Posthuman Drag (Edited Collection)
Is drag separable from gender? A preponderance of self-described "drag things" (versus drag kings and queens) specializing in performances of non-human entities and appearing everywhere from stages in local gay bars to digital platforms like Instagram and YouTube would suggest so; however, when we speak of drag in academic literature, we hew closely to notions of drag as demonstrating gender performativity above all else. This collection therefore seeks to theorize a previously underrepresented form of drag performance that does not necessarily play with gender so much as it plays with humanness:We call this "posthuman drag."
Since the inception of Queer Studies, the transformational art form of drag has provided a deep well from which to draw theorization on embodiment and gender performativity; Judith Butler's extensive scholarship on gender in particular has given us a means to use drag as a lens for denaturalizing the social and cultural preconceptions through which gendered embodiment is heteronormatively conditioned. Though Butler's work helped to rehabilitate drag by disentangling it from an essentialist pre–Queer Studies definition as an exclusively gay cismale practice of female impersonation, there remains a divisive bias toward drag queen performance in academic scholarship on drag (already perceptible in one of the first book-length studies on drag, Esther Newton's 1972 Mother Camp). Additionally, studies of drag tend to lean on a framework that perceives the relationship between drag and gender differentially on the basis of gendered embodiment, which is intimately bound to the cissexist norms against which drag would otherwise be capable of working.
To unhinge drag from these cissexist norms, intersectional and transfeminist approaches, as in Kayte Stokoe's Reframing Drag (2020), demonstrate that "drag queens do not need to have particular bodies" (151) in order to perform as drag queens; however, if particular bodies are not required, then how might we define drag -- and how might this alternative definition open up new possibilities for accounting for a drag that moves beyond the human while layered on top of a human body? We suggest that all drag performance negotiates the simultaneous conflation and separation of two 'bodies,' which resonates with Donna Haraway's conception of the cyborg as "a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction" (149).
This collection therefore seeks essays that navigate this complex relationship in an effort to make viable a more diverse engagement with gender beyond the binary (and beyond drag queens) by making drag pliable enough to rid itself of gender altogether. Such an effort requires a reconceptualization of the connection between drag performance and (gendered) embodiment, calling into question the co-constitutive materiality of both the performer's phenomenal and performative body and the ways in which both kinds of embodiment are facilitated. The collection thus situates drag within the context of posthumanism to attend to the specificity of this relationship, accounting for Karen Barad's assertion that "discursive practices are not human-based but rather specific material (re)configurings of the world through which local determinations of boundaries, properties, and meanings are differentially enacted" (828). Put into conversation with drag performance, posthumanism shifts the focus from previously discussed interrogations of gender (and drag's comment on the citational quality of gender performance per Butler) to a more specific engagement with human embodiment.
What is at stake in drag performances that do not imitate gender is the humanness and humanity of both performer and audience. Posthuman drag, the proposed collection posits, foregrounds the materiality of performances that transcend the human -- both in the sense that the performances under consideration go beyond the affordances of the human body and that performance as such can never be limited to the human for it constitutes an emergent phenomenon -- allowing that which is enacted to enter the realm of discourse. In addition, by centering a previously neglected form of drag performance, this collection makes posthuman drag intelligible to drag audiences and demonstrates the creative, artistic, and political potential of drag performance and scholarship beyond the limitations of gender.
We are inviting theoretical essays and readings of specific phenomena or performances from various perspectives, including Queer and Gender Studies, Ecocriticism, Affect Studies, Critical Race Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies and Communication, Object Studies, Performance Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. Possible topics investigating posthuman drag performance include, but are not limited to:
• Drag and notions of the human, posthuman, nonhuman
• Inscription of human gender on nonhuman bodies
• Drag and/in the nonhuman world
• Performativity and intelligibility
• Subject vs. object and posthuman subjectivity
• Re-theorizing drag (e.g. parody, pastiche, camp)
• Prosthetics and bodily distortion
• Virtual enhancement and digital augmentation
• Digital drag performance
• Digital drag and (dis)embodiment
• Drag and the pandemic
• Drag and negative space
• Robotic/mechanical/cyborg drag performances
• Monsters, aliens, zombies, and creatures
• Objects and things
• Animal drag
• Posthuman drag and related phenomena (Club Kids, cosplay, makeup artistry, body painting)
If you are interested in contributing to this collection, please send a 250-300 word abstract, a proposed chapter title, and a short bio-note (100 words) as an email-attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. Abstracts should be submitted by April 5, 2021. We strongly encourage queer and female scholars, as well as BIPOC scholars, from any stage of their career to submit to this collection.