Photo: courtesy of the author.
The first night I went to the legendary Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, I still had hope. It was October 2016 and Donald Trump had not yet been elected. I was there to see Lady Bunny, “the old pig in the wig,” perform her Trans-Jester! comedy show. In a dark room full of LGBTQ folks and allies, I felt right at home, even though I fall distinctly into the latter category.
Though I am straight and married, I find drag queens hugely inspirational because I am a biracial woman.
Cue Lady Bunny, the 54-year-old drag queen and DJ who knew RuPaul in Atlanta before RuPaul was RuPaul. She had more jokes about Tumblr social justice warriors and anonymous bathroom sex than I ever imagined could fill a single show. Truth be told, I was giggling and guffawing almost her entire performance. Yet as funny as Lady Bunny is, she’s also a pointed cultural critic, as many of the best entertainers are.
One segment of her show was all about how the words we use to describe each other’s identities matter a lot less than the love and kindness we show toward others.
As a writer, I firmly believe that words have power, but I have to agree with Lady Bunny: Our actions carry more weight than anything we say, no matter how eloquent or moving our language.
True compassion comes from action. We must strive to get our words right — which involves educating ourselves, apologizing when we’re wrong, and getting it right in the future — but our priority should be making compassion a practice. Paying lip service is not enough.
Even though Lady Bunny was talking about language in the LGBTQ community, her argument applies to the language we use to describe race and ethnicity, as well. I’m not a huge fan of being called “Spanish,” but if the person describing me as such is stocking the food pantry in a low-income Latino neighborhood as they do it, I’ll mind it a lot less. Over time, that person probably will have earned a lot more of my trust and respect than the person who has pristine PC vocabulary, but no history of community engagement.
We biracial women already live an existence full of “in-betweenness.” Of course I’m going to relish the chance to surround myself with people who also struggle with alienation and questioning.
Though Lady Bunny is crass, her vulgarity serves a purpose. Her bluntness doesn’t appear to come from a place of arrogance. It comes from the heart of a fighter and, as a racial minority, I admire and draw strength from her willingness to challenge the status quo. Lady Bunny is confident and audacious because as an LGBTQ Baby Boomer, she has to be. Millennials have not inherited a perfect world from the previous generation, but we have to credit Baby Boomers for making strides in the fight for gay rights, women’s rights, and racial equality. Lady Bunny was part of that effort.
That night at Stonewall, Lady Bunny reminded me that drag queens both past and present do a lot to create a feeling of belongingness and solidarity for anyone who’s ever felt a little out of place. I may be straight, but I’m also someone who’s straddled racial, ethnic, class, and regional identities my whole life. Drag queens teach outsiders to embrace ourselves and to embrace others. That means doing more than demonstrating tolerance. After enduring an entire election cycle full of Trump’s bigoted rhetoric, all of us need to make the extra effort to actively love and accept people who are different from us.
I understand that a place like Stonewall was not created for my straight little self, any more than a black church was created for my non-black little self. But when I’m welcomed to an inclusive space, I’m happy to accept the invitation and join in the joy.
We biracial women already live an existence full of “in-betweenness.” Of course I’m going to relish the chance to surround myself with people who also struggle with alienation and questioning. If we can laugh in each other’s company, all the better — that’s going to be true more than ever once Trump is in the White House.
Speaking of The Donald, I have to wonder: Will Lady Bunny and other fighters have the same freedom of expression in a country ruled by that orange monstrosity? One of the reasons why Lady Bunny can speak so openly about touchy subjects mentioned in Trans-Jester! is because of the venue. After all, President Obama declared the Stonewall Inn a National Monument. Will Stonewall still be a safe haven for LGBTQ people and other outsiders in Trump’s America?
It doesn’t matter what your racial, religious, or gender identity is — plenty of people are scared of what our country will look like under Trump’s reign. I count myself among them.