What's the 'E'? Critiquing the Estrogen Speculation Surrounding Willam Belli's RuPaul's Drag Race Disqualification

Submission by Randall Jenson in The Huffington Posts’ “Gay Voices” section

Last week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race promised to be the “most shocking episode ever.” Viewers learned, after watching two drag queens compete in the “lip sync for your life” elimination round, that neither contestant would be disqualified. Instead, one of the other Season 4 contestants, Willam, was disqualified for breaking the rules. As host RuPaul explained, “It has come to my attention that you have broken the rules, rules that are in place to protect the fairness of this competition. Your actions have consequences, and I’m afraid you leave me no choice.” The show offered no explanation, and the Internet has been buzzing with tweets, blogs, and status updates on the peculiar nature of this queen’s departure.

While it’s been advertised that we’ll have to wait for this season’s reunion special of RuPaul’s Drag Race to find out exactly what went down, this hasn’t stopped fans from creating speculative theories. Whether it was promiscuity, drugs, or behavior, Willam’s departure can be used as catalyst for a larger discussion on tensions between the worlds of gay men in drag and female transgender performers. I’m not too concerned about why Willam was eliminated, but I am concerned about certain types of justifications use to explain his dismissal, specifically speculation regarding the use of estrogen or hormone therapy.

To help you locate me in this discussion, I should point out that for the past three years, I’ve documented the lives of 10 self-identified effeminate gay men for a documentary series called 50Faggots. I’ve spent a lot of time entrenched in the worlds of individual nightlife personalities and drag queens, as well as having gone out many times in drag myself as a gay man. I believe there is an ongoing undercurrent of different privileges, benefits, and consequences for both gay drag queens and trans female impersonators when individuals perform in specific nightlife venues. In the controlled, television space of RuPaul’s Drag Race, there is an expectation that these performers should identify as gay men, and that has allowed for certain assumptions about what differentiates a gay man from a transgender woman. There seems to be a certain level of criticism attached to the speculation that if Willam was taking estrogen or hormones, then a) he could not identify as a gay man any longer, and b) this would somehow be cheating and giving him an “advantage” over the other contestants.

Well, let’s address this. I have a hard time understanding why the idea of estrogen use would be threatening to being a gay man, when in fact, personal identity is a delicate balance of choice, personal representation, and lived experiences. I believe some gay men can take estrogen or be on hormone therapy and still identify as men, just as some trans folks choose not to take hormones at all or refuse body-modification surgery. It would also be ironic if this were the real reason for William’s departure when fake breast plates, body modification, and plastic surgery have been openly used by many gay men who commit their careers to drag.

RuPaul’s Drag Race takes influence from mainstream pop culture and provides an undeniable contribution to queer culture and, more specifically, gay male culture. This is the reality show that’s unofficially credited with saving the Logo network. The soundbites thrown out on the show, appropriated from urban ball vernacular, have become everyday language to many gay men. We’ve all learned how to be fabulous and, at times, overly cliché versions of fierce. But perhaps an influence that we should be most critical of is the way gender and “drag” are still controlled. The show judges appropriate, controlled standards for what constitutes authentic drag and reward many queens for the highest levels of passing and “realness” they can individually achieve. As gay men, we’re still expected to enjoy a very rigid idea of femininity and what a woman should look like.

I most enjoy drag at the moments when gender and talent intersect in subversive ways through performance. I’m not interested in watching gay men attempt to reinforce basic, sometimes misogynistic stereotypes regarding women and gender. I’d like to push past the justification that Willam cheated through presumed estrogen injections and encourage our conversations to be more fluid on personal choice and representation. One of my 50Faggots Season 1 participants, New-York-City-based drag queen Epiphany, put it this way:

I think that drag shows you how foolish that caricature is, and that’s why it plays such an interesting role in our society. And I’ve had girls before say to me — and I hate when girls say this — “Oh my God, you’re more of a woman than I could ever be!” Well, I’m like, “If you honestly believe that, then all is lost.”

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50Faggots: “30 Days of Faggotry” Holiday House

Ho ho ho….ho.

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Dwayne Milan, seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4, performs his famous YouTube hit, “Miss Cleo” live at the 50Faggots Webisode 2 Release Party

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50Faggots Indiegogo Campaign Video

DONATE: www.indiegogo.com/50Faggots

Randall Jenson, executive director, and Meredith Zielke, executive editor, discuss why YOUR support is so important. 

The 50Faggots series consists of ten webisodes. We’ve already completed three. We need YOUR help to finish our seven remaining webisodes, finance post-production costs and complete Season One. 

We need to raise $15,000 by December 20th and with your help, we can do this. Any donation amount will help!  

