Tucking is the art of making your testicles “miraculously” disappear. But just how does a drag queen make that happen? Where do they go?
Drag queens and butch lesbians were at the forefront of the gay liberation movement at Stonewall. Their queer visibility made them conscripted soldiers for a movement in which the majority of its citizenry were invisible/voiceless gay men and women who were mostly in the closet. Who would have thought that sissies and bull dykes would come to our community’s rescue? Our militant forefathers and foremothers had serious balls. And quite frankly, it’s the visible and vocal queers of today that continue to challenge gender, sexuality and sex as our modern day queer warriors.
And that’s exactly what drag artist Barbie Jo Bontemps says in our documentary Balls, ”It takes a lot of balls to be a drag queen!” In the bigger picture, she is certainly echoing our queer herstory, but at that very moment she is specifically referring to the physical, testicular pains that drag queens must undergo to realize their gender illusion. Tucking your balls is common practice for many a modern drag artist. Whether you are using tight underwear, a gaffe (pulling all your junk back with a sock) or duck tape for tucking, the end result is the same; your testicles “miraculously” disappear.
To make one’s testicles disappear, you are essentially pushing your balls back into your body’s natural cavities. It’s kinda uncomfortable, but not overly painful. Unlike Barbie, Donnarama is not overly enthusiastic about tucking, “I hate 3 things. I hate shaving my face, shaving my back and TUCKING”! It’s not easy being gorgeous, but sometimes a girl’s got to do, what a girl’s got to do. Interestingly, this idea of tucking, like wearing high heels or make-up, speaks to the discomfort that many women often endure to also realize the illusion of gender that has been imposed on them by the heterosexual cis-male gaze.
Back in my salad days, I used to do a lot of what I would call “clown” drag. My goal was to look fun and vaguely girly. For me, drag was a multi-layered tool to play with gender and gender expectations. That said, I never tucked or gaffed, in fact, sometimes I wouldn’t even shave. I liked to both shock and amuse my immediate audience. I was never trying to “pass” as a “real” woman. Some drag queens refer to this as “fishy”, a term that I’m not particularly comfortable with. Part of this discomfort stems from an inherent misogyny of cis-men playing with female gender without any real ownership or consequence. If things get too “real”, the drag queen can assume the privilege of being a cis-male, whereas women are systematically compromised without any escape. They suffer physically, emotionally and economically because of their gender. Perhaps it is women who have the “real” balls after all.
Barbie and Donnarama offer a great counterpoint and levity in our documentary Balls. Their playful, off-the-cuff banter help bridge the conversations around testicular health and men’s health in general, both physical and emotional. Because of how men are generally socialized, they are not having open, honest and vulnerable discussions about their own personal health and how to ask for help. In its own small ways I hope Balls, with the help of Barbie and Donnarama, opens that door.
~ Nico Stagias, Director of Photography at Border2Border Entertainment