I've always thought drag was beautiful; inherently radical, expressive, fun, campy...recently I went to Woody's and saw Toronto's famous drag queen Donnarama performing "When I Grow Up" (Pussycat Dolls) and "Firework" (Katy Perry) in what she thinks passes as a burka, a bindi (which doesn't make sense but OK), and a set of bombs attached to her abdomen. To up the ante, there was some actual fire on stage, coupled with gestures (or "dance moves") that mirrored gun violence and recurring explosions.
I was outraged. I looked around to see how other people were reacting. They were recording it on their phones and coming up to Donnarama to tip her. Reward. Lots of social reward. That was the community and audience response to blatant racism and Islamophobia. To top it off, she ended by saying "Happy Hanukkah."
I know I'm not the only one that was angry and knows very clearly how problematic this is. Are we fags really ok with this? I don't think this would be in the least acceptable in any other context. Interesting how white gay hegemony allows for so much more racism than mainstream communities.
I spend a lot of time working in the LGBT community, doing counselling and HIV-related work. I care about this community. I've always thought highly of queers in Toronto and thought we had a lot to offer. Tonight I learned that what we have to offer most is complacency and that we're comfortable reinforcing white supremacy.
I have a lot of respect for Donnarama's craft most of the time. She's creative and pushes boundaries. And I think playing with gender, race and class will inevitably become pillars for drag commentary and for performance in general so I don't think we need to be completely PC all the time.
However, I've seen many queens do it with more nuance. That is, another queen to play off of, reading back and forth, an understanding of playfulness, etc. And by all means BE OUTRAGEOUS but take a moment to identify which dominant system ought to be poked fun at in performance and be aware of your own race and what you can get away with saying.
A white queen should know that this is not funny and that it is super problematic; if she doesn't know that (i.e. she can't recognize that she and her audience are white and making fun of people who are not), she's done a huge discredit to herself and her career...and the gay community.
This performance is nothing short of hate speech, racism, and violence. Yes, sitting in my chair, sinking in deep, and looking around to see the mix of applauding and blank stares I couldn't have interpreted this event as anything other than an act of violence.
A community icon basically assaulted me (and the entire queer Muslim/racialized table I was at) and then my queer community sent me the message that this was okay. It's okay that my people are being depicted this way; that we're at the butt end of a racist joke with a primarily white audience. (NO, there was no subtle nuance with a more positive underlying meaning).
Before anyone responds to this and says, "maybe it was just a joke" -- delete me from your friend list. The rest of you, I think real social justice needs to take up more space in the gay community. This community is for all fags.
Boycott Woody's. Boycott Buddies. That's where she performs. Demand an apology and from the establishments, demand some accountability.
Follow Rahim Thawer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RahimThawer