Here is the full transcript of drag entertainer Eric Anthony Dorsa’s TEDx Talk: How Dressing in Drag Made Me Uncover Myself at TEDxSanAntonio.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: How dressing in drag made me uncover myself by Eric Anthony Dorsa at TEDxSanAntonio
William Shakespeare said that all the world’s a stage, and the men and women are merely players. I must tell you in my experiences as a drag queen, I am constantly learning the lesson between being a player and playing a character.
We as human beings all experience the tension between who it is we think we are and who the world would have us be. You see, I have learned so many things on my journey as a drag queen, including that by dressing up in drag I am more alike all of you than I am different.
Because the truth is we all learn to dress up in life. We dress up to find where it is we fit in with our relationships, our jobs, and our hobbies. We dress up to hide from our fears, our vulnerabilities and insecurities, the pressure to be thinner, happier, more successful and confident versions of ourselves.
We dress up to be what the expectations of life would have us be. The CEO with every answer in a moment of crisis, the PTA mom that shows up and never breaks a sweat, someone else’s version of a perfect son or daughter, to be the perfect spouse.
We dress up when our social lives become so busy and full, we have no time to deal with anything remotely real or emotional. I have learned as a drag queen that when we dress up for the sake and approval of other people, when we play a character in our real life because it seems safer and seductive, we lose the ability to experience our authentic self, we get lost playing a character living in a make-believe world with other characters instead of a true actor on a stage.
Dressing up in drag is and continues to be the ultimate act of rebellion for my Latino, Italian, conservative, Republican, catholic, South Texas family that I was born to be a part of. It is somewhat exhausting. Christmas is very interesting.
But this being my family, I was born in a world full of expectations and demands of who I was to be as a man — a drag queen is not one of them, but it is who I am.
So, I’ll never forget the look of fear on my mother’s face when I told her that I wanted to dress up as a woman when I was older too, just as the other boys were doing on Jerry Springer.
I was 5 years old. Why we were watching Jerry Springer I have no idea. But what I remember, being beautiful, my mother told me was sin. The truth is, dressing up in drag is, and continues to be, the celebration of who I am in my life. Playing a character has led me back to the person that I am underneath the makeup, the player, living behind a character in a superficial world that tells all of us that we could somehow be better versions of ourselves.
I knew deep down inside growing up that who I was, was probably never going to change. So I did everything I could to convince the world or my family, that I could be somebody else on the outside. I couldn’t see what I was getting myself into at the time, but drag continues to be my real journey out of my closet.
Drag is the journey that has saved my life. I created a character out of a desperate act to reconnect with something deep and familiar. When I came out of the closet, I lost everything I could think of. I lost my family support, I lost my sense of love, connection, belonging, my sense of faith. I lost everything and everyone in my life that I was pretending to be somebody else for.
And at 21 years old when I looked in the mirror the person staring back at me was the biggest stranger I had ever met. But how could it not be? I had been encouraged to live a lie my whole life. I had learned to push aside who I was born to be for whom I needed to play for a sense of safety and acceptance.
Losing everything was not the game over that I thought it was to be like in “Mario”. I had a second chance. Losing everything was my authenticity reset, where my life, if I could accept who I was, could be genuine, honest, and true.
So, I created this drag character to run away from the angry, scared, insecure boy that I had become, living in my closet. You see, as Fonda, I experienced a world where I was seen as brave, confidant, and beautiful. I would stand up and fight the heteronormative ideal with my hair spray, glitter, and stiletto heels. For once in my life I felt loved, celebrated, and accepted. Every time I put on the wigs and the makeup my life became more real. But so did the monsters that I was running from.
You see, I learned through dressing up as Fonda Cox that the characters I have been playing in my life were not the drag characters. It was Eric, it was the boy that was never allowed to be, the boy who had an eating disorder, the boy who needed you to love him by always having to be the center of attention. It was the boy that pretended to have gay pride instead of experiencing and opening up about his gay shame.
You see, I am so grateful when I finally started listening to the people around me, because they help me realize Fonda Cox and Eric Dorsa are the same person, that a player cannot exist if you didn’t have a conversation with the characters in his life. What Fonda had, I too also had. The love and acceptance that I would get being on a stage, it was real. I have learned that shame is the bully that drags me to my closet and keeps me there with the door held shut.
In my closet I learned to hide my vulnerabilities and my insecurities from the world, and in truth, my humanity. But by letting go of my costumes, I have taken my closet and I’ve made it my ally.
Because what do we put in a closet anyway, our costumes, our memories, our belongings? In a closet they’re safe, out of the way, and we know where to go when we need to find them.