Now serving Mermaid Realness.
This May I was allowed to participate in a small art-show with my and hood ceremony with my cohort of MAATC (Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling) at SAIC (School of the Art Institute in Chicago). I chose to go in Drag. The performance of graduation ceremonies has no bearing on degrees or success; as such, the ceremony largely exists as an expression of those formally joining the profession.
The faculty forgot to call my name. I shook it off and took the stage anyway; how easy is it that some of us are left behind. It was without a doubt not intended but it’s likely I was unrecognized as no one was looking for me and no one took the time to look at me. Double-takes were the norm. There is no doubt that I made a visual impact on the space. People largely wore business casual and business dress to the event. My dress, in sharp contrast, was a riot of color and shapes. A giant hand-crafted rainbow stole stood out in comparison the the dyed thin cloth of my cohort. I stole the stage and placed it around myself in absentia of being welcomed as my peers were. Which begs the question who is Art Therapy for? Why is it at our own celebration that joy is present and yet absent of color and bold statements. Why is it that even in when celebrating who we are and how we have performed, this performance seemed to be for someone OTHER than the people we serve. Parents and partners held up a paparazzi’s worth of cameras. Images were posted online and on social media. Who were those pictures for?
I dedicated myself to bringing authentic queer joy to the space in high drag. Armed with doll-face, lashes, and sparkles I observed the first rule of drag: Anything worth doing is worth doing in sequins and bright colors. What a difference I seemed. Yet, what was the difference? There were many queer community members present. There was a clear history of dramatic and wild antics during graduation ceremonies. There was endless possibilities to represent who we are and what our version of self is. Yet the room was full of muted colors and proud faces. What does it mean to celebrate while wearing garments that do not reflect joy but instead reflect ‘professionalism’.
Drag is a performance. It is a commentary of what is expected from us as gendered or misgendered individuals. It is a statement of what celebration and accomplishment mean. It is a larger than life performance of the moment. It is a riot of color in a dreary grey world. I took the moment to deliver all of the above. I was a one man pride-parade: a complimented resource for bubble boas of all sizes and colors. I was different, not to be different but to be the version of myself that is both joyful and still challenges the reality of those around me. I am a creature ahead of my time and beyond my cultural norms.
For a non-binary individual to perform a dramatization of their assigned gender at birth is something that makes people deeply uncomfortable. For those still learning my pronouns are they/them and that I am non-binary it was a challenge of what they think gender expression is. For professionals it was a questioning of what is professionalism and what does it mean to ask it of ourselves and others. Drag has the ability to amuse, and horrify. It has the ability to make comfortable the uncomfortable. Drag makes fluid the rigidity of the world and blends together the edges of propriety and performance. It is an exploration of what is placed upon us and what our place in the world is.
As I fulfill the few remaining credits of my program and receive my very expensive piece of paper certifying that someone should consider me for a license because a privileged institution says so… I continue to question where the queerness in our program is. Where is the place for queer people of color? Where is the discussion of queer disability? Where is the discussion of Queerness for/by/about queer folx. Is the level of our education sincerely restricted to 101 word explanations; to information to be consumed by cis-hetero folx completely unfamiliar with our culture. Where is the discussion of not being ‘born to your own’ to finding community apart from the communities we are born and raised in? Where is the bathroom safety in our building? Where is the history of our people taught, not as simply a modern occurrence but as a vigorous and long history dating back centuries? Where is the questioning of gender segregation and the harm it does to both men and women, not to mention all the rest of us? Stay tuned as I continue to explore these questions and whether or not they are truly present in art therapy theory and practice.