The recent election saw an onslaught of activism. Sunday protests became the new brunch, as citizens took to the streets, calling for social and political change. But while marches and tweets have been popular forms of resistance, other (less conventional) avenues of inspiring change have risen in popularity – including drag.
When it comes to combining creativity and purpose, Teresa Braun is a perfect example of art in action. The Ridgewood-based performance artist embraces drag in a display of political activism. Bushwick Daily joined Braun for a deeper look at how they utilize performance and character-work for resistance.
Taylor Lhamon: What led you to begin performing in drag?
Teresa Braun: The 2016 election led me to develop Peter Funk, a far-right drag king character. That’s also when I started performing drag in nightclubs and theaters. Looking back, I was always drawn to gender performance. When I was in art school I did weird lo-fi performances. For one of my first performances, I dressed up like my dad, put a box over my head, and walked around banging a bell. I remember a feeling of total freedom and comfort. For the first time felt like I was in control of how people saw me. They looked uncomfortable and confused – it was like a high.
I still use masks to obscure my face. I present quite femme on an everyday basis and feel like I’m constantly being sexualized when I walk down the street. It’s violent to be framed within that paradigm. Doing drag, especially as a drag king, is a radical and empowering way of flipping the script. I feel like everybody should try drag at least once. Dressing up in drag can confirm a person’s gender identity or highlight how we perform gender every day. It reminds me of how we talk about feminism creating freedom for everybody; I believe drag can liberate people from heteronormativity. Drag shakes the foundation of who you think you are.
Lhamon: What goes into your character development?
Braun: I perform as two main characters. Peter Funk is a hyper-masculine drag king who claims he’ll be the next US president. He’s a political figure, is part of a wrestling league, holds campaign rallies, once spoke at a university, and has a YouTube news channel where he edits himself into talking-head political debates. I really connect with Rohit Chopra’s line about “the fool (that) speaks truth to power — (using) satire as a small, democratic weapon”.
I also perform as Egregious Philbin and use layered costumes and props to morph into various gendered archetypes. I use a lot of religious imagery. In one of my acts I transform from a nun to a Roman soldier to a sinister televangelist. At the end I stab myself in the chest, pour wine out of the wound, pull bread out of my pants and take communion. All of my performances feature some aspect of eating. I strip away each layer to reveal a story but I want the ending to actually permeate my body.
Lhamon: What are common misconceptions about drag, and how are you hoping to expand these views?
Braun: I think the most common misconception is that drag kings or genderfluid performers aren’t as exciting or entertaining as drag queens. Shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race have popularized drag and when people say “drag” they often think of a cis men dressing up as beautiful women. Since drag kings and very few trans women are permitted, that show in particular perpetuates the wage gap. Trans and assigned female at birth performers are barely getting by while many (especially white) queens are making money. There are exceptions like Sasha Velour, who I greatly admire for pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a drag queen. I do want to acknowledge that many amazing drag queens work in the underground scene and I highly respect that form of drag. But so many trans and AFAB performers are never lifted up in that way. I don’t want to diminish the discrimination that gay men, especially gay male drag queens face, but it’s hard for me to see the way society responds to drag as separate from sexism and transphobia.
Lhamon: How are you using this form of performance as political resistance?
Braun: It’s been horrifying to watch a narcissistic criminal and sexual predator be president. The way he performs toxic masculinity is disgusting yet fascinating and I’ve funneled those feelings into Peter Funk. As a Canadian, I’m unable to vote, but challenged myself to respond. Doing drag isn’t just a way to express my anger, it’s been a way for me to expand my community which often leads to new avenues of activism. The queer community is radical in nature and many of us are constantly thinking of ways to politically resist. When I feel helpless, I think of how I can advocate for marginalized folx in the queer community and beyond. This can look like finding ways for performers to be paid a fair wage or producing shows featuring those that are underrepresented.
Teresa Braun is the Drag/Genderf*ck curator at The Brick Theater.
You can follow Egregious Philbin @mx.egregious.philbin for info about upcoming shows and to see their costumes in progress
You can find Peter Funk @realpeterfunk or www.realpeterfunk.com.
Cover image of Peter Funk courtesy of Teresa Braun
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