In this blog I would mainly like to address the criticisms made by bell hooks about misogynist drag.
Certainly Paris is Burning is a film full of tremendous conflicts, crossroads, and contradictions of power and identity. The socioeconomic status of all film participants was in constant flux, depending on whether they were on the street, at the ball, or at a mall or fashion show. Within the ball it is especially complicated, as it is the one place where many of those interviewed expressed that they felt accepted, beautiful, worthwhile, or safe but it was a place acknowledged also to be sometime violent and hierarchical. Within the ball area, power operates in complicated ways, simultaneously normative and subversive. I feel that neither hooks nor Butler engaged with what it means to occupy a space in which "negative" forces like poverty, racism, misogyny, self-hatred, hierarchy, and disillusionment coexist with and are often co-dependent on "positive" forces such as getting what one wants, feeling loved and accepted, and feeling free and beautiful on the level I was hoping they would. To what extent can we pin drag to just being an expression of misogyny born out of a twisted manifestation of white supremacist patriarchy or of feeling uncomfortable in one's own embodiment? Why can drag not simply be a way for someone to express their preferred state of being, or in some way getting a chance to live as another for a time, as many of those interviewed stated? I also think, as Butler points out in her article, that hooks tends to simplify all male to female gendered expressions as "drag," ignoring differences between drag, cross-dressing, passing, and transsexualism. Hooks quotes Frye when she says that male drag is nothing but the power of men to play with and control the feminine in their own selfish attempt to be sexually and relationally nearer other non-gay men. In any 'appropriative' identification I feel that there is always at least a small question of the privileged position of those who appropriate from others, however, the idealization of white femininity present in the film, while also having to do with a colonized and colonizer consciousness, is also, I think, about the idealization of simply not having to occupy a marginalized space. The desire to wear $500 dresses and not have to struggle or work for a living that is part of the idealization of ruling class white femininity is also a simple desire to not have to worry about food, money, and violence. To be valued and secure is something anyone wants and because we live in, as hooks says, a white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal world, that desire is bound up in the supremacy of some of the only people who are institutionally valued and secure: white, rich, heteronormative women.