Seoul Drag is a drag fan community, where people who like drag culture gathered around through social media in Seoul. They have hosted drag video screening, participated in queer human rights forum, and performed in the show ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ to let people know the beauty of drag. In this issue, Culturati interviewed Seoul Drag’s branch manager, Hyeji Keum.
Q1. Nowadays, we can see some queer cultures in Korean mainstream media, such as voguing or waacking. But I think there are still a lot of people who are unfamiliar with Drag. Can you explain the drag for these people?
A1. Drag is a form of art that breaks up gender norms. Even though it started as ‘dressing up as a woman’ in the gay community-and it is still a mainstream culture- there are also a lot of drag kings who exaggerate masculinity, and non-binary performers whose sex is not divided into female or male!
Q2. What is the attractiveness of drag that Seoul Drag thinks?
A2. I think it is interesting that drag does not follow the rule of the existing pop culture. Although it imitates many aspects of pop culture, but it also features B-class sensibility with mockery and humor. Also, there are not many contents that queer becomes the main part. I found drag attractive because it can make us express queerness freely.
Q3. What made you start Seoul Drag?
A3. My favorite thing about drag culture is ‘Drag Family’, which is a family of your choice through drag. Regardless of natural gender and family by birth, I love being able to create new communities with people that I want to connect with. So, I wanted to create a community with people who share the same tastes. And since being a drag fan in Korea, I often had to obtain information in English on foreign sites. I wanted to talk about drag freely with people in Korea in Korean.
Q4. Did you have any difficulties with running Seoul Drag?
A4. So far, I have been working on a range that I can afford personally little by little. But as more and more people are interested in drag, I have come to participate in big events. I felt sorry for the people who worked with me in situations where there was no system and little material compensation. (Thank you very much for those who have helped it.)
Q5. There are some opinions that drag is a misogynistic content and should not be consumed because it is making a caricature of women. What do you think about this?
A5. I agree that there is a misogyny in drag culture. And you may not like it, but you do not have to spend it then. But I think it is wrong to set up the formula that ‘Drag=Misogynism’ to blame and condemn people who are gathered with energy that likes something. At least the drag fans who have gathered around the name Seoul Drag are feminists, queers, or its ally. And we keep thinking over what kind of play the drag can be at the intersection of those two identities. We can continue to enjoy the wonderful part of the drag culture while thinking about various elements and questioning the misogynistic part.
What is “women” in the proposition in “caricaturing women”? I want to continue asking this question through drag. I think drag could be the way to refuse to engage in the dichotomous gender category. We can create a new gender subject that can not be classified by existing dichotomy. This work can be the beginning of a strategy to tear down misogyny that defines identity as ‘women must be like this or that’. I think it is a fragmentary logic to say ‘Such and such appearance belongs to a woman who is weak. How dare you, a male who is born strong, are making fun of women by imitating?’ Rather, it is the logic that strictly distinguishing between women and men, and shackles women with femininity.
Q6. Is there anything else you want to say about the misunderstandings that drag receives?
A6. It would be difficult to say that ‘Drag is this and that, so do not get it wrong’. It is difficult to define drag as a one, and the range may vary depending on who performs or consumes it. But who makes the rule ‘not to consume’? Feminists thinks and decides on their own.
Q7. Though drag is an unfamiliar culture for general public, but the Korean drag scene is gradually expanding its activities as it appears in ‘drag public readings’ and various other media. What do you think about the prospects of Korea’s drag in the future?
A7. Well, I think it is difficult to talk about it because I am a person who does not know my own future well. But since it is not a territory that has not yet been made visible, I think that growth in the future is very promising. In particular, the discussions are going along with the feminists and queers with various identities. So, I do not think there would not be a situation where too many cooks spoiling the broth. I hope Seoul Drag is of some help to that role.
Q8. Do you have any movies, or books that you can recommend for people who became interested in drag by reading this interview?
A8. First of all, I’d like to recommend a documentary titled ‘Paris is Burning’, which is available on Netflix. By watching it, you will know about the ‘ball’ culture started at Harlem in New York and the start of the drag culture. If you want pure fun, I recommend ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race’, which is also available on Netflix. It is controversial because the show only accepts participants with male body or designated sex male who have not made a transition. But regardless of the political correctness, the shoddy shooting set and editing, ridiculously fast progress of the show, and all the splendid stages are really fun. It does almost everything that can be shown on a reality TV show. And Sasha Velour of season 9 is just the art itself. I highly recommend it. The book that I want to recommend is Judith Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’, which is about gender theory. It uses the drag as an example of a major discussion. But it is too difficult to read, so I recommend reading the commentary book first.
Q9. Finally, what is drag to Seoul Drag in one word?
A9. I’ll replace it with a song recommendation instead of a word. It is the lyrics of the song, ‘Searching for Family’ by ‘Lang Lee’.
“Finding the song in me, finding the house I want to live in, finding the person I will love, and finding the family I want to be.”
Kyung-yoon Seo, CP Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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