Essay: I Am Not A Drag Queen

Elijah Che.JPG

Model, Elijah Che, discusses personal identity and gender categorisation.


words Elijah Che
photography Silvijah Gec


There is a quote from Club Kid, Richie Rich, that really sticks with me: “Everyone’s calling me a freak show. If they look at me and be rude, then I’ll look at myself and be nice!” This is how I feel that every person who does not fall into the gender-conforming normative should react to negative criticism. There has yet to be a day where people are not looking, staring and trying to figure out the correct pronouns to call me - or in some cases, overtly calling me the wrong ones. It is the nature of how my society instinctively thinks, yet I am here to join the current growing movement, working to break down the ways in which society categorises one another and give a new perspective towards gender and life.

Although I identify as being non-binary - which does not fall into either gender category (male or female) - I prefer to express my physicality with feminine characteristics. While our brains are hardwired to process that “a woman’s face and body looks like this, a man’s face and body looks like this, ” do not forget that what makes an attribute feminine or masculine, both terms that are socially constructed standards, often vary based on an individual’s area of residence, generation, and culture. Preferring to be viewed as a human being, rather than placing emphasis on a particular gender and the preconceived notions of what is right or wrong in relation to sex, I have no issue wearing items that are presumed to be made for a woman’s figure because I like the way they look on my body, irrespective of other’s beliefs.  

Even though I don’t have gender dysphoria - a condition that many trans women and men struggle with before their transition periods begin - I still identify with the woman within myself. This is not solely a case of physicality but encompasses my energy and personality as well. I often find myself wondering about the thoughts of men and how they think, for I have never had, what some would class as, a man’s brain. In the past, friends have told me, “you think like a woman would.” I later realized how true that comment was - a reminder that this is who I have always been since I was a child and validating who I am today.

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Yet, it has been a long road coming. My background was not all that welcoming to anything other than the cis heteronormative way of living. I was mostly raised in Atlanta, Georgia by a single mother who worked hard to build a life for my twin and me on her own accord. Whilst I have the utmost respect for my mom, we have not always seen eye to eye. She struggled to accept who I was and I frequently felt like I could not be myself around her. It was as if I had to adhere to the sentiments of who she wanted me to be, which of course had a negative effect on me.

I remember when I came out to her as being gay, the only way she felt she could accept my sexuality was under the compromise that I did become or behave as a woman. It was sad to hear that she would only accept my identity up to a certain degree. Regardless, with my move to London for university at 19 years old, I truly blossomed. Coming from a home where I could not be my most authentic self into an environment where I was accepted no matter what was extremely healing. It gave me the opportunity to finally express the way I feel inside without the judgement of my family.  

“I realise that my existence causes people to question their knowledge of gender categorisation”

Still, I battled with accepting my own figure and features. While I do enjoy wearing women’s clothing, in the past I have had insecurities about my body, wishing that my arms and shoulders were smaller and less muscular, or that my hips were wider. I felt like I needed to hide those aspects of my physique to feel comfortable dressing how I loved to. “Are you a crossdresser?” someone once asked me. I had not yet pieced together my identity so being asked that question for the first time confused me. I asked my Godmother whether she thought I was a crossdresser and she replied, “you’re a beautiful being.” Once I came out as being non-binary, I decided to use the term ‘beautiful being’ when expressing my identity - a means of breaking the codes and standards in western society of what men or women usually look like. I finally realised that I do not need to change any aspect of myself to feel happy with my body. I will never look like a cisgender woman and I have no desire to.

Now, when asked whether I am a drag queen or a trans woman, I realise that my existence causes people to question their knowledge of gender categorisation and in order to feel at peace within themselves, they must figure me out. “Well, you are wearing women’s clothes, makeup and long hair, but you don’t want to be a fully transitioned woman or a drag queen?” I can see people struggle with this process when they are confronted by who I am. The majority of the time, I am called “he” or “him” without a thought to politely ask about my pronoun preference. I do not let myself worry too much about how I am addressed - as gender does not define me - yet, I would prefer to be called my name, once we have been properly introduced. In truth, my identity is a fluid concept, as are those of the queer people who express themselves through many different identities, and society must come to terms with the fact that a one-sided perception of queer/femme individuals no longer applies…

Read the full essay in POSTSCRIPT Issue 1.