KNOWhomo Moderator Personal Post:
Cael’s First (Performance in a) Drag King Show
Something I have always wanted to do got crossed off my list not long ago: participating in a drag show. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a Warbler for a night? Being rather shy with a dislike of stages (until I get on them at least) had led me away from this particular goal, but when my best friend said, “Hey, we should do this,” I jumped at the chance. We asked another friend to help us out and spent a Sunday evening entertaining our significant others while coming up with choreography basic enough even I could get it.
After missing the Wednesday dress rehearsal, I ended up outside the venue with some of the kings as they smoked before leaving, still made up from practicing their performances. They had Tupperware containers of hair and hairspray in hand, hair still on their cheeks and chins. I sat on the steps and listened to their conversations as they talked to my friends and significant other. I heard a random snippet about being excited about a packer coming in the mail, and then the focus turned to binding. One remarked on how much it hurt, another how their nipples were so close to their armpits, one more how they were so thankful they wouldn’t have to be made up much longer and could get out of that discomfort. The conversation curved again, and I stopped paying attention until my best friend turned to me before going inside and tossed back a reminder, “Is it still cool if I borrow that binder Friday?” something we had previously agreed upon. One of the kings, someone I have met and hung out with several times walked up quickly and asked, “Could I borrow one too?”
This whole situation struck me strangely, and still in a way I don’t quite fully understand. Listening to the kings talk about binding and how painful and uncomfortable it is when that is my everyday life was bizarre. I don’t have the luxury of not binding. It just is. It is an integral part of my life which I hate but can’t avoid. And to hear that conversation when I don’t have that same freedom brought up a bitterness in me which I don’t normally possess—or at least, acknowledge. I tend to live my life on the brink of not knowing what is going to happen and enjoying that sensation. I do not often look past the now, and I am very good at ignoring the things which break into my bubble of exploration and art and beauty and literature. I have never before in a group of cis women felt so displaced and dysphoric. My jealousy and bitterness (when I do acknowledge it) centers around cis men, specifically in any setting where they can go shirtless.
I don’t quite know how to put into words the entirety of my feelings around this conversation, but having someone I only vaguely know ask to borrow a binder from me made me even more uncomfortable. It felt like a disrespect of my identity, another almost-slap after the binding talk. Do you know how much binders cost? Do you know what it feels like in the summer to have to wear layers of compression shirts so you can move around without having your binder rub you raw? Do you know what it’s like never to be able to wear a tank top to escape the heat? Never to be able just to get out of bed in the morning and get dressed but to always be anchored to this one article of clothing simply so you can be? This one restrictive device which holds your nipples up by your armpits and constricts your ribcage so you can have the presentation of a male chest?
I just—I am not a person easily offended. I talk openly about everything regarding my own transition, my feelings, all generally trans* knowledge which people may or may not know, but in this, I am always aware of the people around me. I am always aware of dynamics and feelings and privacy. Binding is such a constant thing in my life, something I want to go away. I want to be able to take off the binder and be, but I can’t. It is necessary to complete this person, and I felt like for those few minutes my incompleteness was this flippant thing everyone could talk about while enjoying their cigarettes. I’m not a doll who gets dressed up everyday. I’m a man who needs this one thing to have the world look at me and see me as such. It’s one thing for a person I see as a sister to borrow a binder, someone who still sometimes looks at me after a long night and asks me how long I have had my binder on, a simple reminder for my own safety (my own safety, think about that). But it’s a completely different thing for someone I don’t know well, in front of a group of people, to ask the same.