“We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.”
With their exaggerated makeup, flamboyant outfits, and the padding, tucking, stuffing, and taping, drag performers exemplify, and, at times, parody, what it means to be a female or a male in wider society. Actors have been performing in drag for centuries. The first known use of the word drag happened around 1870, or so sayeth Wikipedia, although we know that men have performed the roles of women on stage for much longer than that.
It’s not just stage performers who put it on. We all do. Almost all day. Every day. I wouldn’t be a good student of sociology if I didn’t mention Erving Goffman here. In his 1959 book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman uses the metaphor of the theater to talk about how we behave, or act, in the world. As this metaphor has been extended to the utmost, and as you are all intelligent folx, I shan’t belabor the point.
But, but, Goffman, and, as it turns out, RuPaul, weren’t and aren’t wrong. Everything we ever learn, every ideology to which we are exposed, every dogma we are steeped in, leaves something behind. All of the pieces to which we are subjected are internalized or rejected — often times, unconsciously, and, hopefully, eventually, consciously.
All of these pieces inform the roles we choose to take on or cast off. The You who is a daughter or son is different from the You who is a partner. The You who is an employee is different from the You who is a parent. Again, some of that is conscious, but much of that is unconscious. These pieces of ourselves, and their manifestations in our life roles, color how we see the world, how we move through the world, and how the world sees us and interacts with us.
There’s an activity I learned some time ago, and it’s one that I like to do when I give presentations. If you haven’t done it before, try it now. It might give you a little insight into what really drives your engine.
First, choose seven words that describe you. The adjectives could include partner, parent, a hobby (dancer), a religion (Jewish), and the like. Don’t think too long or too hard about the seven words; just choose the first seven words that seem right. Next, cross off the two that are the least important. Out of the five that are left, cross out two more. There should now be three. Cross off one more. And then there were two. Cross off the one that is of lesser importance to you. I know: it’s really, really, really difficult.
The descriptor that remains is what is referred to as your master status. Your master status is the role you function in most of the time, or that drives your beliefs, thoughts, and actions the most. For example, my master status is “partner”. My partner’s master status is “parent”. The majority of my thoughts, time, and efforts are oriented to him, while the majority of his thoughts, time, and efforts are oriented to his children. Don’t worry, I won’t tell your partner that your master status is dog-mom or hobby railroad engineer.
Whatever drives you, it’s not at all about feeling bad about it. To the contrary: knowing what drives you and what drives those you relate to allows you to use your powers for Good and applying that self-awareness to improve your relationships. Because even if big makeup, big hair, and big… personality is not your thing, we all put it on in one way or another.
If you did the activity, what is your master status? Did the result surprise you?