This year for the second time I went to Muncie Gras, an event held every spring around the same time as Mardi Gras, only in Muncie, Indiana, instead of New Orleans. Both years I have gone, it has been below 30 degrees, the sad reality of life in the Midwest. While we can’t control the weather, some of the other “sad realities” of life in Indiana are within our sphere of influence. Many might argue that Muncie Gras is an event held against the cultural grain of our region, and I agree to a certain extent. All my life I’ve thought of Indiana as a place of racial and sexual intolerance, where you have to be white and straight to be worth a damn to anyone, but little by little, that is changing.
One of the annual highlights of Muncie Gras is a drag show, held in a frigid tent on a makeshift stage, with several performers rotating throughout the night. Plenty of dip-chewing, non-ironically flannel-clad good ol’ boys were in the crowd, and for every one I saw cringing away from the stage, I saw two or three seeming to enjoy the show. This apparent acceptance from the crowd was coupled with (and perhaps in some cases won by) self-reference from some of the drag queens. One of the performers drew attention to their gender-bending with all the pomp and camp one can often expect from such a show--banter between acts, comedic “tuck checks”, even lip syncing to a song about surgical sex change. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. But then I noticed that failure to acknowledge “maleness” despite costume seemed to be resented by some of the observers, at least when it came to the more “passable” ladies. Another lovely queen who would make any man do a double-take in a bar didn’t engage in such antics, preferring instead to maintain the illusion of graceful womanhood s/he so winningly presented. And, much to my disappointment, it was from this performer the (obviously hetero) men in the audience seemed to recoil most, grabbing their lady companions tight by the ass and shaking their heads at each other in disgust.
We watched the drag show for it’s two-hour run--we being myself, my boyfriend, my aunt and uncle, and my transgender dad, who has lived for a year and a half as a woman named Stephanie. Our group quickly left the tent when the male review started at 10 pm, preferring not to see the meat market in full swing. The vacancies we left behind were quickly filled by admirers, so the brave men who were about to strip in the freezing temps didn't miss us, I'm sure.
By this time thoroughly drunk on $5 Long Islands, we made our way down to the tent funded by Cirilla’s, a local sex shop, where a porn star was hosting a banana blowjob contest. (Side note: Muncie knows how to party.) In this tent, I found myself even more aware of gender relations. (Second side note: I get real deep when I’m drunk.)Three women and a man were on stage for the contest, which we arrived just in time to observe. The male gave the best banana blowjob, but after ten seconds everyone stopped paying attention to him, because all the women pulled out their boobs.
Now, I’m not ashamed to say I like breasts, and not just in an objective sense. Boobs at times turn me on. I think many women and their natural endowments, including some of the ones on stage at that moment, are/were damn sexy, and they should use that sexiness to their natural advantage, especially to win a prize. But man, did the crowd get crazy, nothing like the polite one-dollar tips and gentle teasing of the drag show we’d just left. Women not even in the contest, women who were obviously wasted, hopped up on stage and took their shirts off in front of the crowd just to hear the cheers. Many of our fellow onlookers were soon chanting for those ladies who had held out against the pressure to “show their tits” and most of them obliged after a few minutes. And then, out came the tee shirts. God, the tee shirts. What people in this country will do for a free tee shirt, I tell you.
And then we just kept drinking. I ate an elephant ear, peed in front of a cop car. The usual.
I guess what I walked away with, after a few days of reflection and recovery (hey, $5 long islands remember?) is a sense of a double standard which simultaneously prevails and becomes more complex as time passes. From this has stemmed questions, some which I’ve thought on before and some I’m pondering for the first time. What makes a woman? What makes a man? I don’t personally believe that gender is genital, though sex in a biological sense certainly is. What duties do we have from birth, based on our sex, and what if we choose to change that sex? What do we define as “acceptable” behavior for each gender--how do those definitions differ--and what do those discrepancies between definitions mean for those caught in the middle? Most importantly, aren’t we all in some sense caught in that gray area of desire versus expectation, in some aspect of our lives? If so, why doesn’t that universal sense of frustration unite us to action, and inspire us to acceptance?
I wish I had answers to these questions. For my part, the most moving and comforting part of the night was a drag performance near the end of the show-- to the tune of, of all the awful things, Miley Cyrus. Like she says in that song I heard, which I don’t care enough to look up the name of--”it’s the climb.” As hard as it might be to imagine a world where we can all be who we want, how we want, all hopeful hearts have to keep working toward that goal, and somehow have the perspective to remember that in generations to come, we will be looked back on and remembered as fighters. Or wizards (see picture). Or bards. Hey, choose your own class, even multi-class if you want. I'm not the Dungeonmaster in this campaign.