07/05/2014 § Leave a comment
A drag act is usually a man in a frock singing torch songs badly. Sometimes the performer makes a convincing woman, becomes famous, and ends up as a supermodel, which is what happened to RuPaul. Other times they’re a grotesque parody of the worst clichés of femininity, exploiting the disconnect between what you think you see and what you actually get. With acts like the Divine David in the UK, this becomes comedy and political statement, and with the American Willam Belli it’s showbiz, although not quite light entertainment. The one constant in all drag is the non-straight subtext. There is no room in drag for conventional reproductive heterosexuality – in fact, drag is, in the words of the Divine David, all about “spoiling it for the others” – showing the straight world that signing up for suburban timetable of marriage and babies is to join a “slow-burning suicide cult.”
And then there’s Christeene
There is no gender dysmorphia with Christeene, and if I use the feminine personal pronoun in this post it’s because linguistic traditions around drag dictate as much – although if ever the English language needed a gender-neutral personal pronoun, it is when we talk about Christeene. Unlike most other drag acts, she makes no effort at creating an approximation of female anatomy. She doesn’t tuck (pushing your testicles back into the pelvic cavity and taping your penis between your legs to give the flat-fronted appearance of female genitalia) and she doesn’t wear fake breasts. She has stubble and is covered in bruises and dirty marks. Her wig is cheap, matted and ill-fitting, and her makeup consists of lipstick smeared around her mouth. Her outfits are a bizarre collection of women’s discount store t-shirts and boots, and mens underpants, with occasional pieces of costume thrown in, depending on the nature of the performance. She always works with two backing dancers, who are as much like backing dancers as Christeene is like a drag queen.
Christeene’s performances are all about sex. But the sex is the filthy, depraved, destructive sex that, if allowed, can bring about the downfall of civilisation as we know it. Christeene demolishes the myth that the morally circumscribed, monogamist reproductive heterosexual sex is normal and mutually satisfactory for its male and female participants. Western Judeo-Christian tradition, amongst other things, circumscribes sexuality, represses the feminine, makes women the keepers of morality, and puts the heterosexual family unit at the pinnacle of social civilisation. In doing so, it creates misogyny and homophobia, and makes life somewhere between difficult and impossible for the many, many people who do not, can not, or will not, do what they are told. For these people, Christeene provides a very vocal protest at their treatment and expresses dissent at the systems that make them outsiders.
Themes of violence and madness appear in all her performances, when Christeene rolling her eyes back in her head. For Christians this signifies either possession by the devil or the redemptive power of the Lord speaking in tongues through his believers. For everyone else, it’s a sign of madness or psychosis. The video for Big Shot shows the disturbed world the mind escapes to when the real world is itself too disturbing. Everything is disturbed and disturbing, and there is no difference between sane and insane, particularly when it comes to human sex. There is no refuge from the madness of human existence. In Big Shot, normal is conceptually impossible.
“Cum Dump” is written repeatedly across knuckles and the backs of jackets, making it clear that being the recipient of male sexual attention, contrary to popular belief, is neither flattering nor complimentary. Sub-dom sex, with its erotic enactments of coercion and force, and anal sex, with its explicit rejection of compulsory reproduction, are presented as far more exciting and satisfying than romantic love ever could be. Sex is individual, ecstatic and nihilistic, not a hybrid of idealised amour and covert abuse.
Shame also comes up repeatedly. In Fix My Dick Christeene says that she’s a “hefty girl down there” – but girls don’t have dicks. Her demand that you “crack your back while working that hole” is upfront about the erotic anal penetration that so many straight men find terrifying. She says she wants “a man who’s gonna win my nasty game” and “a woman who’s gonna eat my dirty shame.” Sexual desire has no aim here. It is a force in its own right that is inherent in the individual. How desire is met doesn’t much matter. It was Sigmund Freud that first recognised that we all want sex, but how we want it and who or what we want it with is a variable. He broadened the scope of “normal” human sexual behaviour over a hundred years ago, but it still looks like most people didn’t get the memo, so we still need messengers like Christeene to remind us of this.
African Mayonnaise presents another version of shame. The video is a manifesto of sorts, expressing revulsion for the gluttony of consumerism and the endless, mindless guzzling, slurping, sucking up of everything from chemically enhanced trash food to reality TV shows to manufactured religion in the pursuit of social obedience and model citizenship. Christeene and her dancers announce themselves as the new America, the new celebrity, and visit shopping malls, gyms, barbers, coffee shops and Scientology centres, telling people “I am your shame, I’ll take the blame” – but the people they meet don’t want a scapegoat, because they’re so passively inculcated into the dominant social order that they don’t think they need one. In their eyes, Christeene is the shameful one, not them.
Shame is a painful emotion brought about by the recognition that you have done something wrong. Wrong, though, is a relative concept. Shame has moral overtones, and is used as a mechanism of control by religion to ensure followers adhere to the rules. Shame is a consequence of moral failure, and is attached to sex more than to any other form of conduct. The focus on sex as a source of shame in Western society negates what is actually more necessary – a network of human relations based on the recognition and tolerance of plurality – and Christeene’s work rejects the use of sex and shame to maintain a social order based on repression and control. She reminds us that sex is not a nice romantic relationship, but something dark and essential inside everyone, and that knowledge, in a repressive society, can be both political and powerful.
For more about Christeene, visit: http://christeenemusic.com/
For more videos, see: http://vimeo.com/channels/christeene