Drag Queens, Borders, Rivers, Death and Transformation
by Sonny Smith
Identity is not stable or rational, but an ever conflicting tension between id and ego, conscious and subconscious mind. -Freud
Up til about 13 me, my friends, we were whatever we wanted top be. One day skate rats, the next day kung fu, the next day new waver, next day heavy metal, surfers, baseball players, on and on it went.
High school ends that usually. The ‘group’ starts telling you who you are. If you’re into sports you’re an athlete. If you’re into studies you’re a nerd. If you’re socially awkward you’re a weirdo. When you give up on the whole scene you get called a loner!
The crowd, the community, the society, has ideas about identity. Strict ideas. If you’re outside it, it’s going be rough; you get called a misfit.
After you grow up bigger limitations come in. Careers. Jobs. What are you going to decide to be? You’ve got to pick SOMETHING. Even if you choose nothing you’ve chosen.
I could never choose… so I drifted around. I’ve had a slew of jobs. My resume doesn’t look too reliable I guess. I had a job making copper gutters for two years. One day the foreman on a job says: here comes the copper guy. I didn’t want to be a ‘copper guy’ so I lost interest.
Marriage is tough too. Any relationship is tough. You gotta be the same person day in day out. What if you wake up, you want to be someone else? Most relationships don’t allow for it.
It’s not identity crisis. It’s identity impermanence.* Who are you gonna be today? Maybe today’s the day you start being someone new. At least you’re trying. Hard to do when your job is depending on you to be the same person as yesterday… society is stacked against the new you! It’s stacked against birth! It only knows death!
* We are never just who we are in a given moment but a constantly evolving thing- Heidegger
Therefore, society is not for the living, it is for the dying. To live, to be fully alive, you must be outside society. An outlaw.
You’d think being an artist would allow for a lot of identity exploration. It does. But the art world is a big jail cell for the imagination. The art sellers and the art buyers, and all the media* in between want you to be one thing so they can organize you accordingly and stack you over with the others like you.
* buyers and sellers at the same time
The art ‘community’ is a big joke. Like any society, it believes it celebrates life but it survives on death.
Some artists capitulate to this game of narrow definition.* Or some find ways to keep their narrowed focus fresh. Then, some don’t conform. They keep breaking their own walls down. Art is elusive, evolution is mysterious…
* Their art doesn’t grow but their pocketbooks do!
Of course, one of the biggest limitations of all is what you believe. If you don’t believe in Jesus you’re in a certain stack, if you do believe then you’re in another stack, if it’s Allah, then you’re that, if it’s Buddha it’s that, democrat, republican, middle of the road, lefty…
Beliefs lead to religion. Religion provides identity, neighborhoods provide identity, skin color provides identity, politics provide our identity, tastes… But identity is exclusionary… and exclusion creates the ‘other’… others threaten your identity… pretty soon: fear moves to prejudice to racism to hate to war to genocide…
Another limitation on identity is gender. Man or woman, that’s all we got? What a gyp. Men who need to be macho, women who need to be feminine: they’ve bought into society’s rigid definitions.
Caught up in society’s contradictions, it’s transvestites, cross dressers, hermaphrodites, and drag queens that are the most interesting to me. They’re the physical manifestation of society’s biggest limitation: whether you’re a man or woman. Well, which are you? Everybody wants you to make it clear. But life ain’t clear.
For some, if you’re a man, but inside you feel overpowering feminine forces at work then you must have been ‘born all wrong?’ Is that it? You’ve got to have operations, take hormone-altering drugs and re-build your identity as a woman?
Or you could be a human who looks feminine but who feels very masculine* inside? Or vice versa? Society gives very little room to be whatever the hell you are without defining it. To just be and to live…
* what we perceive as feminine and masculine
Transsexuals are rebels, the outlaws. They might not want to be. They’ve been made outlaws. They are heroes of transformation! And transformation is sexy. But, they are also the victims of society’s tiny definitions of gender.
* to me, the sexiest turn-on is when a woman drags her wig off kinda slow like. I don’t know why…
In my own songs I’ve either sang about archetypal characters: Cops. Immigrants. Drag queens. Boxers. Whores. Waitresses. Junkies. Suburban wives. Killers. Superheroes. Pimps. Bums. Drug dealers. Doomed lovers.* Etc. etc.
Or, I’ve sung about crossing a border, a river, a desert or some kind of line. Turning into something else, leaving something, transformation, death, or ‘getting over’ to some other side…
With any luck I’ve made a song about both. A character locked up in a narrow identity trying to break out. An immigrant crossing a border, a drag queen leaving his lover…
Unsatisfied with his claustrophobic role in the cosmos he’s ready to burst! To break out! This is what our lives are after all, no? A burst. A passage. A breakthrough. Osmosis. It can be violent or subtle. A journey between birth and death.
It gets a little looney being all cooped up inside your identity. Spirits crave transformation of some kind, even if only in small little doses. Identities get you stuck. Maybe you want to be something else once in a while. Maybe you want to be somewhere else or SOMEONE else. At least for a moment…
I existed from all eternity and,
Behold, I am here;
And I shall exist till the end of time,
For my being has no end.
Stream: “Mario” by Sonny Smith [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/mario.mp3%5D
Stream: “Year of the Cock” by Sonny Smith [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Year-Of-The-Cock.mp3%5D
Sonny Smith: http://www.sonnysmith.com