God in Drag

With the recent spate of vicious attacks on drag performers and drag shows, I’ve been thinking a lot about a brilliant quote by the late Ram Dass: “Treat everyone you meet as if they were God in drag.” And I think it gets to the heart of this manufactured controversy.

We are all in some kind of drag. If we live in community with other human beings, then we don our masks and costumes every time we walk out our front door. Most of us wear what our society expects us to wear. The masks and costumes created for us, not by us. We do this to fit in, to conform. But drag tosses all of this pretense out the window. It recognizes that identity is a construct, not a constant. In fact, there is nothing permanent about identity.

The irrational fear of drag queens and drag shows betrays a deep-seated fear of the authentic self. The self that transcends the ego. And it is driving this crusade against those who are daring to live their authentic lives out in the open. Drag is radical because its over-the-top form challenges the status quo definition of identity.

The claim that bans on drag shows are to “protect children” is ludicrous. Most drag shows are for adults, and those that aren’t, whether they are library readings or birthday parties, do not have adult content.

But it is worth reflecting upon our own childhood. A wondrous time when the characters of a story or a song came alive. Drag reminds us of a time when we could be whatever we wanted to be, regardless of gender, ethnicity, skin colour, religion, body shape or societal standing.

This freedom to be whatever we imagined ended for many when the first adult stepped in to shame us. Thus began the long, painful death of our imagination and the long slog toward banality.

And perhaps this is why it is feared so much by some. It makes them aware, whether conscious or not, of the drag they are currently wearing. Of its blandness and of the dissatisfaction it has caused them throughout their entire lives.

In the end, it comes down to what Ram Dass said. It comes down to how we treat other human beings. And if we saw the Divine spark behind the masks and costumes we all wear, how much better this world would be.

Kenn Orphan, March 2023

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