Appropriate Pronoun for a Drag Queen

This is a serious question, and I wonder if the gay community and/or the entertainment community have settled on a consensus for this.

A guy is “he,” even if he’s gay. If a guy is in full-on drag, and I’m referring to his drag persona, do I refer to the persona as “she”?

For example, if drag queen Sally Minella just brought down the house, do I say “he” brought down the house, or “she” brought down the house?


You refer to a person as whatever gender he/she presents. You refer to Latrice Royale with feminine pronouns, but you speak of the performer Timothy Wilcots with masculine pronouns.

However, as a gay man, I can tell you we not-infrequently use feminine pronouns in a vaguely, lightly derogatory way to refer to a man who’s being super feminine – for example, “Look at her over there,” with an eyeroll – even when the man in question is presenting as male.

…or indicates that they prefer. So, the done thing is generally to call drag queens “she” when en femme, but some prefer “he.”

Ah, but what if in truly regal form he or she refers to themselves only in the majestic plural?

(Majestic Plural would be a good drag queen name.)

I would default with she for someone in drag. It’s “safer” as even if the person ends up preferring he, it’s less common and can be a slight to someone who prefers she. Using she won’t offend either party since it’s generally the default.

This is an honest question, despite how it may seem to some sensitive types: I treat humans just like I do dogs, cats, squirrels, etc. on this topic. If I can see or guess what’s twixt their legs, that’s how I choose a pronoun. Does it make me a “hater” that I won’t play into some gay dude’s delusion of his gender?

Considering that gay men who perform as drag queens are men, “she” pronouns have no particular bearing on their gender; they’re a convention that go with the role. Casually using “he” pronouns will probably go unnoticed. Using “he” pronouns to make a pissy point will not, as it suggests that the drag queen is performing poorly.

But, since you mention gender, you seem to be confusing the situation in the OP – drag queens, whose appearance is a costume assumed for spectacle – with gender-variant people. Refusing to use people’s preferred gender pronouns because you’ve arrogated to yourself the authority to declare their gender identity delusional is, indeed, transphobic. I would not be surprised if such folks avoid you, because they learn through experience that unrepentant and overemphasized use of incorrect gender pronouns is often a prelude to or a component of acts of harassment and violence. If you don’t mind giving off that kind of suggestion, that’s your lookout, I suppose.

Don’t consider myself transphobic. Just consider that particular gender-specifying wordplay to be a game they like to play that I don’t play myself. I know and get along quite swimmingly with several of those folk. But they seemed to only tolerate my refusal to change up my language because they liked playing dress-up. Just because a guy wears a funny hat and sticks his hand between coat buttons is no reason I see I should call him Napoleon. His game. Fine by me, but I ain’t playin’.

Thanks for an answer, though.

Wow it didn’t take this thread long to derail did it? I read it as an honest question rather than a call to political debate but whatever.

OP there is no safe way to know, individual tastes and forever varying social codes make the answer different for every single cross dresser at any particular time. Some are insistent that they are men that dress like women, some are insistent they are women. No matter what you do you will offend someone. A good bet would be to use she and other female pronouns though.

The most amusing thing I have ever seen was when the logs of Bradley Manning talking to a counselor for gender dysphoria, a few people took the counselor to task for using incorrect pronouns when in fact the counselor was transsexual.

Not everybody who performs in drag is gay. Not everybody who is trans is gay. Not everybody who likes wearing drag is trans. Looking around my office, every single woman present would have been considered “in drag” and dragged to prison 60 years ago, as we’re all wearing trousers; I can’t answer for the other four, but I’m neither gay nor trans.

“She” brought the house down. “He” walked home.

Drag Queens are a type of performer, and given the level of exaggeration they often put into their costuming you know many are parodying the femme-type for entertainment purposes. In costume, “she,” our of costume “he.” Usually. Unless they are also trans, in which case the pronoun goes to their preference.

(I know a number of entertainers, and quite a few trans folks, but I do not personally know any trans who do a Drag Queen act. I’ll have to ask about that - I suspect it’s a dignity thing.)

I don’t know about “hater”, but it does make you unmannerly. Just as if, for example, you insisted on describing a light-complexioned person as “white” because they look white to you, when in fact they happen to self-identify as black because of their black family heritage. That’s in essence saying “I consider your perspective on your identity unimportant; I’m just going to identify you according to what I think you look like.”

Similarly, it’s rude to treat the gender of human beings like the sex of dogs or squirrels. (Note that cultural/psychological “gender” is not the same thing as biological “sex”. As far as we currently know, non-human animals don’t have the concept of gender.)

There’s nothing wrong with looking at a squirrel’s genitalia to decide whether to call it “he” or “she”. But among human beings, polite people identify the gender of others not by looking at or guessing about their genitalia, but in accordance with how those others self-identify.

