Clint Cantwell/Ginger KaiKai
I was a few weeks away from turning eight and I was obsessed with the show The Weakest Link. The host, Anne Robinson, sent chills down my spine. I was in love with her stern strength and her power. Almost-eight-year-old me thought she was capable of anything. I loved repeating her almost monotone, yet still somehow emotive, catch phrase: “You are the weakest link. GOODBYE.” The only thing missing from the drama of the show was a trapdoor to send the contestant whirling to a literal deep pit of disappointment. (What a missed opportunity on the part of the directors.) I religiously watched this show. But the episode on On October 29th, 2001 was a tad different for me.
I settled myself on the floor with my Scooby-Doo blanket directly in front of the television. My mom, on the couch next to me, turned our new fancy Time Warner Cable box to The Weakest Link. On this episode there was an array of celebrities. I recognized Jerry Springer, one of my mom’s favorite shows, and I recognized Ben Stein, he was all over the TV at the time. However, I did not recognize one celebrity in particular.
I studied her. Watched her movement. Listened to her voice. I watched how others reacted to her. Fascinated, I asked my mom who she was. My mom replied, “that’s RuPaul, he’s a drag queen!” I was shocked that she said “he” and not she. I did not respond to what my mom said and I continued watching. I eventually asked, “what’s a drag queen?” She told me that it is a man that dresses as a woman. It now made sense why my mom said “he” rather than she. I replied, “I want to be a drag queen when I grow up!”
This is a true story! You can watch the episode of The Weakest Link on YouTube if you search for it. Every time I recount this story I am reminded more and more of the intricacies of gender, the perception of gender, and the performativity of gender. At the young age of almost-eight-years-old I was keeping tabs on gender. As an effeminate child I was forced to be hyper aware of gender, as I was always policed by those around me to act like a boy and not a girl. As a child we are quickly taught that if we act outside of our assigned gender roles that we will likely be punished. We are forced to perform a role in order to then police that role so that the role may live on serving no true purpose (much more can be said here, but I’ll hold off).This rings exceptionally true in adulthood as trans individuals often face death for acting outside of the societal gender mould.
I was lucky that my mother was open to her young child wanting to be a drag queen. I
eventually made my dream a reality and am a drag queen in Rochester, New York known as Ginger KaiKai. Of course my family had questions.
Do you want to be a woman?
No, but I do not want to be a man either. (This only confused them more.)
Why do you want to do drag?
I want to explore all aspects of gender and express myself.
So, you want to be a woman then?
No, I already answered that question.
You like your penis, that’s why?
Well, yes I like my penis, but a penis is neither required to be a man, nor makes someone not a woman. (The confusion on my mother’s face made me laugh a bit, but really, for many, this fact is not something to laugh about.)
I do not expect my family to be as aware of the variations in gender and sex as I am. In fact, they likely never will be since they will likely never encounter it living in rural New York. But these exchanges with my family highlights how the current definition of gender falls drastically short. Such that even young children try to manipulate it, or can recognize fault in it.
So, to the limiting and strict definitions of gender, I say…“you are the weakest link, goodbye!”