Difference Between Gender Performance and Gender Performativity

In this course, I have learnt that gender is different from sex, which we are biologically determined. Indeed, “gender is not something that we are automatically born with but something we constantly ‘perform’”. Some people may perform more masculine that possess more instrumental qualities, such as confidence and competitiveness while some that are taught expressive qualities, such as empathy and sensitivity would perform in a more feminine way. These people would perform in such ways as society encourages gender conformity by making people feel that they have to fit these molds if they want to be romantically desirable. In addition to gender performance, it is markedly different from gender performativity in terms of social action and gendered selves. In the following, I would first state the definitions of gender performance and gender performativity respectively and then, discuss the difference between.

To begin with, regarding gender performance, it is believed that people often seek to perform their gender in different ways that will gain themselves a favorable impression from others. “Those involved in social interactions will develop their own sense of self as they are influenced by others’ impression on the one hand and seek to manage their own self-impressions on the other”. Fundamentally, there is always an identity behind the performance. When people perform a gender, they have to embody the gender traits or norms, which defines ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. Their enactments are usually constrained to the social or cultural norms. Every day, people might choose a different gender to perform through diverse language, gesture, movements and various manners of symbolic social sign. Gender performance implies that people are just ‘doing gender’ on an ongoing basis deliberately, but not instinctively. “In this vexed relation to the subject, performance simultaneously offers the only expression of any posited internal self, and suggests the inevitable possibility of dissimulation”. As aforementioned, people might decide to behave in a more or less “womanly” or “manly” way, and these gendered enactments and interactions may consolidate over time, thus develop into their biographies. “a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief'. In a nutshell, gender performance is the gender identity that an individual chooses or coerced by the culture to conduct.

Gender is typically regarded to be socially constructed that people are imperceptibly affected by norms to act in accordance to their understandings and beliefs of how their gender identities should be presented. On the other hand, according to Judith Butler, “To say that gender is performative is a little different because for something to be performative means that it produces a series of effects. We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman”. In addition to this, we should not act our gender like in a performance, but rather actively constructing it as we act it out. “gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance”. Gender is actually constructed from people’s own repetition of gender performance. If we refuse to perform our gender script repeatedly, gender will cease to exist one day. Besides, gender is in fact a representation of self. Gender should be something we do, instead of something that we acquire. “Individuals are not free to ‘fashion’ identity as they choose, but have to do so under others’ reading of their competence”. To conclude, gender “is just a process of repeating the performance or limitation and consolidate the gender identity or certain act”.

The differences between gender performance and gender performativity lies between the involvement of repetition of acts and consciousness. The former one does not involve repetition, which means that the identity of gender will change as it is not preformed coherently. People perform their gender consciously and they can distinguish their performance from their internal traits. Yet, for gender performativity, gender is an act that is constructed through people’s own continuous gender performance. Identity of gender is not only stable, but also indistinguishable as it is constituted by every expression of the individual. Also, gender is something that we perform unconsciously in the matter of performativity.

As for me, I do not perform my gender coherently in my every act. Sometimes, I would perform in a more feminine way by dressing up ‘womanlier’ instead of a gender-neutral or even a masculine style. My preference of gender performance might change along with my sexual or romantic attraction. When I am attracted by a male, I will choose to perform myself in a more feminine way, dress up more decently, in order to be more desirable. Likewise, I would prefer masculinity when I get attracted by a female. My gender performance is not coherent and stable that will be changed intentionally. Behave more or less “womanly” or “manly” is my choice and preference rather than an internal reality. Nevertheless, a friend of mine perform her gender as more masculine genuinely. She does not have short hair like those sissy boys but the she walks, acts, speaks and talks consolidate an impression of being a man. She does not behave like a man for a split of second but continuously. She repeatedly performs her gender as male. First, her leisure activities, sports, are different from the majority of the girls, which are mainly static. Second, she is a homosexual, who fancies girls. Furthermore, she always wears pants, t-shirt, shirt and trousers, which are quite mannish. Other than her hobbies and sexuality, her characteristics are also masculine. She is aggressive, competitive and yet, protective. For instance, in basketball games, she often constantly takes up the play-maker role in critical moments. (She plays even better/more skillful than many of the male high-school player) She presents a strong sense of leadership. Her aggressiveness and competitiveness demonstrated through games are unparalleled. Moreover, she also acts as a protector not only on the court, but also off the court. For example, when we went to marching on 13/11, she held my hands in the crowds to make sure that I was somewhere close to her. Moreover, when I got frightened by the PTU, she walked in front of me, which allowed me to stay calm, and led me to safer place. These tiny acts might be insignificant to indicate her masculinity, but they produced an impression that she behaves manly intuitively. Her repetitions and behaviors make me believe that she does not perform her gender deliberately but instead, her gender is consolidated as man by every of her act.

“Drag is a type of entertainment where people dress up and perform, often in highly stylized ways”. People of any gender can be drag queen or king. In addition to this, performers of drag are also regarded as part of the LGBTQ since they share some similarities. For example, both LGBTQ and drag performers are not widely accepted by the world as they differ markedly from the ideal type. Moreover, both of them need more love and empathy from the ‘majority’. For La Chiquita, she presents herself in exaggeratedly feminine ways as her performance and is known as drag queen.

Concerning about La Chiquita’s story, the reason why she embarked on drag culture or the way she sees drag resonate me most. Firstly, La Chiquita thought that drag allows people to do and see things in another person’s perspectives. As one would dress up in an exaggerated way, people, even those they are intimate with, could hardly recognize them. Some might recognize both characters but some may only know either of them. It allows them to have separated personality or behaviors. They can experience life in ways they have never tried before. This resonate me much as drag allows people to better enjoy life. They might be treated differently after dressing up. If I wear makeup and masculine clothing, and become a drag king, I would be able to experience life in a different way, such as meeting more drag people and to act and entertain others in a male way.

Furthermore, La Chiquita mentioned that people might feel stressed and depressed in reality due as they are regarded as ‘minority’ or queer in society. It would cause them to feel worthless. Becoming a drag allows self-expression in an unfamiliar way. They can make use of their miserable experience or the joyful part of their life as material to entertain or resonate others. This can not only touch other people’s heart, but it can also remind people or themselves that they are all human being, they are also vulnerable. Apart from entertaining others, drag can also create something beautiful inside themselves, to fill their heart and soul with joy. Also, dragging can be a voicing channel. They can express their feelings and thoughts freely after dragging. They can share with people that are not in their ‘original’ social circle after dragging as nobody or only a few can recognize them. The dragged version might be the offside of a person, which are not commonly ‘shown’ to others’. Therefore, drag actually encourages people to be true to themselves, be who you are and dare to show the world the offside of them through dragging.

I find this part most resonant because I have always been trying to spread more positive vibes to people around me. No matter how hard things are, I would always try my best to cheer others up first as it makes me feel disheartening to see others suffering. Yet, sometimes, they might forget that I would also have hard feelings. Originally, my solution towards this was continue tucking my negative thoughts away from others and be overwhelmed by negativity alone. Maybe I shall attempt being drag king, a miserable drag king. I can make use of my experience to create some entertainment or role plays to share my feelings with those who suffer from the same situation as I do. I wish to remind them, and also myself that there are always people who are willing to lend them a hand and be a listener whenever things go low. All human beings are vulnerable that all of us have various flaws and weaknesses. We should spread more love and empathy and make others feel loved, through drag or any other ways. I hope more people would find drag a meaningful job/activity that can enliven others and themselves, instead of regarding it as an entertainment solely.       

29 April 2022
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