Anyone’s Business: The Right to Fish

by: In Our Words Staff


Welcome to Anyone’s Business, where you make your business known.  It’s an article built by you, stemming from responses from a question we pose.  This week’s question is mainly posed to women, but all genders may reply:

Do you find the drag community/ and partially the gay community’s use of the term fishy (as a means of describing high femme or very “passable as women” queens), or cunt/cunty (as an adjective for ferociously feminine persons), offensive?  Fishy or serving fish is reminiscent of long standing, and fairly misogynistic, jokes about the smell of vaginas.  Cunt or cunty has long been a derogatory term for a vagina and aggressive or non-conforming women.  Is it okay for drag queens, who are for the most part men who dress as women (and do not identify as women), to appropriate these terms, to be the ones to retool their meaning?

5 responses to “Anyone’s Business: The Right to Fish

  1. My immediate instinct is to say no, quite strongly. Language attacking a specific group can be reclaimed by that group only, and a lateral oppression, that of drag performer or gay cisgendered male does not grant a passport to move into other spaces with impunity. Within some drag there is aggression towards women working into its very tone and being. Not all drag does this, but lampooning and attacking femininity reeks of gendered minstrel show where the authentic ideals or existence of a group is treated as into something cartoonish and garish under the protection of ‘performance’ by a privileged group.
    It immediately begs the question of whether or not femininity as a concept or ideal is a pure or untouchable position. The act of deconstructing gender would seem to argue that the position of femme is not one without the ability to be exploded or examined, and drag can be used as an examination of a gender state or social ideal of that gender. I would say that, like most things, it is the context and intent (and I know intent is not magic) that should be examined. What consideration is being made and purpose is being accomplished by the use of these terms? If a person is performing high femme while criticizing it I could consider that a protected space to speak from, a type of considered reclamation. If a performance is taken that reveals the problems and contradictions of the inherent attacks on femme by femmes, then it shouldn’t matter who the underlying performer is. However, if a privileged performer is being misogynistic and using femme slurs merely to be edgy and sassy for the sake of itself I am strongly against it as they can take off the oppression they are so cavalierly slinging mud at when the shows over.

  2. I shall respectfully disagree with the first point of my esteemed colleague Ms. Green, though I embrace her ‘but’.

    First, there is a false dichotomy underlying questions such as this that conveniently overlooks the inconvenient reality that many trans women come out of the drag community. Carmen Carrera is one big obvious example, but here in Chicago, Angelica Ross, Precious Davis, and Angelique Munro are just a few examples that spring to mind. To ignore such stories is to tacitly endorse an increasingly oppressive “one true trans narrative”.

    Second, it’s unclear to me how terms used within the drag community is a attacking those outside of it. Queens reading each other as part of their performance has very little to do with my quite banal, daily life as a trans woman.

    Is drag a “gendered minstrel show”? That’s an interesting question for the academics and depending on the context, performer and particular act, evidence both for and against gender as an innately performative act, rampant femmephobia, cultural misogyny, etc., could undoubtedly be found (a point that Ms. Green is also making).

    Years before I came out, a gay makeup artist and occasional drag performer I ran into told me I was fishy. Though I reacted indignantly in the moment, I secretly cherished the affirmation.

  3. Cunt is a term of empowerment. Fishy is derogatory. As a biological woman, I’m really offended by the term and I love drag. However, in the end, it’s mostly men using this term and therefore inappropriate. Underneath all the makeup, wigs, and costumes, the don’t have vaginas.

  4. I have been mildly conflicted about the parodying/characterisation of women by men for a while now but, until I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, I had no idea to what extent the drag scene employed deeply misogynistic language: serving fish, cunt, ho, slut, bitch, etc, etc, etc.

    I find the show funny at times and am fascinated by how it compares and contrasts with America’s/Uk’s/Ireland’s Next Top Model (in terms of how biological men and women approach and inhabit the social construct of ‘femaleness’ or ‘femininity’) but am horrified at the lack of sensitivity and awareness around feminist/women’s issues displayed by RuPaul and her “girls” (sic).

    In trying to understand the discomfort I have regarding drag and female-impersonation, the most enlightening term I have come across is ‘gender blackface’. I know many many people (and especially men) refuse to equate sexism with racism, but the truth is that sexism has oppressed half the world’s population for thousands of years and, to this day, women across all nations remain enslaved by the fear of rape, violence, poverty, and the threat of harm to their children. Across the world women have significantly less access to wealth, land, and political power than men, and many do not even have a say in who they will marry and have children with. Furthermore, they (we) remain ridiculed for their (our) facial attractiveness, bodies, intelligence, and physical/mental abilities. To draw attention to a man’s perceived lack of maleness, i.e. femininity, is to insult him in the most derogatory fashion.

    It’s not called a Patriarchy for nothing…and drag is just another tool used to beat women back into a position of less-than male.

  5. Pingback: Something’s Fishy Here | Schindermania!·

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