Within the trans community there is a lot of importance placed on the ability to ‘pass’ (meaning you can walk down the street and be regarded by others as your actual gender). The wonderful Juno Roche has already eloquently written about the trouble with ‘passing’ and how it is a misogynistic and sexist concept (‘What passing in the transgender community really means’). Sometimes within the trans community and definitely within the drag community the term ‘serving fish’ is commonly used to convey a similar idea. Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race may also recognise the phrase. (Of course we already know that we don’t always want to repeat everything said on Drag Race.) Quite often the most female looking participant will be referred to as ‘fish’ or ‘serving fish’. On the show it simply relates to the idea of being the most female looking but the idea that ‘woman = fish’ should probably start to raise some concerns…?
UK promoters Klub Kids UK regularly host drag queens from RuPaul’s show across the UK. Their recent tour was called ‘Fishy Queens’. Some people naturally took objection to that name. The club owner took to his Facebook to show his upset saying:
“So the KLUB KIDS UK FISHY QUEEN tour has started some stir between some London queens saying the term Fishy Queen is bad and degrading to Drag queens. Thinking we are speaking about a female vagina. (i know WTF)
“Well thats not what the term means (google it or just watch RPDR) it means how a drag queen is very feminine and fierce.”
For someone who says to just “google it” he personally hasn’t taken any time to do the same before investing money in a country wide tour with such a name. The RuPaul’s Drag Race Wiki pages dictionary gives the full meaning of fishy as:
“adj. A term used to describe a drag queen who looks extremely feminine, or one who convincingly resembles a biological woman. The term is a reference to the scent of a woman’s vagina, which is colloquially likened to the smell of fish. Although the term is considered to be a compliment among Drag Queens, it is often considered to be an insult among biological women”
“It is often considered to be an insult among biological women”. I’ve already seen the “not all women” brigade online supporting the use of fishy but I’ve also seen more women (including friends) who are offended by its use and its meaning. (But maybe as the owner notes this is a London snowflake thing…). His post sadly only mentions drag queens and all women (in their many wonderful forms) are ignored. Sadly there is a genuine feeling among the gay male community that women do simply equal vagina (eurgh!) and that vaginas are as smelly as fish. We’ve still got a long way to go…
The club owner stuck to his guns insisting in the comments that:
“The tour name is based on the Rupaul version of term which is obvious due to the casting. So this clearly shows we are not trying to be offensive, we have no knowledge of the old meaning of the word. But why would we, we are basing it on the meaning from drag race.”
“We have no knowledge of the old meaning of the word. But why would we” (!!! *palm to forehead*)
Thankfully a short 20 minutes (and many negative (and supportive) comments) later he positively updated:
“You learn something new everyday. I personally don’t like the thought that my event plans and choices may offend people. The name of our tour isn’t important. I will look into this and how we can make changes to the name.”
Listening to all of your community (or more simply society) is important. Why would we want to genuinely upset someone?
As a gender non conforming / non binary / trans feminine person I will never ‘pass’ or be ‘serving fish’. Despite how I choose to dress or make up my face my bald head (thanks genetics!) and beard will never allow me to be read as femme by most people (more on that in a new blog very soon). I often get told by cis and trans women how I can look more female (“obviously the beard needs to go”, “can’t you just shave your legs?!”, “shaping your eyebrows will definitely help”). Although the majority of time I may wear clothes/shoes seen by others as female it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to be female. Rather I enjoy celebrating the female, the male and the sometime I just don’t want to be either feelings deep within me. All the time that importance rests on women (including trans women) and drag queens to ‘pass’ or be ‘fish’ in the eyes of the male standard of beauty there will be no accepted place for gender non conforming people to just be themselves. If the next time you see me on the street (or someone like me) and I’m rocking a dress and a beard just let me be. Don’t tell me my masculinity is failing, beat me up, spit at me or tell me how to be a “real woman”. A positive word will of course always be welcome.