Post #3 Paris Is Burning

In what ways did “Paris is Burning” (1) confirm your ideas about drag and (2) upset your ideas about drag? Do you think Butler is right that some drag performances subvert gender? Why or why not?


From “Paris Is Burning”. Photograph: Alamy

I think that Paris is Burning is a really interesting documentary because it shows a universe / a space / a reallity that is usually hidden, unknown or despised by the majority of people. By showing drags’s performances, an entire world comes out, is mystified and also debunked.

Thanks to Paris is Burning, I saw for the first time what a drag performance is. It confirms some ideas I had on it. For example, the importance of humor (or camp) as a emancipatory tool for people whose reality is really hard (exclusion, violence, poverty, prostitution, discrimination because of their sexuality, gender, class and race, etc.). It also confirms me on the fact that there performance is potentially subversive. I think that Bulter is right by stating that drags are debunking the myth of the “original”. As the film shows, gender is troubled: sometimes we do not know if the drag is a girl or a guy (and, after all, we don’t care, our will to know shows that we are maybe to much shaped by society).

This film also demonstrates that drag is not often voluntarily subversive. Drag seems to be firstly a way for people to live as they would like to be, to make their dreams come true.  That is political, and, in a way, subversive because it creates a free space that drag performers own. But, the performance itself does not appear to be done in order to subvert. In other words, if the drag performance subverts, it is de facto. That being said, the often-unvoluntary-subversivenss does not diminuish the subversiveness of the performance itself. It just means that drag is not, first at all, a subversive activity, but that it could be. Drag could be, therefore, a weapon against heteronormativity and “the dark shine of sex” (Foucault, 1976).

Maybe some people have interpreted Butler’s assertions on drag as a kind of political and cultural distortion which serves only the dominant part of the LGBTQIA+ (at the cost of the dragqueens and dragkings who are really exposed people). Queer movements were not always open to drag performances (as I saw in a WGSS Fall course about Queer Movements). I think, though, that we don’t have to oppose the “L” with the “G” with the “B”, etc. and try to create a movement as inclusive as possible, even if each shade of the LGBTQIA+ movement has its own interests.

There is, however, something that suprised me and, perhaps, upset my ideas about drag. I didn’t think that this world was so “rich” (not fiduciary speaking, but culturally). I already thought about drag expression as a emancipatory expression, a kind of moquery of society, but never really as a culture which has codes and traditions.

To conclude, I think it was a very interesting documentary. In addition to being esthetically beautiful, I think it was a good illustration of a specifical moment when queer theories appeared: we almost fell the AIDS impact on the figures of the people (as if it were a dreadful shadows), the fear of people who live in a very particular condition, the will of being happy, the violence of society, etc.

I would be maybe more critical than I was before. I still like the film, though. I just understand more the criticisms that have been made. Notwithstanding this criticism, I think that this film is important because it creates awareness inside the LGBT community of some particular oppressions that are faced by some of its members.


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