The three of us are flopped down in a restaurant booth. One of us is eating a veggie burger, another is drinking a beer. I am wishing I had one or the other, but the grill is now closed and I’ll be driving home soon.
We’ve ducked out of the LGBTQ fundraiser to commiserate. We are trying to sort out the gender intensity of the evening. A drag king show followed by a burlesque strip show. Applause always louder the more gender correctness each performer achieved.
I was enjoying the drag king show at first. Hadn’t seen one before. It was a new group, giving its first public performance, and it started out raw. Stage nerves, I’m sure. But as the hour moved along, each of the five kings got more and more into her character. It was campy. It was fun.
Then one of the performers started to get really good. She was becoming a certain kind of he. He had narrow hips and a white pair of pants tightly stretched over an artificial penis. He pumped the air with his fists. He thrust his hips as if he were pounding someone who was subordinate, someone on her or his hands and knees. He was turning into someone I really could not like.
But the crowd roared, urging him on to purer and purer masculinity. And he got better and better. It was micocosmic mirror of everyday gender socialization. Do it right, and your parents love you. Do it wrong, and you get beat up on the playground. So you do it right.
While the burlesque was getting set up, I stepped out. It was a standing room only crowd, and I had two hours of wall flowering in, without a wall to lean against. I found a place to sit a while. When I returned, the burlesque was in its third act.
I had seen this burlesque troupe before, in a coffee shop. It had been a bit tamer there, especially the crowd. The dancer was just teasing her way down to the final strip, which would reveal two coin-sized pasties that she would twirl with the momentum of her spinning breasts. The dancer played the part of, or was in truth, the perfectly socialized and properly gendered straight woman–stripping down to her skivvies and shaking those boobies to the enthusiastic encouragement of a primarily LGBTQ crowd.
A friend sidled up to me. “Are you experiencing cognitive dissonance?” she asked.
“Oh, god, yes.”
“Do you think anyone else is?”
I pointed out mutual friend in the audience. Five minutes later, we are in the restaurant.
My friend with the burger offers, “Remember, this is the 500-year plan.” Whenever we talk about gender justice, racism, and transforming the world, she usually alludes to “the 500-year plan,” the time it may take to dismantle the oppressions embedded in our cultures. Sometimes she sounds hopeful, as if she is comforted to know that it will change. At other times, like tonight, her voice sounds more like, “Oh, crap. This is going to take 500 years.”
My friend with the beer, who works at the rape crisis center in our small city, says, “There were 35 children raped this month.” She says it because she knows how it’s all connected–how dramatic gender divisions and their hierarchies of power relate to predators and victims. The other two of us get this, too. We don’t even need to discuss her comment. It’s not a non-sequitur.
The burlesque has ended and the floor has been cleared for dancing. My friends head back to the dance, but I’m good for the night. As I walk back to the car, the wind is blustery and feels like the impending winter, sharp and sorrowful. 500 years. That’s a long, long time.