For years now, no one has thought it strange to see women wearing jeans or trousers. But men wearing skirts still raises some eyebrows, unless we are talking about Scotsmen wearing kilts. Some transgendered people dress up according to their own sexual identity, but drag queens and drag kings are different. They dress up, donning the clothes associated with the opposite sex, without necessarily being gay or transgender.
Iranian drag queen Miss Salaam has a growing online presence. “Miss Salaam stands against discrimination, intolerance and violence,” her Facebook page announces. “The first Iranian drag queen sets the dawn of a Queer dialogue between social activists, families, politicians, party-goers and more...Miss Salaam builds rainbow bridges across a fractured Iranian society, educating and inviting people to participate in the 21st century.”
On International Drag Day, July 16, IranWire talked to Miss Salaam.
How do you describe yourself?
I am a drag queen. “Drag” is an acronym for “dressed as a girl.” Shakespeare first used the expression, describing a man who plays a feminine role by dressing as a woman.
“Miss Salaam” is an appeal, a request by an invisible community that wants to be seen, to be connected to Iranian society. It is very important that different parts of our society be connected. It was this need that gave birth to Miss Salaam: the need for a strong connection to replace the old and decayed ones. Miss Salaam wants to be a rainbow bridge between light and dark in society, an independent medium for the voice of individuals who exist but are not seen, to shed light on what is in the dark and to open minds and hearts.
I believe it was Frank Zappa who said, “the mind is like a parachute. It does not work unless you open it.”
So you are a drag queen? You don’t identify as transgendered or transsexual? What is the difference?
The only difference is money and a good surgeon! This a totally wrong understanding of drag queens and drag kings. Being in drag has nothing to do with sexual orientation or sexual identity.
Of course, I must hasten to add that historically, the drags have always stood on the frontlines next to others who do not conform to social norms, from the LGBTQI (LBGT, plus queers and intersexuals) community and the Stonewall riots (the first manifestation of the Rainbow movement in the United States) to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Each one, in its own way, challenges the norms of the patriarchal society and protests against them.
Why did you decide to take Miss Salaam online? What responses have you received?
What do you expect, my lady? Do you think somebody like me would survive even a few minutes if he appears on the streets like this? The online world is the only place where Miss Salaam can communicate with others and make others hear unheard voices.
At this time, if we want people to listen to us, we have to do it online, we have to be a light that shines through the magic box into the dark heart of society.
When I first came out on Facebook, the reactions were much, much better than I expected — and from people I wasn’t expected to hear from. But I also met with indifference from people that I had expected would show more kindness. But what other people say is not terribly important to me. We have suffered what we have suffered because of what people say.
For a while Facebook had a problem with drags and transsexuals, or with those who were not using their real names. This led to vast protests and at last Facebook apologized. But even now it sometimes objects to personal pages like mine. But it’s obvious that it’s not reacting to many other fake personal pages, which are growing by the day.
Are you the first Iranian drag queen?
Yes, I am the first. But I want to build a large community of Persian-speaking drag queens to show our power. There are many sisters who have the talent, the ability and the skill to do it. I will discover them as the time goes by and we will work together.
As I mentioned, drag queens have always been at the forefrontsof protest movements, and they still are. Of course, there is a new generation of drag queens who work in entertainment and only think of show biz. When we look at the common experiences in the history of drag and other movements, it is clear that drag has played a really significant role in the lives of marginalized people. For example, have a look at the marvelous documentary Paris Is Burning, which talks about the lives, the power and a new chapter for the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities who were marginalized socially and economically, and also sexually.
If we look at the depressing atmosphere in Iran — the activists, the intellectuals and the politicos — both past and present, we see their indifference, whether intentionally or with excuses like, “Beauty and art are bourgeois” or “There is not enough budget for journalism.” As a result, there is a deep divide between the main part of society and the LGBTQI community, and it seems neither side feels any need to bridge this divide and does not trust the other side.
The job of a drag is to bridge this gap through art, in the most radical way. This is why Miss Salaam chose to start dragging.
Watch Miss Salaam's video Against Discrimination + Nowruz
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