. I kept thinking, What happens if I don’t look nice? That same month, I got a phone call from the producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Literally the day after we finished filming the show, I decided it was time to transition.”
Additionally trans* people may still perform along aside drag queens by doing a higher production value performance of the gender they already identify as. Trans people can also be seen performing at the same balls and queer spaces as drag queens as a way to celebrate their identity in a safe space.