My paper investigates the possibilities and limits of commodifying queerness in the provocative YouTube series, Transfashionable. The online show takes the popular cultural trend of utilizing external makeovers as internal therapy—a new bodily expression to enhance positive self-perception—and gives it a makeover of its own. Transfashionable features people of various sexualities and gender expressions undergoing makeovers conducted by drag queens and self-proclaimed “gender illusionists” to assuage their respective inner turmoil, hence the show’s tagline: “Don’t be a drag, learn from a drag queen.” Much of the show’s entertainment draws from the positioning of drag queens, subversive and exaggerated embodiments of femininity, as the agents enacting bodily change upon others. My paper interrogates the mixed implications of this formula as it explores non-normative expressions of gender and sexuality, while also essentializing multitudinous identities to cosmetic alterations, resulting in a simultaneous critique and reaffirmation of dominant gender power dynamics. One episode which facilitates a married heterosexual man’s desire to dress in drag depicts fluidity in gender performance as something cathartic and liberating. However, as Judith Halberstam notes “bodily flexibility has become both a commodity […] and a form of commodification” which allows for the selling of “transgression as individualism,”1 casting the spectre of capitalistic profiteering over the show’s supposed motivation of celebrating gender mutability. An examination of new mediums of representation—such as Transfashionable, which challenges heteromasculinity while re-emphasising the body’s commodified state—will reveal popular culture’s place as a crucial arena for understanding the evolving politics of difference.
1Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transcultural Bodies, Subcultural Lives, 18-19, emph. in original.
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