Drag publique: the spectacle of queerness, queer placelessness and the emaciated spectator




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Muñoz (1999: 25) recognizes that there is power in demonstrating the spectacle of queerness in that its performance makes the performer a ‘disidentificatory non-citizen’, and this can transform works and situations, with the performer bending cultural references for their own purposes. He describes disidentification as ‘shuffling between production and reception decoding mass, high or any other cultural field from the perspective of a minority subject in such a representational hierarchy’. In his later work, Muñoz (2009: 1–10) says that performances of queerness are not a ‘here and now’, but embody a future that is yet to come. In this sense, performing queerness through the vehicle of drag opens up a discussion about the potential of those futures by enabling the internal identification of queerness to be read as a highly visible performance mode. In an age where gender politics are discussed more openly than ever before in public media and terms like non-binary and gender fluidity enter common parlance, we could assume that tolerance is self-evident. However, when performances of queerness spill out of clubs, cabarets and bars and into the streets, they are still seen as spectacle: simultaneously enticing, deceptive, distracting and superficial. As Muñoz suggests, by performing queer otherness, we choose to ‘disidentify’ because the transformative effect of this process can illustrate a variety of discourses of power in effect and unveil unspoken normative behaviours that are not questioned. This stems from the performer’s aspiration to reveal such unspoken dynamics by transforming them into a queer spectacle, initiating a visual – as opposed to verbal – dialogue about how change might happen and what that looks like. In the following practice-based investigation, I employ the performance of drag identities and genderqueer interventions in public spaces to remove such performances from the context of a designated ‘performance space’ and evaluate how such identities are received when performed as an occurrence on the street and how such drag-based performances can highlight the issues surrounding the policing of the public performance of gender identity. Drawing on Read’s (2013) concept of the emaciated spectator, I suggest that introducing the pathogenic quality of queerness into public streets interrogates the limits to which inner identity can be expressed and whether or not the public audiences that receive the performance can contain it. Simultaneously, drag and gender performance also has a quality of affective contagion (from Hickey-Moody, 2016) that, if not contained, has the ability to become infectious. Therefore, the pathogen starts to occupy a queer space of being public and private, spoken and unspoken simultaneously. I conclude by stating that such performances of queerness intrinsically interrogate what is said and unsaid by the spaces the queer individual can inhabit through this visual mode of performance, consequently expressing a longing from the artist for a future that is yet to pass.



drag, performance intervention, emaciated spectator, queer public, queer performance, queer placelessness


Taylor, A. (2020) Drag Publique: performing gender in public and the emaciated spectator. In: Farrier, S. and Edward, M. (Eds.) Contemporary Drag Practices and Performers: Drag in a Changing Scene Volume 1, London: Bloomsbury.


Research Institute

Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies