January is my favorite month of the year, mostly because it’s my birthday month. I spend all month surrounding myself with positive images to remind myself of my glorious wonder. But this year, a week into this sacred month, my 31-day-long birthday celebration was ruined by Channing Tatum.
My Facebook and Twitter feed was clogged with videos of Tatum dancing to Beyoncé’s “Run The World (Girls)” and Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” on Spike’s “Lip Sync Battle.” Tatum dressed up as Beyoncé and “Frozen’s” Elsa for his two performances, donning each woman’s respective makeup, hair and gowns. Although entertainment media and my Facebook friends raved about how amazing and hilarious they found his performances, for me, it was the start of straight men ruining my 2016.
When queer people put on some hair, a lash and a skirt, they’re labeled a faggot and attacked, but when Tatum does it, he’s universally applauded. Straight celebrities in drag don’t have to worry about discrimination or the threat of violence like actual queers do.
Even without dressing up in drag, people in the queer community are discriminated against. Gay men are 2.3 times more likely to experience violence and transgender women are 1.6 times more likely to experience physical violence, according to the Anti-Violence Project. Supposed “safe spaces” like San Francisco aren’t exempt. Last year’s Pink Saturday event was canceled because of violence against a local drag queen.
People shouldn’t consider any “Lip Sync Battle” performance new or groundbreaking entertainment. The show’s drag numbers are watered-down versions of performances queer people have been doing for years. For everything on the show, somewhere throughout time, a queer person probably did it first and they probably did it better.
Last year, the premiere season of the show featured Deion Sanders as Madonna and John Krasinski as Tina Turner. After Krasinski’s performance aired, my straight male friend decided to show me the show’s rendition of “Proud Mary.” The video was nothing more a heterosexual, biological male wearing a fringe dress, singing about never losing one minute of sleeping, worrying about the way the things might have been. Hilarious! Original! Edgy!
My friend was shocked when I told him that I had heard the song before and that I wasn’t particularly impressed with Krasinski’s lip sync. “Proud Mary” is a drag queen staple. Every gay man out there has seen it performed by people whose full-time job is to lip-sync. So why should we be impressed by a straight man attempting a bastardized version of a queer institution? “Lip Sync Battle” is leading ignorant straight men to believe they’re discovering queer culture. They only applaud straight men in drag because they’re dressing up as a joke, and not because they’re actually queer.
Tatum’s rendition of drag isn’t even a healthy one. People only laughed at his performance because he was a man in a dress. What’s funny about a man in a dress? No one laughs at a woman in a suit and tie. Why are we laughing at a man in a dress? Anyone performing in drag should be able to make people laugh with what they’re doing, not just because they’re a dude in a skirt.
When “Lip Sync Battle” can feature more queer people in drag or at least feature drag that is more about the performance than the concept of a masculine man in women’s wear, then maybe I will stop rolling my eyes every time I see their videos shared on my feed for the rest of the show’s season. Until then, the show needs to keep straight men out of dresses and start focusing on coming up with original concepts.