May 2, 2023 (3:29 PM)

4 min read


In my junior high school, when being queer was still not as accepted as it is today, I found joy and entertainment in watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has now found its way into mainstream media. It introduced me to the concept of making your own body as a canvas to express gender, break stereotypes, and perform art – in short, doing drag. The premise of the show was so novel and mind-boggling to me. It’s like Project Runway, Next Top Model, and all those MAPEH performance tasks crammed into one show.

It allowed me to see self-expression in an entirely new light. It is also a delight to see its break in mainstream media, especially in our predominantly Catholic country, the Philippines. Last year’s first season of the Philippine franchise of Drag Race celebrated drag as an art form to be enjoyed by those who watch it. It also celebrated creativity and gender. 

This 2023, numerous senate bills passed in the United States wherein adult-oriented performances, especially those who crossdress or express themselves as someone not associated with their assigned gender at birth, to be made illegal. This art form is now threatened. In the great tradition of Paris Is Burning, the library is open, but drag artists’ space may soon close its doors. 

The bills passed emphasize that drag or “any transvestite and/or transgender exposure, performances or display” should be kept away from minors or children. The conservatives passing the bills reason that drag performers are a danger to children and may indoctrinate values that do not align with them. Also, the notion that drag performers are groomers, coming from them, would be a lengthy topic in itself. 

Currently, numerous efforts have been made to counter the passing of the bills. There have been protests, media campaigns, drag performers attending senate hearings, etc. RuPaul’s Drag Race, being at the forefront, has also been very vocal in its opposition, allotting an entire episode in its latest season to a musical themed on the banning of drag. Drag advocates point out that children are not their primary audience when performing. Although some drag queens do perform for children, they present and dress themselves in a family-friendly manner.

Those who appreciate drag see it as an avenue that brings out the part of yourself that may be kept inside. It is seen as an avenue to explore the boundaries of your gender expression, to be hyper-feminine or hyper-masculine as you like. It explores the limits of human aesthetics, pushes the expectations for beauty, and also breaks them. Drag is an art form; like any form of art, it caters to different audiences. Prohibiting its exercise entirely prohibits the expression of those artists. In this case, the trans community is also in danger.

Drag is commonly defined as an art form involving those individuals who display themselves as someone not of their assigned gender at birth. Here, the drag performers may be able to navigate around its criminalization, but our trans fellows have to deal with this every day. The vague definition of drag could lead to the criminalization of the public display of gender nonconformity. This broad criminalization will likely lead to power-tripping, wherein the ordinary everyday people would take most of the brunt. 

Aside from its effect on the LGBTQIA+ community, people in a community similar to drag may also be affected. Cosplayers or costume players, comedy skits, and plays that involve crossdressing may suffer from this. Business owners or school officials may have to exclude those who do “drag” in their spaces to keep their permits or to avoid legal actions. It will now become a problem beyond the drag industry.

The passing of such legislation would unsurprisingly cause a shift in the drag and queer space in our country. Again, as a predominantly Catholic country, drag may find its way back into the unconventional media. Attacks on the rights and freedom of the LGBTQIA+ community are not new in the country. Numerous efforts have been made to do so, such as the proposed Heterosexual Act of 2022; not to mention the over two-decade continuing struggle to pass the SOGIE Bill. These attacks on drag are attacks on the freedom of self-expression and identity, which has been what activists are fighting for decades. 

Now that drag has been getting its share of the spotlight, I hope it will continue to be seen in a creative light for people, not just for queers, but for everyone, as I had seen it back then. Someone fully expressing themselves safely does not reduce or endanger your self-expression or freedom. Art should be free, and we should keep it that way.

This article was published in the April 2023 Issue of Atenews. Read it here:

About Jake Salvaleon - jgsalvaleon

End the silence of the gagged!

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