I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone now reading this article that yesterday The Free Press published a piece by Kelsey Mannix on last week’s drag show. Although it was published in the commentary section, the article has been already been decried variously as ignorant, discriminatory, and unworthy of publication. Moreover, some of the language used (notably the choice to place feminine pronouns in quotation marks when referring to performers) reflects a lack of understanding about drag etiquette, and perhaps even an outright disrespect for the nature of the performance.
However, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the drag show was a part of Allies Week, an annual event put on by McDaniel Allies to educate the campus community about LGBTQ+ cultures and communities. We never set out to plan a drag show with any expectation other than that it would be controversial and that some would be disconcerted. To be frank, that’s kinda the point. Drag shows are supposed to make people uncomfortable. They’re supposed to challenge our preconceived notions about what it means to be a “man” or a “woman” and what it means to perform gender. They’re everything you’re supposed to learn in the gender unit of Intro to Sociology all wrapped up in one raunchy, glittery, package (decide for yourself whether that pun was intended).
While I think there’s no getting around the fact that many aspects of the article are problematic at best, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. To the contrary, I see it as the beginning of an ongoing conversation about sexuality and gender expression for which McDaniel is long overdue. Was the article the most effective way of starting that conversation? Probably not. Was much of the language used directly and indirectly offensive to both the performers and the LGBTQ+ “community”? Yes. Unequivocally.
This said, I would like to thank all those who came so quickly and passionately to the defense of the show and its performers. The directorial staff and the performers spent a great deal of time and energy working to pull the show together, so believe me when I say that I understand the impulse to condemn the article outright. As a queer kid from the south, I understand the anger and the defensiveness. It’s so easy to cry bigot, to write off poor writing, and to engage in what can quickly devolve into outright cyber bullying, particularly behind the safety of our computer screens.
My question, however, is about the productivity of acting on those initial reactions. There’s a place for anger in advocacy but, in my opinion, this is not it. I don’t believe any of Mannix’s comments come from a place of malicious intentions. In fact, I believe that Mannix deserves to be commended for her openness in expressing her discomfort and confusion. Because let’s be real––Alabama will legalize same-sex marriage before you convince me she was the only person in The Forum that night who was uncomfortable or confused. While the article isn’t about to win any Pulitzer prizes, it speaks to a very real opinion that is likely held by many members of our campus community. I will not be misquoted as defending this position, or as challenging the rights of others to disagree with it. What I’m saying is that while I personally agree with many (if not all) of the criticisms put forth, I think the focus needs to shift from identifying what the problem is to identifying solutions.
I could write several treatises on this subject, but I’m not quite self-important enough to delude myself into thinking that you’d want to read them. So I’ll say only this:
It is my belief that one of the biggest problems McDaniel faces with issues of diversity is our unwillingness to have open, frank, but respectful conversations. Our methods for discussing sensitive issues seem to consist entirely of silence or shouting matches, with no in-between. I’m calling for us to find the middle ground where we can find our common ground. Whether the issue is race, religion, class, or how you actually feel about your roommate’s cleaning habits, problems do not get resolved by ignoring them. The first step in resolving any conflict is starting the conversation. Until we, as a community, develop the maturity, respect, and compassion to do that, the success of organizations like Allies and other initiatives designed to make our campus a safer place for everyone will be severely hindered.
I imagine that this position will be unpopular in some circles because it will be seen as too apologetic, conciliatory, or (dare I say it) assimilationist, and I remind readers that in this capacity I’m not writing to you as “the voice of the gays” (that’s what Ellen and Neil Patrick Harris are for) or even president of McDaniel Allies. I’m writing to you as a member of the McDaniel community who cares about the rights and representation of LGBTQ+ communities on campus. With that in mind, I defend my position only by saying that a lack of understanding never facilitates understanding, just as hate never begets love. Responding to an honest lack of understanding and exposure only with anger, hostility, and contempt is unlikely to do anything by way of inviting others to be sympathetic to our cause. It makes us little better than the perpetrators of hate and injustice we claim to fight against.
I invite anyone who still has strong feelings about this incident to channel them constructively either by continuing the dialogue we’ve begun here or through your involvement with McDaniel Allies and other advocacy efforts on campus. Furthermore, I hope the harsh words exchanged in the last twenty-four hours won’t detract from the fact that this was a highly successful charity event, and that our campus community was able to come together, despite all our differences, to raise money for The Trevor Project, an organization whose goal of ending suicide among LGBTQ+ youth is ultimately more important than any newspaper article.
This piece was tremendously written and thought-out, Natalie! Excellent work!
Very well said, pal! Allies (and McDaniel) is lucky to have a leader like you. You are a well-spoken and passionate person who dealt with this in a mature and civilized way. Natural born leader :)