Opinion: Why do I call myself a Dragtivist? It’s My Rebellion.

Troy Hawkins is a fixture in Redding’s vibrant Drag Queen scene. He uses this Opinion piece to explain that drag is more than flamboyant performances and ornate wardrobes, it’s a form of activism that he uses to build community and create spaces where people can be their true authentic selves, free of oppression, judgment and the pressure to conform.
A group photo from a drag event during Redding Pride this past September. Photo Courtesy of Tehama Outreach

Dragtivist

(Drag-tuh-vist) noun.

1.advocating or opposing a cause or issue vigorously by using the theatrics of drag to direct attention, enhance visibility and create dialogue inside the LGBTQIA+ community and create a bridge to other communities. 

2. the use of drag to enact change.

Albert Camus, a French philosopher and recipient of the 1942 Nobel Prize for Literature said “the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” This quote bounces around in my noggin each time I sit down to “put my face on”. 

While Camus saw little of meaning in what he referred to as our “incomprehensible universe,” for me, creating meaning, dialogue and spirituality in my community is one of my guiding lights, and my reason for being a dragtivist. My community includes each and every person I come in contact with, both in and out of drag. I’m a self described loudmouth and find no shame in my life, my love and the way I was born. I choose to live out loud. My drag is larger than life because it has to be. We should all be living our best life without fear of judgment, discrimination or repercussions – in full view of ourselves and the world.

Drag is pure fun. Going to a drag show is akin to going to the circus where a troupe of cross dressing clowns use their absurd talents to entertain, shock and create a safe space for the audience to be themselves. At drag shows many are experiencing this safe place for the first time. True authenticity is hard for most people. We live in a society that profits from self doubt. A society where individuality is discouraged in favor of the homogeneous, the watered down, the chain restaurant mentality of the flavorless. We should all be lifting up those individuals that live to the beat of their own drum. We need to be creating more safe spaces to explore our individuality, our connection to community and our own personal power. Dragtivism creates that space for each of us to live out our dreams and our callings and create community.

I spoke of spirituality earlier. Spirituality is important to me because it creates a personal contract with ourselves, a self actualized moral compass. My spirituality is a deeply personal understanding of myself  and my role in this world and my dragtivism is informed by my spiritual beliefs. I see my drag as a calling. A means of following my spiritual nature in order to help others see themselves as worthy, whole and connected to something bigger than themselves. I don’t presume to have all the right answers for others, but I do share my opinion freely when asked as an honest and valuable act of dragtivism. We should all seek to know ourselves better. Exploring our own personal belief systems creates stronger humanity and more openness to diversity. My grandfather Roy Burleson taught me “What other people say about you is none of your business”. Whether you are Christian, Atheist, Buddist or agnostic you are using a self actualizing moral code in which to conduct yourself. As long as your belief system doesn’t discriminate, you’re valid in my book. 

I’m inspired by historical figures like William Dorsey Swann, the person known to describe himself as “the queen of drag.” Born as a slave in Maryland in the 1860s, Swann was arrested and later pardoned by President Grover Cleveland for holding drag balls in Washington, D.C. Swann is the earliest recorded American to take specific legal action to protect the queer communities’ right to gather without threat of criminalization, suppression or police violence. Swann’s actions, his belief in himself and his unrelenting fight for basic human rights for the LGBT communities inspire my actions and define my dragtivism.

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I’m also inspired by Marsha P. Johnson, an outspoken Black transgender rights activist who is  credited, alongside activist Sylvia Rivera, with starting the Stonewall Riots, a series of actions to which are widely known as the birth of the Gay rights movement. Stonewall called thousands to action, including myself.

Drag artist Marti Allen Cummings’ campaign to win a New York City Council seat has also inspired my dragtivism. Because of Marti, I’m working on an upcoming podcast and trying to effect change in this small community of ours. 

Bayard Rustin is another inspiration for my life and work. He was a key advisor to Reverend Martin Luther King, organized the 1963 March on Washington and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rustin’s peaceful approach has helped me to  understand the power of both voice and action in my dragtavism.

I’ve also had many mentors in the local gay community. Frank Treadway has inspired me with his unwavering perseverance to democracy and visibility. Christopher Diamond has inspired me with his dedication to visibility for the trans community and his sense of urgency in creating a safe place to meet and grow with the NorCal Outreach Project. Winfield Mowder and Gary Matson taught me to be true to myself and to give back to the communities we live in. And David Wharton, Brad Hart and others have inspired me with their tireless work to create safe, vibrant spaces for our communities. 

I have lived my life creating the dream these mentors helped me formulate. I started doing drag in 1983 while I was still in high school. Today I work to instill in others the understanding of dragtivism, the power it creates and the duty we have to create community-wide change. 

Andrew Wilson (Sheik Von Tease) and I are “house mothers” of the House of Flamboyance, a local drag house that emphasizes the importance of dragtivism and giving back to our communities. We serve as mentors, friends and role models for those learning the art of dragtavism and we help each other be the best version of ourselves, both in and out of drag. As a long-term mentor in the drag community, I now have more than 100 drag “children” from Seattle to Los Angeles and beyond.

Dragtivists use the veil of illusion to entertain but being a drag queen is a total act of rebellion.

Each of us can engage in courageous acts of rebellion in our own unique ways.

I urge you to find your inner dragtivist.

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Troy Hawkins is an artist, hairdresser, dragtivist, husband, father and grandfather and a third generation Shasta County resident. He writes for Shasta Scout as part of our new Community Voices series, which illuminate lived experiences, identities, issues or perspectives that are often misunderstood. Community Voices is supported by a grant from the North State Equity Fund. Want to share your thoughts and opinions with our readers? You can submit your writing here.

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