The Q was a late addition to the LGBT family, but it was an incredibly vital one. Predominantly understood to stand for ‘queer’ (can also mean ‘questioning’), the all-too-often neglected letter represents a great proportion of our community, who challenge popular gender and sexuality binaries.
Genderqueer has proven to be one of the most difficult gender identities for society to grasp, both within and outside of the gay community. As homosexuality is gradually becoming accepted within western society (or at the very least, tolerated), it appears that we are still uncomfortable witnessing people experiment with their gender.
Perhaps it is the visibility of it that is most difficult to digest, as it is often repeated: ‘we don’t mind what you do, as long as it isn’t rubbed in our faces’. Or maybe it is the apparent refusal for genderqueer individuals to mold themselves in order to fit other, more widely accepted gender labels and categories.
However, as many of us have perhaps experienced, it is not as easy as simply ‘picking one’.
The root of most fears, and sometimes even hatred, can be condensed down to pure ignorance and misunderstanding, which is why Lucy Parkinson finds it so important that we talk about our identities.
Lucy is an award winning cabaret artist, and the first drag king to win Drag Idol UK, the national annual gay cabaret competition. Together with alter-ego, LoUis Cyfer, Lucy entertains audiences in Soho, London and much of the UK.
Recently, I caught up with Lucy in a quiet bar in Soho, London’s gay capital and Lucy’s playground. With beers in hand, we discussed alternative gender identities and social constructs of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’.
T: When did you realise that you wanted to become a drag performer?
L: “I started doing drag while taking my masters degree in Contemporary Performance Making. For my last piece I decided to do a drag act, because I was finding at the time that I was really struggling with my own gender identity.
“By the time I hit my mid-twenties, I really didn’t have a clue what was going on anymore, and I wanted to address it – I didn’t want to run from it anymore. I knew I wasn’t a guy, but I didn’t know what I was. I didn’t fit the socially constructed ideals of gender that were being forced on me.
“I had an idea of what I identified as in my head, which was a sort of genderless identity, but these were just ideas; I didn’t know if anything like that really existed, because for something to become knowledge, it needs to be shared. There needed to be a common consensus, and I don’t think we had that at that time, but it was brewing.”
T: You identify as genderqueer, what does that mean to you?
L: “Genderqueer is an evolution of our understanding of gender. It’s the movement away from simply ‘male’ or ‘female’, towards wider identities such as CIS, trans, a-sexual, and third gender. Recently, Thailand have even introduced a third gender category within their constitution.
“My idea of an idealistic world is one where we don’t know or care about what’s between each-others legs, and we wouldn’t necessarily be able to assume what gender a person identified as simply by looking at them.
“Some days I could dress like a Scottish baseball player, and others I could dress with my tits fully out; that doesn’t contribute or deduct from anything relating to my personality, and that’s the most important thing to me, personality. I used to hate being called butch. Things like that really affected my dysmorphia. I’ve never felt butch, it’s just that perhaps I dress a bit differently. ”
T: What would you say to someone who didn’t know about genderqueer?
L: “People have asked me, and I’ve just said it means that I fall in love with how cool a person is, not how camp or how feminine they might look or behave. It’s ultimately about how they decorate their whole being; if you can experiment with your style beyond the lines of gender, then you can really begin to understand yourself as a person.
“Don’t take on that anxiety that society places on you to be hetero-normative, say: ‘You know what? I’ll discover my own identity, thank you. I’m going to go out there and think about what it is I want to put out, and I don’t give a toss if you think that makes me look weak or like I’m disowning my fellow woman’. It doesn’t mean I hate women or that I hate men, and that’s an assumption about genderqueer that I really want to challenge.
“There are some parts of my body that I am not that attached to, like my breasts for example. I’ve been thinking about having top surgery, and that’s purely to aid my career; I spend hours binding my breasts for my drag act and it’s sometimes painful. I wouldn’t be the first person to have breast augmentation to help their career. Many women have their breasts enlarged to further their career, so why should I be vilified?
“A girl that I really liked said to me: ‘But you don’t need that. You’re not a man – you’re a girl. You’re pretty, you’re beautiful…’ and they’re the worst things you could say to me. I’m not genderqueer because I think I’m ugly, bitch. Hell no queen! I think I’m pretty cool actually.”
“Although we think everybody’s talking about genderqueer, there are still people waking up with no support, thinking: ‘I don’t feel like this or this, and I don’t know what avenue to go down.’ They are stirring up the idea of genderqueer, but they don’t know it yet.
“They still have to come through certain social barriers, despite the fact that it’s been going on for ages. For example Vesta Tilley, one of the first ever drag kings, is from the turn of the 19th century. Also Kabuki, one of the main theatre practices that I studied, is all about men being in drag and going beyond the avant-garde.”
T: How do you see gender identities transforming in the future?
L: “Genderqueer is a constant conversation. It’s forever growing and changing, and that’s the most exciting part about being genderqueer. I can’t give you a set definition for exactly what genderqueer is, you’re the one deciding exactly what it is, you’re the front line for your generation.
“When people ask me about genderqueer I give them my best answer, but I never tell them it’s right and they’re wrong. Fuck the segregation of discussion, just go out their and form your own ideas of gender.
“I can see genderqueer coming through the nightlife now, people are going out with their beards on, like Timberlina, and bringing it into the clubbing scene. And it’s not just for gay people, either; I’ve witnessed a social explosion, where everyone is twisting the androgynous vibe.
“I think being genderqueer is something that could save the night life, because it’s not enough to go out to a nightclub that stinks like shite and the drinks are too expensive anymore. People are bored, so why not explore this theatricality and bring that into the mainstream club scene?”