The non-specific, non-testable assertion along the lines of “some of my best friends are…” is not incompatible with being prejudiced or bigoted.

Prejudiced or not, if you really deliberately use masculine pronouns to refer to somebody who clearly self-identifies and presents as a woman just because that person has (or used to have, or you guess that they probably have) a penis, you’re being remarkably rude. If you openly disparage her gender identity as a “delusion” or a “game”, you’re being even more rude. If such people are nice to you anyway despite such rudeness, I think that’s pretty admirable of them.

No, I don’t think you do. I think these people you know are clearly far more polite than you are, and just let you believe you get along.

I hope you don’t have kids.

“No, kid, don’t call that man Santa. He’s just an ordinary person pretending to be Santa.”

“No, kid, don’t call that person Mickey Mouse. That’s not a mouse, its a teenager in a costume”.

AFAICT, this analogy is appropriate for drag queens but not for actual trans people in ordinary life. Yes, a drag queen is deliberately dressing up as extravagantly female in the same way that a teenager dresses up as Mickey Mouse: as a performance, to present themselves as a different (or at least wildly exaggerated) persona.

So as matt_mcl noted, refusing to use “she” to refer to a drag queen in costume comes across as more ill-natured party-pooping than actual bigotry, just like your examples of a hyper-literal parent teaching kids not to call people in costume “Santa” or “Mickey Mouse”.

But refusing to use “she” to refer to a transwoman in everyday life, for example, is rudeness on a whole different level. That’s saying not just “I don’t want to play along with your make-believe while you dress up as somebody different”, but rather “I’m telling you to your face that your sincere innate experience of your personal gender identity is nothing but make-believe.”

I sympathize with the confusion of people who still get gender and sex mixed up, and honestly don’t understand how a person can sincerely identify as a member of the gender opposite to their anatomical sex. But confusion about the underlying biology and psychology, which is admittedly complicated, does not excuse ignorance or disregard of the appropriate etiquette, which is simple.

Namely: In polite society, you use gender pronouns for another person according to that person’s expressed gender identity and/or explicitly stated preference, not according to what (you imagine) their crotch looks like naked. If you insist on doing otherwise, you’re being impolite. Simple as that.

Lately I have been wishing we had more common gender neutral pronouns, and could use them without it being an issue.

I needed to talk about a a situation at work without identifying the person involved. Using he or she would have narrowed it in half. They and them got me by, and in this case made it obvious I was protecting the identity, but it was awkward.

More recently I met someone VERY androgynous. I have met them twice, and I still am unsure on their biology and also unsure on which gender they are presenting. They have a weird name that doesn’t offer a clue. Weird enough I can’t remember it. Maybe I’ll make a note of it next time, and see if Google can offer a clue. And it is not just how to refer to them in the third person. In some languages and cultures it is formalized, but even in english, in America, there is a way you speak to a lady, and a slightly different way you speak to a man. Another really obvious one is how you shake their hand. I am straight, but try not to be narrow, and it makes me very uneasy not to know which gender someone is presenting. Hope this is close enough related not to be a hijack.

“Wow it didn’t take this thread long to derail did it? I read it as an honest question rather than a call to political debate but whatever.”

Didn’t really mean to derail. Sorry about that.
FWIW I have two friends who had the surgery, became women. Them, I call “she.” Seems right to me as they have the bona fides.

As to the OP: Sorry. I obviously don’t have the answer.

It is? I’m female (straight bio-female, in case anybody gives a hoot), and I shake hands with both men and women pretty much the same. Is this the thing where guys are traditionally taught to shake a woman’s hand more gently than a man’s so her rings won’t hurt her fingers? Or do men (or women, for that matter) expect a woman’s handshake to feel different from a man’s (besides the typical difference in average hand size)? I’ve never seen this discussed before, and I’d be interested to know what the differences are.

Sounds reasonable to me, and I quite agree it can be awkward not to know what set of gender pronouns or forms of address (e.g., “sir” vs. “ma’am”) to use for somebody. AFAICT, there’s nothing contrary to etiquette in discreetly asking a third party what gender the person in question identifies as, or even asking the person themselves if a situation comes up where you really can’t avoid a gendered reference.

Somebody who presents socially in a very non-gender-specific way needs to be prepared for other people sometimes guessing their gender wrong, and needs to correct them politely without making a big deal of it or making them feel bad about it.

Seems right to me too, except that I’d say (and AFAICT etiquette prescribes) that the time to transition to feminine pronouns is when they openly start identifying as women, rather than waiting till they’ve officially had the big snip.

It seems more respectful and less intrusive to gender-classify people according to their own expressed preferences than according to what one knows or guesses about their intimate anatomy. Demanding (or inferring) a status report on the current state of someone’s genitalia before considering them to be entitled to the pronoun of their choice would come across as kind of judgmental and nosy.