“Gentlemen, start your engines, and may the best woman win.”
It’s a phrase so strongly associated with drag that many don’t blink at the explicit binary accompanying the statement.
Over the last decade, Ru Paul’s Drag Race has cemented it’s place in mainstream culture, drawing audiences of all ages, genders and sexualities. However, aside from one or two exceptions, Ru Paul’s careful selection of America’s top drag performers has been restricted to cis men only.
The majority of established drag queens throughout history have presented as glamorous and hyper-feminine, mirroring a stereotype enforced upon women. Yet, women and non-binary people have been largely absent from the Western iteration of conventional drag.
So, when Keely and I (both cis women) started dressing as rough Aussie blokes, ‘Dazza and Keif’, we resisted the label of ‘drag’ and instead opted for ‘character actors’ or ‘physical comedians’.
It wasn’t until several months into our creative endeavour that we began to accept and embrace to the idea of being considered drag artists.
Creatures like Dazza and Keif, who get around in reflective tracksuits and multiple pairs of sunnies, were not familiar faces in the drag circles we frequented.
These boys were so far from the immaculate drag queens or suave drag kings we had seen in clubs and on stages, it was difficult to place ourselves within their contexts.
Though, as we settled into our identities as Ocker drag kings, a new-found power accompanied the growing comfort of embodying masculinity.
Dazza and Keif regularly interact with the general public, including cis-het males. Keely and I both noticed a distinct difference in the way these men would communicate with us. It was as though they found it easier to understand our superficial masculinity as maleness and accept the boys as one of them.
In drag, we would get called “mate” or “brother”, receive back slaps and fist bumps, and generally feel safer in the company of men than we would have dressed as femmes.
In drag, I found myself less concerned with how I looked or what I said.
I wouldn’t care if I dripped food down my shirt or if I burped loudly. Some AFAB people would view these behaviours as normal, but for me I noticed a marked difference in how strictly I held myself to society’s standards of feminine politeness.
Wearing baggy clothes and binding my chest also satisfied a desire I hadn’t allowed myself to feel since consciously abandoning my genderqueer childhood for a feminine adolescence.
Although the Melbourne drag scene is blessed with diversity and fluidity, the commercialisation and sanitisation of drag means we still have a way to go to achieve the re-acceptance of drag as a queer, radical art-form.
Keely and I acknowledge that, as cis white women, we have had a significantly easier time pushing our way into the scene than our QTPoC friends would have.
With the help of our messy, masc characters, we are working towards a reality where the re-queering of drag means there is room for everyone to express themselves and their genders in whatever ways they can dream up.
Dazza and Keif Go Viral plays Bondi Feast, July 18-20