Several years ago, a friend called me and asked me to come down to Bloomington for the Miss Gay IU Pageant. Being that I love pageants of any kind, I buckled in and headed down south, not quite expecting to find what awaited me. At the time I was probably in my early 30’s and hadn’t heard much about this pageant, so I was completely surprised when we walked into the auditorium on the IU campus and found the place absolutely packed, college kids interacting with each other, some gay, some very straight, but everyone just having a good time.
We sat through most of the pageant and when leaving I ran into some people that I knew. We talked about what a great opportunity the pageant was for younger gay people to experience unity within a culture in a way we had never been able to experience in the late 80’s and early 90’s. And probably, this new gay generation would be much healthier and much more sane as a result of similar experiences.
And then several weeks ago, Joshua Sutton, the president of OUT, the GLBT Student Union at IU, which produces Miss Gay IU, contacted Alex and I to get involved on some level to promote the pageant. We of course jumped at the chance.
And I wish the story ended there…but the real tragedy is in a note that Joshua put out on Facebook, explaining the IU administration’s frustration at the pageant and their lack of understanding the rules to include transgendered people. Just so I don’t get anything wrong, I’ve included the note for all to read.
This is an issue that arises every year, and one that I expect and know will always be around being in an academic environment. Miss Gay IU, the first collegiate drag competition, and arguably one of the highest attended pageants in the nation, has proven to be more then successful in its 20+ years of existence.
It has been brought up to me, as it is every year, that we contradict our discrimination clause with Miss Gay IU, which is that “…all contestants must have been born male, however OUT will not discriminate based on current gender identity or expression (i.e, hormone use, cosmetic surgery, or fully transitioned male-to-female individuals). This is often due to ignorance with the female/male impersonation pageantry world. Let me be clear that this is by no means a hasty argument! After working with this pageant for three years and clearing the obstacles of some pretty rude people, I feel more empowered then ever to defend and educate on the integrity of Miss Gay IU and what it means to be a drag queen, or king related to grass roots and evolution of the art from those before us!
Some administrators, faculty and staff on campus feel it is a waste of time, money and efforts. Has MGIU lost it’s educational value? Possibly in the traditional classroom/teacher situation, but by putting this contest on – our members and community learn networking skills, event planning, and ways to be handled in the public eye. We learn news way every year to fight discrimination, resistance, and hatred.
If it wasn’t a loved event by all, then why do people still attend? Why do hundreds of alumni travel back to Bloomington for an evening, and why do they meet up with old friends at old restaurants and businesses – leaving a slight impact on Bloomington’s local businesses… while arguably stimulating our downtown economy slightly for an evening.
If people didn’t support the event, why is it that so many area businesses and surrounding ones provide financial support to the event? Miss Gay IU is funded by IUSA at only a fraction of what the total cost of the event can, could and will be. For those who say they’re forced to pay for it because some of their Student Activity Fees go to the IUSA, come one – spread that figure over thousands of tuition paying students, that’s pennies to you (I know, it adds up!). And I could argue the same thing when certain religious events are supported by organization on campus that receive their pool of money from tuition student activity fees, but I don’t! I embrace a well rounded and diverse education, rather I agree with it or not, and take pride in knowing that I may have financially supported a cause that is important to someone else that could quite possibly be my worst enemy, or polar opposite.
Many people in our community think drag is a disgrace, and that’s fine – you don’t have to come. Is drag and Miss Gay IU caddy? Yes. Witty? Yes. Intended for a mature audience? Yes. Alcohol free? Yes!
This is for the students first and foremost, many who are not old enough to experience the night club scene, and a night to come out and be a little crazy and see drag in one of the most prestigious venues in the nation. We are college students, professionals, adults! We’re entitled to have fun as well.
We do our best to keep the show as clean as possible, but our entertainers and formers who come and work for free are well seasoned night club entertainers most of the time. (Not to mention we try to raise money for another charity at the same time, often leaving OUT with very little or NO profit from the show to put back into our organization.) These night clubs where drag started to take its place in society got our culture noticed, and holds some of the vital the grassroots to our road of equality. (Stonewall riots, anyone?)