Celebrate the season of giving and with every tax-deductible pledge you make, you’ll receive some wonderful incentives in return.

THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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50Faggots: Quickie #1: Jade with Raven and Tyra Sanchez

Lesbophobia in a Gay Bar: A Personal Account

Submission by Zach Stafford for The Huffington Post’s “Gay Voices” section

The other night I went to a gay bar on Christopher Street in New York City and left feeling like a broken piece of a larger, broken gay community that doesn’t seem to be whole. As I walked into the bar, I was excited to see drag bingo being played on a moderately busy Sunday evening, and an array of different kinds of people. This was New York to me, the New York you always hear about: fun, vibrant, diverse.

My friends decided to stand next to a group of people in front of the drag queen who was moderating bingo, and we befriended them instantly. This group, like mine, was a mixture of lesbians and gay men. While my friends, new and old, played bingo alongside the other bar-goers, moved to the restroom for a moment. During this break from bingo, I suddenly heard the drag queen yell over the mic, “Hey, I know you’re lesbians and all, but this is a gay bar!” among a few other hateful comments. I let that my brain absorb what had happened, and I thought, “Wait, did a man impersonating a woman just yell at women for being in a ‘gay’ bar?”

When I got back to my friends, I saw that the lesbians of the group were clearly pissed off and confused; one friend pulled a bartender over to ask him why they were being targeted by the drag queen’s hateful remarks when they were paying customers just wanting to play bingo. The bartender looked at us and responded, “I can’t kick you all out, but I can say that you all should probably leave. You’re not going to get served anymore.” This stunned all of us, and in complete anger one of my friends started yelling at the bartender that she was being denied service because she was a lesbian. She said, “I am staying and finishing my drink. You will just have to deal with me being here, a paying customer playing bingo.” The bartender shrugged the statement off, rolled his eyes, and walked behind the bar.

By this time, a gaggle of older gay men who had been watching this happen began yelling things at us: “This is a gay bar! Go home, lesbians!” “Why do you have to be here?” “Don’t you people have your own bar?” I decided to talk to these men. I approached two of them, but one looked at me and said, “You should leave here, too. You don’t belong, either!” This came off as racist to me, and I responded accordingly to the older white man: “Sir, you should be careful with how you word that sentence; you’re at risk of sounding racist along with already being misogynistic.” He glared at me and once more said, “Leave!” while grabbing my half-full drink, trying to pull it away from me, as the bartenders watched in apparent support of his actions. At that moment I pulled back, yelling, “Excuse you, I am not done yet, and do not touch me!” I drank the rest of my beverage and slammed down my drink in front of them, but once again, they insisted that I leave along with my lesbian friends. Finally, I looked at the bartender with hopes of help, but he just shook his head at me. His only response was, “Don’t provoke them.” With that statement I went for my coat and my friends, who had each been individually cornered by a combination of staff and the older regulars who frequented the bar. We left, defeated.

With the letters L, G, B, and T we see different identities being pushed in tandem in order to present a united front. At times this has caused controversy and turmoil within the “gay” community, but with recent advancements in legal rights, we seemed to be piecing together a more equal future and even beginning to look more whole. But I want to point to this moment above and ask us, as a community, to look within our own group and recognize the ways in which we are fragmenting each other. The incident that I went through is not rare, and many of my lesbian friends can point out past moments in which they were harassed for being in a gay bar. Although I understand the importance of having certain spaces for certain groups, we should not be subjecting women within our own community to the same discrimination that we are fighting against, whether we happen to be in a gay-male bar or not.

 

Follow Zach Stafford on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zachstafford

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50Faggots: Webisode 2 Highlights from Post-Screening Discussion at The Michigan Theater

View highlights from our Q&A with select Season 1 cast that followed our Webisode 2 premiere, “I Was Just a Poor Lost Boy Myself” at the MBLGTACC 2011 Conference, the annual largest regional queer young people’s conference in the nation.

Panelists include: Robert Mitchell (Cyon Flare), David Sotomayor (Jade), Roger Goodman and Creator / Director Randall Jenson.

Video edited by Justin Jezewski.
Music mixed to Cyon Flare’s “Fire” (Joe Gillian’s Getting Hot Remix)

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A Gay in the Life: The Power of Faggots

University undergrad students John, Zach and Kylon discuss their experiences being out, proud and what it means to individually “own” being a faggot.

Our first mini-documentary video from our new “A Gay in the Life” series, conducted from street interviews of the diverse queer people we meet while we traveling across the United States, filming our Season One cast.

Recorded at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. September 2010

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50Faggots: Quickie #3: Feast of Fun with Peaches Christ

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50Faggots: Quickie #2: David Hale and Mary Margaret Moore

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