Looi van Kessel and Nynke Feenstra collaborate in a new blog series on the intersection of different minoritizing identifications. In this post, they discuss the work of Deafies in Drag and how they contribute to LGBT acceptance within the Deaf community.
The video that opens this blog post is by the deaf drag queen duo Selena and Casavina, better known as Deafies in Drag. Since September 2015 they host a comedy vlog in which they tackle problems that Deaf people encounter in everyday life, give make-up instructions or find themselves confronted with crazy challenges (see the Yoga Challenge video below).
The videos of Deafies in Drag are striking as they overtly express different minoritizing identifications that are not usually associated with one another. They put a strong emphasis on identifying as deaf, queer and Latin. The combination of these identification draws attention to how these different communities respond to one another. In a series of three blog posts, starting with this one, we will address these intersections and look at how Deafies in Drag open up a conversation between these different identifications.
In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of the work that Deafies in Drag does for the acceptance of LGBT persons in the Deaf community. In the upcoming post we will address in more detail the problems of homo- and transphobia in the Deaf community that is the result of conflicting minoritarian identifications. Our final post will take a closer look at the exclusion of Deaf people and other forms of ableism in the speaking and abled LGBT community.
Deafies for Deafies
By naming themselves Deafies in Drag, Selena and Casavina specifically address a deaf audience. As explained in this previous post, deaf people identify themselves as deaf and are proud to be approached as deaf people. Just as in society at large, within the Deaf community too, role models are very important. Everybody has role models and for most people their parents are the first ones. Andrew Solomon calls this phenomenon vertical identification.
However, most deaf children, about 95%, are born to hearing parents and experience the world from a different perspective than their family does. Their identification process takes place horizontally: among peers within the Deaf community. Deaf role models show to other deaf people what they are capable of as a deaf person and inspire to believe in their personal capabilities, regardless of their deafness. Role models are therefore of great value to the social emotional development of deaf children and the self-esteem of deaf people.
Deafies in Drag cater specifically to a deaf audience, but they do this with the inclusion of different, queer identifications. The fact that they are in drag gives them an important function for LGBT acceptance within the Deaf community.
Styles of Drag
Drag comes in many shapes and forms. For example, classic pageant queens stand out for their exaggeration of feminine glamour: rhinestones, big hair and sequined gowns are a staple in this genre. Fishy drag queens are those who, when in drag, cannot be distinguished from biological women (and yes, the term is indeed as derogatory as you think it is). And then you also have the comedy queens: queens who are less interested in looking as realistic as possible, but instead poke fun at the assumptions about gender that underlie all performances of masculinity and femininity.
Deafies in Drag can be seen as comedy queens. Not only do their videos usually revolve around a comedy sketch, their style is also one more akin to other comedy queens rather than fishy or pageant queens. The choice for this style of drag is important to the function of Deafies in Drag for the Deaf community, as it helps them reach a bigger audience and allows us to think about the problems of identification for LGBTs in this community.
Communication in sign language happens not only with the hands, but with the whole body. Someone’s body language will have a big effect on the message that they are conveying. The same goes for facial expression. Deafies in Drag’s style of comedy drag gives them the opportunity to wear make-up that exaggerates their facial expressions, something which does not sit well with a fishy style of drag. Their comedy, which is already based on strong facial expressions, is amplified by their use of drag make-up, which makes it particularly attractive to look at for members of the Deaf community who are used to reading this type of visual communication.
More importantly, the style of comedy queens usually exaggerates feminine characteristics to the extent that these become unbelievable, maybe even ridiculous. This style of drag is usually noted for exposing gender roles as social behavior that does not necessarily correspond to biological sex. By toying around with, and exaggerating gendered stereotypes, drag queens draw attention to the fact that our everyday gender behavior is similarly just a performance of what is considered to be socially desired.
Deaf and/or LGBT
Many deaf LGBT people fear to be stigmatized within the Deaf community. Often some community members raise the question whether identifying as gay threatens the highly valued deaf identity. Can these two identifications coexist? Deafies in Drag play with identification but their drag appearance does not displace their deaf identity. In fact, many of their vlogs are dealing with deaf experiences, like ‘#deaf card’ and ‘fake interpreter’.
Last February Selena and Casavina shared a video in which they did not appear in drag, so they could ‘show who they are out of drag’. In this vlog they tell about how and why they came to perform in drag and offer a behind-the-scenes look of their work. Towards the end of the video they ask their audience “to leave any funny, random, or other question [they] might have”. Here they share their personal stories and passion for drag, but also make themselves easily approachable to their followers. Their work is easy to find and available to non-ASL speakers as well, since Deafies in Drag is on Facebook and YouTube and all their videos are in ASL as well as subtitled. Being personal, easy to approach, and proud to be deaf are important characteristics of deaf role models.
Deafies in Drag sends out an important message for the Deaf community, which, as we will see in our next post, sometimes struggles with the inclusion of strong identifications with other minoritizing characteristics. The vlogs show that minoritizing identifications can and do intersect. Just like society at large holds on to normative ideas of preferred gender and sexual behavior, so too does the Deaf community. Greater awareness of this insight within the Deaf community might open up the debate of how this community can include other deaf members who also identify with minoritizing characteristics other than deafness.
© Looi van Kessel, Nynke Feenstra and Leiden Arts in Society Blog, 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Looi van Kessel, Nynke Feenstra and Leiden Arts in Society Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.