With that said, I want to share my response to the contestant clause, for all to see – as I know many people will never quite get it, nor understand. The original comment was by no means rude or nasty and meant no harm – but I know there are others out there who do mean harm – so it just sparked me to get a head start on the issue. Myself and OUT truly appreciate all of the support that is provided.
“We are one of the FEW pageants that allows the gender being impersonated (female in this case) to be impersonated by those who are transitioning males to females.
It’s like any clause in any pageant, real girl, or drag queen, setting a groundwork of what qualifies you as a contestant..
Transgender individuals often transition because they want to become the other gender, they feel trapped in the wrong body, and in a sense they “portray” that gender the rest of their lives, through their look, way of life, acceptance and support of others, etc.
Often pageantry systems will say that an individual who has transitioned, or is transitioning, has an unfair advantage to others who may be biologically male in this case.
It use to be that no cosmetic work, hormonal use, or “female” gender identity of a male contestant would be qualified to enter Miss Gay IU, as this still holds true for many of the bigger pageantry systems across the world. For example, Miss Gay America (www.missgayamerica.com), one of the largest pageantry systems in our country with countless preliminary contests DOES NOT allow anyone more then a full biological boy to compete, and for this reason, many our greatest entertainers out there can not compete, because many of them are transitioning, or have. No disrespect to the MGA system, but this just shows you the different stipulations that exist, that some may still see as discrimination. When on the other end of the spectrum, a newer and more proactive female impersonation system has taken on the same view of contestants that OUT has had on Miss Gay IU for about 10 years, and that is the Miss All American Goddess system (www.allamericangoddess.com), where they do not discriminate on a contestants current gender identity who was born a male – So it really just depends on what these promoters are looking for.
It’s the same concept as Hoosier Daddy – all contestants must have been born female, but those transitioning into the male gender are welcome to compete. If we allowed any and all to compete in either competition, there would be no distinction between the two – and no need to call it a female impersonation, or male impersonation contest. It would just be a contest.. and we certainly don’t see males who have transitioned to females competing in the real Miss America (maybe one day!)
While there are more proactive forms of drag emerging, such as “fag drag” which is considered biological females dressing in elaborate drag and performing, there is still that integrity to be kept and said for drags beginning. As a student organization that does not contradict discrimination, I hope this clarifies most peoples urge to call this out as discrimination. By definition of discrimination, you could say that the way the clause is stated that it is discrimination toward anyone not born male, but those with an understanding of the pageantry politics would understand. When in fact, we are embracing our transgender members of the female gender to enter in this specific case. It’s an integrity of the grass roots and evolution to drag, to the male and female impersonation world in our culture and community. We embrace transgender individuals who often can not compete in other systems to come compete in Miss Gay IU, and Hoosier Daddy!
I encourage anyone who wants to start another contest with new rules and regulations to do so, there is always a need and want for something fresh and out of the ordinary! Miss Gay IU is celebrating 20 years of fairness and success as the first college drag pageant, and helping lead the way to some proactive minds and changes that were very much needed at IU and in Bloomington many years ago.
Feel free to contact myself if you have anymore questions or concerns! I am always open to chat about this, and I appreciate you voicing your concern!
Thank you all! :)”
As you can see, he’s not just some “fag” who throws pageants as probably many people in our society see us from time to time, but an articulate, educated and well-spoken young man who is just trying to improve things a little bit. How honorable, to know, even as little as we do, someone who is positively trying to change things for the next generation…I wish he had been around when I was 18 and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have felt so alone.
And as you know, we’re not political, so we’re not going to ask you to vote down IU or anything like that…we’re just going to ask every single one of you to show up at the pageant in mass and show those fuckers that you can’t “drag” us down with you!
Show up and make a difference April 30th, 2010 at 7pm at IU Auditorium.
For more information visit the Miss Gay Indiana University 2010 website!
And of course…to read more of us, the boys of raannt, visit The Bilerico Project or IndyScene!
Eyes Open…We’re Watching!