‘Becoming (S)he: Deconstruction of The Voice in Drag Lip-syncing performance’ – Meeting Report

Hello, hello, hello! (in the voice of RuPaul)

Well, what a fantastic crowd we had for Jacob Bird’s talk on lip-syncing during drag performances. Thanks to everyone for coming and showing your enthusiasm. Rightly so, seeing as Jacob’s paper was very dynamic and engaging. It was fascinating to hear Jacob’s own insights as a drag performer as well as his recounting the interviews he has conducted with other drag queens (one, for example, sees his drag alter ego as his therapist). As a huge fan of drag myself, but also as an academic, I was interested to see how drag and theory could be brought together.

Jacob (aka as Dinah Lux) informed us that lip-syncing has been understudied since it is often perceived in a pejorative light. He announced his intention to prove to us that it is actually much more than just moving your lips in time to a song – and he did!  Jacob argues that lip-syncing is a method of self-actualisation both for the performer and the audience. By lip-syncing along to the songs of artists such as Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Natalie Cole who have experienced adversity from which they have then bounced back, drag queens can find their own sense of courage and perform their agency. Jacob eloquently stated that, in this way, lip-syncing is a “silent phenomenon of gaining voice”. Drag queens can construct their own identities through identifying with others. Jacob examined the drag queen’s identification with the other through the theories of some of the greatest minds of our time (see photo above): Michel Foucault, Friedrich Kittler, Jacques Lacan (in particular his theory of the mirror stage) and RuPaul. RuPaul tells us that “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag”. (An aside: this quote has been a way for me, during teaching a module on surrealism, of discussing how artists such as Claude Cahun and Marcel Duchamp evoke the constructed nature of gender identity through art.)

There was a very lively Q and A after Jacob’s talk. We questioned whether drag was misogynist or feminist. We also discussed RuPaul’s Drag Race and how it only really shows one side of drag. The drag queens on the show mostly try to look very feminine or “fishy”, whereas there is so much more to drag than looking like a woman. Other drag queens, for example, jostle gender identities by displaying both feminine and masculine characteristics. We continued the conversation at Park House where Jacob revealed that Dinah had impressed RuPaul herself by jumping into the splits during the UK Drag Ambassador competition. Wow!

We’d like to thank Jacob once more for the wonderful talk. If you’d like to hear more about Jacob’s research and experiences as Dinah do check out her TedTalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzj1BTdfoeI

We look forward to seeing you next week for our talk on women’s employment and empowerment in Saudi Arabia.


Report by Maria Tomlinson