Glamorous, fabulous, revolutionary, drag!
There is a general accord about things our society labels as extrinsic. The subjects looked down upon are subcultures that have proven that if anything interrupts the conventions of society they are to be shunned. Jennie Livingston’s documentary, Paris is Burning, shows how a group of individuals bound by this common rejection, construct a subculture that has its own rules and standards. The documentary chronicles the lives of African American gay, and transgender within the drag ball culture in New York City in the mid – to – late eighties; a culture where they can create their own real identity and be themselves or anyone they want to be; a culture that is a part of our civilization and yet completely boycotted from it. The film gives this queer community a voice that has hardly ever been heard by the dominant audiences. Livingston provides us with exclusive interview clips and shots of the competitions of the ball culture, which expose the struggles and burdens that is the result of disregarding the “norms” of the constitutional society.
Gender identity is crucial in this society, it declares your sexuality and provides power, influence, and acknowledgement in the mainstream culture. When the gender criterion is not followed it causes ruckus as well as fascination amongst humanity. Drag performance is all about bending these expectations regarding gender. Drag is not just a style of living but also an aid for survival for these people. It provides them with a family, a family that will not abandon them or limit their sexuality.
The people in Paris is Burning do not identify as traditional male or female, they explain their gender by the absence of language and presence of peculiar forms of communication like the dance form voguing. Another way of communicating was the competitions in the ball scene shown in the documentary – film. The ball is a place where men gather under one roof and compete in specific categories like “butch queen”, “military”, “high fashion evening wear”, then they walk like runway models and are judged by a panel who then award trophies to the winners. The contestants are ranked on their competence and ability to commix with the heterosexual male and female cultures. It is their way to flaunt their skills and prepare for the “real world”, like what society wants them to be. Judith Butler once said, “Culture so readily punishes or marginalizes those who fail to perform the illusion of gender essentialism should be sign enough that on some level there is social knowledge that the truth or falsity of gender is only socially compelled and in no sense ontologically necessitated.” Regardless of how frivolous this sounds, the acceptance of the gender norms is the solution to social acceptance. It’s fascinating that ball culture disregards those gender norms through ironic, paradoxical and exaggerated performances.
Drag queens stand in contrast to the dominant society; they practice an...