La JohnJoseph On ... Being a Boy in a Dress
'Being' is an interesting topic to write about, what does it mean to be anything? That is the central concern of my new show Boy in a Dress. On paper, yes I am biologically male, and yes I often wear a dress, but in my lived reality I exist in a space that I am still trying to define for myself – specifically through my art form.
I chose the title because when I first started performing I did so in the company of real showbiz drag queens, who would look at me askance when I didn’t pad my chest, or wear a wig. I wasn’t trying to be a woman or imitate some idea of womanhood, I was trying to find myself, and yet I was often told; “You’re doing it wrong, you’re just a boy in a dress.” At the time I thought it was insulting, but now I choose to use it as another category of self-expression I have access to, and since it is a category that doesn’t have any of the rules most other states of being (man, woman, drag queen, transsexual, circus pony) have, it is really quite exciting.
I have great freedom, great room to manoeuvre, each day I can position myself where I feel most comfortable, I can explore a lot of territory. And in doing so I can move between spaces, and contexts that would otherwise be closed to me. That is not to say that life is all roses if you chose to throw prefabricated ideas of gender out of the window. As much freedom as it brings to go your own way, there will always be people who are scared of your rebellion and want to taunt you for it, but the same could be said of dyeing your hair blue or taking up veganism. Generally if you have the courage to be what you are people will love you for it and will be drawn to your honesty and unusual sparkle.
Over the past five years I have written a set of three memoir plays, diving into these experiences, exploring ideas of living in the overlap between gender, social class, and atheist/believer. In doing that I have confronted so many scary things about myself, and have laid bare a lot of taboo material in front of hundreds of perfect strangers. As terrifying as that process has been, it has also been magical, because it has transformed me from the scared, confused person I was, into someone, who (whilst by no means clear-cut) is willing to go to the limits of finance, exhaustion and sanity, in order to say what needs to be said.
That is the real beauty of being a boy in a dress, since you are already living at the limit, it never seems like an impossible task to take that step over the edge.