“As far as I'm concerned, being any gender is a drag,” Patti Smith once quipped. Overused and misunderstood though the word drag may be, what Smith is getting at is the idea of gender performativity made famous by Judith Butler in the '90s. Butler's seminal work Gender Troubles opened our eyes to the fact that the gender binary that we've long accepted as natural is actually a myth.
Nothing in our biology makes it so that leg-shaving and nail-painting is innately feminine, or pants- wearing and muscle-building innately masculine; and yet, these kinds of activities have dictated, and continue to dictate, our gender identities and perceptions. And what a drag— i.e. tiring, disappointing—these performances can be once they're recognized as such.
Although prefixes like cis- and trans- may add specificity to our pre- existing gender labels, deconstructing the dichotomy that has been performed and willed into existence for generations is difficult.
One place where we can see a conscious movement away from these rigid understandings of gender is theater, where trans performers are making waves.
Broaching this delicate issue artfully and considerately in this week's lead story, Morgan Wilcock writes about three New York City trans performers. Prominent figures in the New York City—and even Columbia—theater scene, Justin Vivian Bond, Taylor Mac, and Hari Nef dismantle gender norms both on and off the stage. I'm no theater- aficionado, but I can certainly appreciate Morgan's profiles, which spotlight, celebrate, and consider the work being done by artists whom we might not otherwise even know of. So without further ado, the curtains draw open to A (Trans)cendent Stage. Enjoy the issue.
Dunni Oduyemi, Editor in Chief