It's a Trans, Trans, Trans, Trans World
Drag culture has impact and implications on larger transgender issues. We spoke with local psychotherapist Katy Koonce about these cross-pollinations.
Austin Chronicle: Why do people don drag, and does doing so make them transsexual?
Katy Koonce: People come to drag with their own very subjective experiences. Drag kings and drag queens kind of fit under that transgender umbrella because they are challenging our notions of gender.
When I remember drag queens from back in my day, in Hollywood, 1980, I wonder which ones of those were actually transsexuals and which ones were just gay men performing femininity or exploring their own femininity in a demonstrative, flamboyant way. When I look at drag kings today, I ask the same thing: Who is doing this out of exploration or as a political statement, perhaps criticizing misogyny, and who is in it because it touches them very deeply inside and this is the only permission they've ever had to let that show through?
AC: Is drag kinging a way for women to find agency or voice?
KK: Yes (laughs). My girlfriend refers to it as "freeing up the phallus from biological specificity."
AC: Is drag, in general, a way for trans folk to find agency or voice?
KK: The drag king movement, specifically, seems to have given FTMs [female-to-male] an "in," an image, because kings are "out there," and they are visible. Previously there were no images. Kinging has given people places to begin to explore gender in a safer space, too.
AC: Do you think that the two communities are fluid?
KK: A lot of [people in transition] wouldn't have anything to do with a drag show. They don't want to be mistaken for drag kings or drag queens. It isn't about performance; it's about whom they are inside. People talk a lot about how all gender is performative, and that's all great and theoretical, but you've still got to pick a bathroom, you've still got to check a box, you've still got to live your damn life.
AC: There are certainly struggles, especially in the women's community, with issues of body image versus body modification. Does breast reduction, for example, betray the feminist cause?
KK: It is so hard to speak to just one motivation for actually going through physical modification. Are there some people who might do it because it's cool or somebody else did it? Yeah, it could happen. But the majority of people that go for a whole transition are people who've been dealing with a lot of painful feelings for a very long time.
AC: Do people transition because of internal misogyny or homophobia?
KK: From a therapist's point of view, there may be exceptions, but I have to say that it's certainly not the rule. The assumpton that all gender is performance and that that applies to all people can be alienating to the transgender experience. The transsexual struggle gets lost when people start generalizing.
AC: But if the person is unhappy or uncomfortable with their body or gender, can changing their physical form really address the underlying unhappiness?
KK: Yes, I think you can change the body to ease the mind. That is what we found with SRS (Sexual Reassignment Surgery). There wasn't any therapy that would ease gender dysphoria. The only thing that helped was to change the body.
Transsexuals are dealing with really harsh realities in trying to make it in their lives ... and trying to keep their jobs ... and trying even just to pee without somebody screaming at them. We're all set up to believe in this ultimate binary; we're told that you have to pick one way or another. There are activists who choose to simply not pick a box.
Katy Koonce, LMSW, is a transgender-identified psychotherapist working with individuals, couples, and groups -- primarily with anyone in the GLBT spectrum. She can be reached at Transformations Psychotherapy Services at 329-6699.