Drag Queens: Protest, Performance or Perversion?

The ideas behind protesting and performance art always go hand in hand: to mirror events in the world and to expose it to humanity as a piece of art and not just an occurrence. Pain, blood, tears, sweat and torture are some of the most shocking yet common signifiers of the art form. A recent and prime example is Petr Pavlensky, who nearly castrated himself in front of Lenin's Mausoleum on Police Day to protest the authority the Kremlin holds over Russia. While Pavlensky’s act might have been a performance of self-gain or self-sacrifice, the line between revolutionaries and performance artists is fine. Yet the message has always been the same: art is a timeless tool – It has been and continues to be a forerunning dialog on humanity. Yet there is one performance that has always been overlooked in importance: transvestitism.

The Past And Present

Take a giant leap back to New York, June 28th, 1969. A time when American laws were stricter than most eastern European countries. This was the day of the Stonewall riots where multiple violent demonstrations were held by the gay community in protest to common police raids and the prosecution they constantly faced. That night started a revolution and among the riots were some of the most heavily prosecuted due to their supposed perversion: drag queens. The ideas behind protesting, performance art and transvestism go hand in hand. Drag Queens in the 60’s were no different from today – men that dressed up as women – except then, it was about questioning the social norms, authority and freedom of expression. Recently, drag has welcomed a resurgence in popularity due to public mainstream exposure: Ru Paul’s Drag Race, A reality TV show pitting Queen against Queen, and star photographer David LaChapelle bringing the world's eye to Amanda Lepore’s fake tits. While bringing the world of drag into daylight has not been a negative, drag queens have received a badge of being harmless and pointless. How can sequins and glitter change the world when hammers and nails seemingly can’t?

Is Amanda Lepores body that of revolution? Photo: Chris Phillips

To gather further insight about the drag world and whether the flame of performance art and protest was still alive in drag, I Skype interviewed KKBB (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) an international drag collective founded by Canadian native Shannon Lester and the Australian Michael Judd; both men questioning power abuse and undeserved authority in the world through their alter female egos Sasha Zamolodchikova and Belgium Solanas (managing to do this all without nailing their scrotums to anything).

Art Parasites: Where do you believe true power comes from?

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: The majority of the problem in the western world come from a lack of honesty. If you live genuine life and are honest power comes from that.

APs: What is drag to you?

KKBB: Drag is about crossing boundaries, we have expanded to audiences that have never seen a drag show before. Creating humanity by using what's already there. Usually the second anyone sees a man dressed as a woman, they think it's a sexual fetish if you're dressed in drag. For us it’s nothing sexual, it's art.

They know that the risk of having taken drag out of the safety of bars and back into the real world has it's risks (namely facing arrests), but it's their risk to remind us of our past and how we are creating again humanity through art. I was granted permission to share a preview from their newest and most truthful film to date, "Yūrei Ga Tōru." Like many performance artists, the film explores sexism, misogyny, corruption and the many evil's in the world

While the video might not cause the same stir as Pavlensky's ball sack, it is the answer for the many people who accuse artists of using shock tactics for personal gain. KKBB couldn't agree more: " Shock, too, is degrading and meaningless. The most shocking thing about us is that we are genuine and our art is from deep inside of us." It can be abeled as a performance, a protest, a man or a woman and no matter whether the nails be acrylic or steel, the people that partake in questioning (especially those in the public's eye) serve as a reminder that performance art can serve as a revolutionary tool, that a cause needs no gender and art is a right of humanity that we are all entitled to.

Article by Tristan Boisvert