The first time I saw a House of Gunt show, I fell in love. At the time, I wasn’t really sure WHAT I was falling for, but it was alluring enough that I showed up at the next event in a floor length mumu and coordinated green lipstick, eyeshadow, and eyebrows, only wishing I could beat my mug the way the Gunts did. Even though I was a trans baby in waiting, I knew that drag was usually something that guys did, right? I didn’t care. I got wasted and told Lavender Mist in all her glossy goth glory outside the bar that I wanted to get involved in whatever capacity I would be allowed to participate. Soon I learned that I’d be performing as the collective’s first “biogirl,” a term used to describe assigned females performing as drag queens.
I have to imagine that my admittance into the group must have ruffled some feathers, (and probably still does), despite Gunt Haus’s incredible inclusivity of my desire to perform. It’s been a over a year since my first act, (in which I covered myself in Vienna Sausages and let the audience feed me uncooked hot dogs). But it took me a long time to feel validated by my fellow Gunts — I couldn’t stop questioning my own legitimacy as a drag queen based solely on my assigned gender.
As an assigned female, I have the pleasure of walking around in ‘feminine’ clothing and being perceived as cisgender. On a show night, my fellow Gunties aren’t immune to homophobic comments from drunk douchebags, (or sober ones). I’ve even heard some of the most well-meaning, self-proclaimed ‘open-minded’ people say that they “can’t believe” that they’re looking at “men dressed as women” because they “look so good” — as if their attraction is an unexplainable phenomenon because the boobs aren’t real.
As a member of the House of Gunt, my advantages are clear: “Female privilege!” Influenza shouted in the dressing room at a show once as I stuck a fake mustache on and proclaimed that my makeup was finished. She had just finished constructing a jacket made of 20+ plastic bags and was mid-transformation, not yet ready to don the wig made completely of feathers that would offset her laser beam glasses during her song that night. Outside of my situational advantages as an assigned female, I’m also incredibly aware of my admittance into a world that was built by members of the queer community who fought tooth, jail, and life to establish a voice and space for the transgendered, (i.e. Marsha P. Johnson and others who have died at the hands of hate).
Being a GUNT — becoming the GUNT—transcending, at times, the GUNT—marks one of the biggest self-oriented ‘experiments’ I’ve ever pushed myself to be a part of. Not to say that my creativity and weirdness aren’t direct bi-products of the way I was raised, but there was never a space to understand the questions I had about my gender or gender presentation growing up. Sure, my mom let me dress myself and I spent most of my childhood being confused for a boy because my hair was so short. But I don’t think I ever had the balls to ask the real questions: What would happen if I wanted to be perceived as anything other than female? What would happen if I thought gender was irrelevant altogether?
In some ways, my isolation from the other members of the group is natural. I can pretend to have facial hair all I want, but there’s nothing like caking clown white over real stubble (or, for that matter, a clean-shaven “male” face). I might TRY (and that’s a capital ‘try’) to pull off the same ‘male-to-female’ contours that have evolved in aesthetic throughout the history of drag , but my facial structure will never do me justice until I start taking testosterone. Since I’m a cheapo, I’ve tried binding my breasts with about everything from duct tape to medical bandages, (regardless of how uncomfortable or unsafe it is), but I’m still at a loss for chest hair. And I’ll certainly never be able to pull off some of the looks my fellow Gunts wear so confidently — like the tube top as a dress chic that Biqtch Puddin’ can wear just about anywhere, (including Parker’s Market when hunger strikes).
My gender experimentation is now in full swing, expressed quietly at first on a person-to-person basis (“Hey, I’m non-binary and trans, my pronouns are they/them, thank you!”) and then publicly and nonchalantly on the internet (“I’M TRANS, IF YOU CAN’T USE MY PRONOUNS PLEASE GO AWAY RN”).
It is weird to think sometimes that queens have no problem transitioning between their ‘female’ and ‘male’ selves. When Monster Cunt is in drag, she’s Monster. When she’s not in drag, sometimes she’s still Monster. But also he’s Monster. But also he’s his ‘boy name.’ What originally turned me on to drag was the fluidity that drag seems to offer assigned males. It seems so simple for a lot of people to latch on to the idea that a drag queen’s gender representation can change with the bat of a glittered eyelash.
I wish that I could have the same luxury. In most cases, I am still a ‘she’ no matter what I’m wearing, even if I look like Mr. Monopoly’s cranked out cousin, or if I cut off all my hair, or if I only wear traditionally ‘male’ clothing for the sake of ‘appearing’ androgenous. I’m still a ‘she’ after the makeup comes off; after I take the time to ask friends specifically not to use gendered pronouns when talking to me; after I get stuck in positions discussing gender politics with people in social settings, trying to help them discover their own inadvertency to gender issues as a whole. It’s those moments where people I don’t know assume what gender I am based on my physical appearance that really take the cake these days.
All that bitching being done, I’m glad that I have the emotional wherewithal to have discussions with people about gender. I’m even more grateful that I am in a position to explore my gender identity so openly with limited fear of physical harassment or backlash. But for a lot of transgendered individuals, (especially those who are required to pass as either male or female for the sake of their careers, identities, etc), the constant questioning or being asked to ‘educate’ people is a daily part of life that can become both exhausting and exploitative.
My ‘female privilege’ might be real in the dressing room but I hate using it as a marketing tool; as if my assigned female-ness is a novelty in the drag world; as if my importance as a performer in the drag community is contingent on the fact that I was born with different genitals. Some day I hope that the term ‘biogirl’ will be forgotten from the drag community. I’m not ‘biologically’ female. Although my vagina screams “YES!” that’s only because we’ve been conditioned to associate sex organs and with male or female identity.
Within the drag community specifically, the isolative nature of different ‘kinds’ of drag seems intuitively counterproductive — and this isn’t just a phenomena that occurs in relationship to gender identities, but even different “styles” of performance or presentation, (see Alaska Thunderfuck’s “Nails” in which she instructs “If you’re not wearing nails, you’re not doing drag”).
Some day, maybe I won’t have a vagina. I hope by then the drag community has come up with a more articulated way to express our differences — or maybe they’ll be so irrelevant in our ‘post-queer’ community, (a world where no one is inherently straight), it won’t matter. In the meantime, I’ve got a GUNT and I’m not afraid to use it.
Words by Raine Blunk
Images courtesy of the author, Dave Spangenburg, Karen Briceno and Adriana Iris Boatwright.