Yesterday I was talking to some other law students, from another law school.
The other law student, a lovely young man from the mid-west, whose hair has assuredly never grown to a length of more than 1 and 1 quarter inches, and owns sneakers which match his tie, asserted that he didn't think there was any difference between being a drag queen, a transsexual, and a transvestite.
I tried to explain it in the driest terms possible. We were at work, after all. "Well, if you're a drag queen, it's just something you do, for any reason, but only sometimes. And if you're a transvestite, you're doing it because it's part of your, um, expression of enjoyment, with another person, or alone. And if you're a transsexual, you're doing it as treatment for a problem you have, like therapy or braces."
Still no understanding. A man in a dress is a man in a dress, right.
I tried to explain it in more oblique, less dry terms:
"Well, see, if dressing up like a woman is any other activity, like, say, stamp collecting, if you're a drag queen, maybe you're a collector, or you're a dealer or something in stamps, but it's just something that you like and maybe you have a talent for it. Like you have a lot of fun collecting stamps and go to a convention, but maybe you only do it for an hour a day, or on weekends, and it's not, like...who you are.
And if you're a transvestite, it's like, well, you're really into stamps. You might, um, think about stamps when you're alone. Or you might have stamps in your pocket while you're at work...as, you know, a token...of your...love for stamps.
And if you're transsexual, everyone always told you that you were a scrapbooker, and you never liked pinking shears, and you tried to stick pictures in books forever, but you always pretended they were stamps, and you really, really, really, want to be known as a stamp collector. So you collect stamps every day, and get active in stamp circles, and soon enough, your whole life is stamps, because cutting out pictures of puppies made you want to die."
That was a really bad metaphor. And I think it made midwestern guy think that I was probably a little more enthusiastic about stamps (the real kind) and too knowledgeable about stamp collecting (metaphorical), to be entirely comfortable.
but, motherfucker, I need to be right. I need to make people understand. So I rolled my chair over to his chair, and I said...
"Listen. Drag queens do it for work or for fun, transvestites do it to get off, and transsexuals do it because that's the way they were meant to be."
And this got me thinking: No matter how much we talk about gay and straight, and worry ourselves over whether we live in a post-gay world, or mutter and furrow brows over the tyranny of the hetero/homo dichotomy...
We're not post-gay. We're not even gay. We're pre-gay. We still believe that the fundamental measure of a person's sexuality is whether they pitch or catch. For thousands of years, across continents, the question wasn't: Are you attracted to people with the same parts, or different parts? It was: Are you going to put something in me, or will you tolerate letting someone put something in you?
My midwestern colleague's stolid, ranch-scented insistence that there is always something gay about a man in a dress, regardless of that man's motivation or attitude towards the dress, or what he plans to do once he's got it on, reveals the persistence of the penetrator/penetrated theory of sexuality. (The positional, rather than orientational theory).
A man in a dress may not always be intending to do something traditionally "gay", but he is always allying himself with the penetrated camp. And when someone capable of penetrating signals that he is open to being penetrated, then he has breached his positional privilege. By breaching his positional privilege, he becomes positionally queer.
by "positionally queer," I mean that he has done something that would cause townies to sneer "faggot" at him, even though what he has done involves no actual attraction towards men. This is, of course, why activities which are distinctively heterosexual (a man taking his girlfriend to a movie involving more than one horse, several moors, and a sweeping orchestral score) can still seem "queer."