It wasn’t until I interviewed Aleksa that I realized how stuck I still am in the idea of binary gender. Despite my best intentions at boundless gender, I kept asking Aleksa questions that revealed my biases. Thankfully, she is as gracious as she is beautiful and set me straight time after time. Gender tries to confuse me, but Aleksa makes it seem so simple, “The freedom we have as human beings is that we are able to come out and identify however we wish.”
If Aleksa has to pick terms for her gender identity, she might use “gender variant,” “transgenderist,” or “gender queer” but she also admits that her answers may change on a different day or under different circumstances. I picked Aleksa for this series because she’s my favorite drag queen. In fact, I mention her in the very first blog post I made here. She’s alway glamorous, poised, earthy, humorous, compassionate, professional, and REAL. In short, I’m impressed.
We meet in a coffee shop. I start off by asking her about her gender. She says, “My personal gender is evolving and continues to evolve. To say that I am a gay man is SUCH an understatement. It really goes beyond that. My sexual orientation, my gender expression, the way I present, the way I socialize, the way I interact with other people – it’s so varied. It changes.” I feel so moved by this. Of course we are all growing and changing all of the time. It’s comforting to grab a piece of gender real estate and have some labels to hold onto. But what if we didn’t have to define ourselves?
Aleksa has some of the same problems with falling into the binary gender trap. She confesses, “Even though the binary is sort of a mainstream concept it overflows to the LGBTQ community. I find myself being a victim to the concept of the binary system – that I’m either this OR that. That I am his OR her, he OR she, never in between.”
Aleksa was raised Catholic, in the Philippines, heavily influenced by her single mother. “Growing up I knew I was different but I never had the word for it. I didn’t know what gay meant. I just felt I was different. Then I moved here when I was 19 or so, and that’s when I realized, oh, okay, I’m gay. That’s what it is. Does that mean I want to be the opposite sex? That’s when I started dressing up. I didn’t have a term for it. I didn’t know what drag meant.”
Doing drag gave Aleksa an opportunity to learn about herself. She says, “That’s when I realized that I just needed to be comfortable accepting that I am a feminine, male-bodied person. I started empowering myself around my feminine expression. The more I embraced my femininity, the more I realized I did not need to go all the way. I’m just feminine.”
While not overtly feminine at her day job, Aleksa is simply a feminine person. She says, “It doesn’t matter if I’m public or private, it’s just the same.” She likes to dress up, and female oriented clothing provides so many more options. A tux is always going to be a tux. I try to ask about being masculine, “Me being masculine is really like trying to be a butch lesbian. When I think I look butch, I get called ma’am. I use the term butch because there’s fluidity to it. I can use butch across all genders, where masculine is just male.” We talk some about the differences between expression and perception in gender. How people perceive you can be very different from how you feel.
Aleksa may have started out doing drag performances, but she now uses the term drag queen loosely when describing herself because her identity now goes beyond the stage. She now has performance clothes and everyday clothes. I’m not sure how to explain, but it doesn’t read as cross-dressing. This is not a boy in girl’s clothes. This is Aleksa and how she chooses to express herself.
Although Aleksa is very positive, it’s obvious that sometimes other people’s perceptions can hurt. She tells me about some things she’s run into, “Often I hear I gay men say, ‘I’m not going to be with a drag queen. If I wanted to be with a drag queen, I might as well be straight!’ That’s pretty stigmatizing.” While Aleksa has an appreciation for the female form, she’s is definitely attracted to male energy.
She’s gotten good at loving herself and rejecting hurtful comments, “So what if people think I’m a queen or I’m a sissy boy. Okay, I am. So what.” She goes on to say, “You have to be internally comfortable with it. That’s all that really matters because you’re going to please some, displease some, but you’re not going to please everybody. I doubt that you’ll displease everyone. It has to start from within. It has to be that internal comfort. That internal safety that you feel about who you are.”
Being on the stage has helped Aleksa develop skills for carrying that internal comfort through to life situations like this, “People try to figure me out, ‘Is that a boy or a girl?’ Yes. But the way I look at it, I bounce it back. If people are snickering I find that more comical. I turn it around, and I’m watching them, watching me.”
Does Aleksa have advice for anyone aspiring to be a drag queen? Yes, and none of it has to do with the external, “Once you hit the stage: think it, feel it, be it once you feel the warmth of that spotlight, whatever that ‘it’ is. If you feel like a diva, if you think you’re a diva, feel it, be a diva. If you think you’re a princess, feel it, be that princess. Really, it’s about loving yourself. Love the audience.”
It wasn’t until we were leaving the coffee shop that Aleksa tossed off a comment that I feel really sums up the message I want to send to the mainstream, “Get over it people! It’s just gender.”