In the wake of “transracial” controversy and the challenge it poses to transgenderism advocates, it’s equally interesting to look at the history of blackface and drag. Dumby argues that both have the same historical roots and serve the same purpose: to trivialize the oppressed and reinforce harmful stereotypes.
The drag show reiterates to women and men alike the rules and symbols of patriarchy, where rule #1 is not that sex determines sexuality (ie. “will I be penetrated or penetrator?”), but that sex determines social and political status. Maintaining the categories of masculine things and feminine things or, to put it another way, the hierarchical dynamics of man and woman, is the whole point. The attribute of something being a “feminine” thing prescribes drag queens’ interest in that thing. If that were not the case– if it were really about “blurring lines” and undermining gender– we would see drag shows full of men wearing five finger shoes and riding bikes with ambiguous cross bars. Those things, to me, are much more comical. There are ways to do comedy and ways to “fuck with gender” that do not center on lampooning women.
The truth is that there are sickening parallels between racist images, like minstrels in black face, and drag queens performing femininity in lipstick and heels. It may be too obvious to need saying that both are staged shows and forms of lighthearted artistic self-expression for white men, so let’s go further. This article will explore the following parallels between drag and minstrel shows: named stock characters, a special interest in “authenticity,” painted-on facial characteristics, the argument that those lampooned are natural servants, and the effects this has upon those portrayed.