I want to make a piece about gender. I have been brewing it for two years.
It began in a field at Glastonbury Festival. Each day I was invited to construct a character to be part of an improvised performance set on a mock TV Set. And without fail every day I was drawn to the shortest dresses, the highest heels, the longest wig the fake boobs, and all of the make up. I wanted to perform a femininity that until this point I have eschewed, rejected and judged. Someone said, ‘you look like a drag queen’.
And I thought that much like;
high payed employment opportunities
and opportunities for social mobility
Drag was something that was not on offer to me as a woman…but when have I ever listened to what I can or can’t do?
I have been thinking about how femininity always feels like a performance.
A performance that doesn’t feel mine. A performance that I see on other people that feels controlled and commodified by the patriarchy.
I wanted to perform a femininity that until this point I have eschewed, rejected and judged. I spent most of my teenage years rejecting the highly sexualised femininity I saw presented in the media by the patriarchal heteronormative capitalist society.
I presented in a way that attempted to show that I knew about and opposed these structures which sought to make my body a socio-economic sexual commodity. And, when I was 16 and that boy told me I looked like a drag queen, an attempt to undermine my relationship with my gender, the insult twirled away.
I have always wanted to be a Drag Queen…
Drag, when it is done well, is a political, satirical performance that plays with gender performativity, fluidity and sex. The Drag Queen performs aspects of femininity that allow her to steal off into the night, escaping political constructs of the patriarchy and slipping out of the confines of the male gaze.
I look at Drag Queens, and sometimes I see how playful, powerful and politically subversive femininity can be.
I wanted it.
I wanted to play with femininity like those beautiful men do. I want to use my body as the site of the performance of ‘Hyper Fem’ and attempt to challenging or subvert the scripts generally written for the female body in performance. I wondered whether the performance of femininity could still be subversive when positioned on my female body?
Roxytocin(Roxy) is Kieron’s drag persona, she is archetypal mother whilst maintaining an androgynous aesthetic. She is fiercely loving and inclusive re-addressing power imbalances in queer spaces and will kill if you threaten the equilibrium of that space or any of her babies. She is the perfect host/ door woman, which is where I met her, on the door of my favorite queer night I n Bristol, Thorny.
So I began. I applied for and received funding from Arts Council England and began my research. Starting with Peggy Phelan’s ‘Unmarked’ where I first encountered the word ‘Hyper Fem’ being used to describe the performance of exaggerated (sexual-aggressive-powerful) femininity by drag queens in the documentary ‘Paris is Burning’ shot by Jennie Livingson. To learn more about drag I asked my friend Kieran to teach me about the sexy, subversive, powerful femininity I had seen him perform as Roxytocin.
Kieron came to teach me how to be like Roxy. Over the course of the day Kieron morphed into Roxy, he/she taught me how to do my makeup, how to dress and how to walk. He/She encouraged and supported me to do these things in a way I had never done them before. He/She caught me when I fell and held me up rather than holding me down.
I hadn’t expected this to happen.
I realized that Hyper Fem wasn’t as much about drag as I had anticipated. It was about performing femininity whilst feeling safe. It was about appearing ‘sexy’ without feeling like I was at risk of sexual assault. I realized that I haven’t felt like this for a long time. It felt radical. It felt subversive. It felt powerful, and I realized that Hyper Fem is somewhat about re-dressing my relationship with men.
I am nearing the end of my research and development phase now, I have spent time with Strike a Light at Gloucester University, The Arnolfini in Bristol and Interval Artists Collective. I have performed three times, in a university, The Wardrobe Theatre and a very small room at Interval. I am learning more about what I think the performance is, I am also learning about how to work with other people on my solo work and how to work in a way that supports my access needs.
I would like to thank the stellar team of people who have surrounded me on this project, Keiron Gurner, Caroline Williams, Jo Bannon, Emily Williams, Olivia Ware, Tessa Bide, Viv Gordon, BlackBark Films, and Ruby Glaskin.
I will be working on the piece again in January at the Trinity Centre as one of the Ignite Artists in Residence, and am looking for financial support for this stage of the project. If you are interested in finding out more about the project, or supporting this work in any way please contact Viki on firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagery and Film by Black Bark Films.