- Lessons in Drag:An Interview with LaWhore Vagistan
I recently sat down to high tea with drag artist LaWhore Vagistan to discuss performance and pedagogy. Over the course of an hour, we touched on gender identity in the classroom, race and representation in performance, and sexually active Disney characters. Below is the transcript from our conversation.
Welcome LaWhore, it’s a pleasure to be here with you talking about your experiences in the university classroom. You look great by the way.
[Sly smile] When do I not? It’s great to be here with you too, it’s been a while since we were in a room together. [Winks] So tell me, dear, what are we doing today?
On several occasions you’ve guest-lectured in my classes at Northwestern University and the University of Texas at Austin, in performance and dance studies classes, as well as gender and sexuality lectures, and even comparative literature seminars. I’m very interested to learn about your experiences in those environments. I’m curious to know what it’s like for a South Asian drag queen teaching and performing in the US academy.
Darling, it’s always a pleasure to take over your classes, even if it does mean waking up at seven in the morning to beat my face and look good for your god-awful morning sessions. You know drag queens live on a different clock.
Yes, you know I appreciate it. So, generally, what happens when you substitute teach for me?
Well, we know you’re terrible at giving directions, so I’m always running late. But when I do get there, I apologize for your absence and let them know you’ve had another herpes outbreak that’s keeping you at home—
[Ignoring him] —and that I will be the head of the class instead. [Laughs loudly at her own joke] I usually have to do a quick costume change out of my aunty drag: remove the cardigan from over my sari, take off the kitten heels and put on my teaching pumps. You can’t teach in less than six inches, but then again you can’t do a lot of things with less than six inches. [Cackles again] I introduce myself, and then I have them tell me their—
[Interrupting] How do you introduce yourself to them? What kind of information do you share with them?
Well, I start by writing my name on the board and explaining its very elaborate origins. [Stands up and pretends she is in front of a classroom] My name is LaWhore Vagistan, my preferred pronouns are “she” or “aunty.” I chose “LaWhore” because my family traces its origins to Pakistan: Lahore is an important city in Pakistan, and, well, I’m a bit of a whore. And Vagistan because I [End Page 285] see the subcontinent as one, big, beautiful Vag . . . istan. Close your eyes and visualize it: India is the uterus-vagina, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the ovaries, Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma, and Bhutan are the fallopian tubes, and Sri Lanka is a little floating labia.
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That’s quite an encompassing vision of the subcontinent. What about the Maldives?
[Breaking character] Girl, the Maldives are sinking into the ocean, so who cares? By putting it altogether as “Vagistan” I’m trying to suture together the subcontinent after the British, French, and Dutch committed their acts of female genital mutilation. I’m a subaltern drag queen, and not only can this queen speak, she’s actually quite loud.1 [Gestures to her neon polka-dot sari] I assure the students that I am an educated queen. [Returning to her teacher persona] I received my PhD in drag from the Lahore University of New Drag (LUND).2 I’m currently adjuncting at the Drag Institute of Calcutta—now Kolkata (DICK), in the Department of Lip-sync and Dance. My real aspiration...