Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals: men wearing women’s clothes onstage. This, by the barest textbook definition, is “drag.” But is this definition adequate? Does the Hasty Pudding deserve the title of “drag”?
They do not. Drag is not neutral. Drag without the celebration and protection of Brown and Black Queer folks is anti-Queer, anti-Brown, and anti-Black. And an organization like the Hasty Pudding Theatricals—not actively pro-Queer, pro-Brown, and pro-Black and so necessarily anti-Queer, anti-Brown, and anti-Black—never could be drag.
What is drag?
Drag’s present is irrevocably entwined with its past. Imagine, rather than the cast of the Hasty Pudding, Venus Xtravaganza, a small Latinx trans drag queen, dancing in the ballrooms of late-’80s New York. She dances because she knows the beauty of her Brown skin, her Queer body. Her dance gives her power. How else, but by dancing, can she live in a world that mercilessly crushes Brown and Black, Queer and trans bodies, crushes them under its anti-Queer, anti-Brown and anti-Black healthcare and legal system and education system and culture and police state? How else, but by dancing, can Venus Xtravaganza breathe?
Does anyone in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals even know Venus Xtravaganza’s name? If not, how can they know what drag really is?
At 23 years of age, Venus Xtravaganza is murdered. She dies unavenged. To the white world, she was nothing but another ugly dirty Brown fairy made unto dust. The 1990 film in her honor declares that “Paris is Burning,” and Venus Xtravaganza burns with it, her Brown, Queered body licked by flames, her Brown skin that you just can’t handle crackling and popping.
In her honor, in the name of Venus Xtravaganza, we promise to dance.
This is drag:
Drag (noun): The air resistance in your face as you careen into the stars, unbound by your gendered and sexed body only to return at last to it such that your return is a homecoming, your skin is the night sky.
Drag queen (noun): Those icons, those flawed humans, those astronauts who wear their Queerness as a uniform and are murdered for it because you just can’t take it!
Drag is Queer, and drag is Brown and Black. The ballroom is a battleground, and voguing—the dance of drag, our triumph—is a battle cry. Let’s have a kiki, Marsha P. Johnson, the hero of Stonewall, roars, heels strapped on tight, crushing anti-Blackness and misogyny and transphobia beneath her. Drag is political—because when is a dance ever just a dance, and when is the disruption of gender ever anything but a declaration of war?
First: the Hasty Pudding is not a Queer or Brown/Black organization. While many members may identify as Queer or of color, the Hasty Pudding has never been known to use its expansive budget or influence for Queer Brown folks. While the Hasty Pudding qualifies itself as philanthropic due to its donations to multiple arts groups, and while those donations may do some peripheral good for Queers of color, this is not equal to a sustained dedication to politically disrupting Queerphobia and white supremacy. When has Hasty Pudding ever donated to the hundreds of individuals and groups specifically dedicated to liberating Queer Brown folks? When has the Hasty Pudding ever stood against the murders of Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow and Chyna Gibson? Queerness and Brownness are political, and screwing with gender is political, for the structures of society are implicated in our survival. Until the Hasty Pudding tangibly disrupts racist anti-Queer and trans-deadly legal, political, economic, and social structures, it fails to be radically Queer or radically Brown.
Second: the Hasty Pudding has historically been structured to discredit and disempower womxn (“womxn” is a rejection of the simplicity of “women,” an embrace of the multiplicity of non-male identity and a way we screw with gender). Drag has never been exclusively for cisgender men. Drag is the discarding and mockery of gender, and the Hasty Pudding, in historically restricting gender performance to men, has strengthened the very systematic gender structures drag seeks to dismantle. To view the Pudding’s recent decision to let women audition as a pro-womxn victory would be a mischaracterization. There are generations of systematic exclusion of womxn to overcome, most pointedly the disproportionate possession of power by men. And, more importantly, opening this space to what seems likely to primarily be—based on current composition—rich, white women fails to address the lack of support for womxn folks from this organization.
Third: the Hasty Pudding originated from a legacy of elitism. Remember: for Venus Xtravaganza, Paris is Burning, and drag rises from the ashes of a Brown Queer declaration of war against a world that hates us. But the Hasty Pudding does not come from those ashes. Rather, it was first and foremost a “a no-holds-barred burlesque” deeply tied to the toxicity of final clubs, a wealthy, white organization steeped in privilege. Its lineage consists of the cisgender, white men John Adams and Franklin Delano Roosevelt—hardly Queer icons. These men were not racist homophobes, you may protest, but that is besides the point. Their (presumed) neutrality cannot save them.
Imagine, for a moment, a radically pro-Queer, pro-Brown, pro-womxn, gender-disrupting organization with the resources, fame, and attention of the Hasty Pudding. Imagine if a Queer ballroom replaced the Hasty Pudding's clubhouse. Imagine a parade down Massachusetts Ave. celebrating Big Freedia and Laverne Cox. Imagine the thousands of dollars in proceeds going to Black Trans Advocacy. Imagine the president of the Hasty Pudding writing a letter urging President Donald Trump to cease and desist all attacks against trans folks. Imagine the cast of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals protesting the murder of Candace Towns. Imagine a Hasty Pudding built by and for Brown and Black folks, and one that finally admitted that womxn can screw with gender too.
Imagine a Hasty Pudding that dedicated its performances every night to Venus Xtravaganza, whose-skin-you-just-can’t-take, and the thousands of trans folks, Brown and Black and all, who have suffered so that you may strap on your heels and kiki.
And then stop imagining, and dance, darling, dance until that foolish dream is reality.
Nicholas P. Whittaker '19 is a Philosophy concentrator in Adams House.
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