“Drag is an accessible art form in that it only requires a body,” says LaWhore Vagistan—the alter-ego of Kareem Khubchandani, who brings drag and Bollywood to the classroom and theory and politics to the nightclub. LaWhore moves between the seemingly opposite worlds of a largely hegemonic academia and politically-potent queer nightlife as a drag queen, traversing critical race, postcolonial, and gender theories.
This, for her, is a method of research—an auto-ethnography, turning her performance into research and her research into performance. But a performance, of any kind, does not happen in a vacuum; it happens in an assemblage that initiates an act in time, a sensation in space, a dialogic doing. LaWhore does not place herself on the threshold of things, but in the centre of the stage, inviting the audiences—performers themselves—to interact with her through their focused or careless gazes, their long-lost nostalgias, and their (un)restricted desires.
LaWhore both embodies and disrupts the fluid imaginations of her audience, whether in the classroom or in the club. She emphasises that queer studies give us the tools to think through questions of the self and its shame by situating our experiences of practicing gender and sexuality in systemic and historical contexts while investing in the possibilities of pleasure and play.
According to her, while the politics of drag, in particular, lie in working through multiple referents beyond gender, drag matters ‘outside’ its politics as well, for many more people apart from her. It is a space full of fun and complications, engendered as well as threatened by the things we know so well. After all, this is what both performance and critique are—none a conclusion, but an ever-evolving movement, a togetherness act across space and time.
In this issue, we speak with LaWhore and Kareem—not knowing them apart as they evolve together—on the questions of spatiality and sexuality, drag and dissent, theory and texts in performance. LaWhore has performed at the Austin International Drag Festival, Mustard Seed South Asian Film Festival (Philadelphia), The Asia Society (NYC), AS220 (Providence) Queens Museum, Jack Theater (Brooklyn), Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Not Festival (Riverside), Links Hall (Chicago), and A.R.T. Oberon (Cambridge).
In conversation with LaWhore is Shiv D Sharma, a PhD Candidate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. Prior to this, Shiv worked as a Critical Writing Faculty at the Young India Fellowship, and also as a consultant to the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality at Ashoka University. He has an MA in Historical Studies from the New School for Social Research, and is a recipient of Fulbright-Nehru and Inlaks scholarships (2018). He thinks and writes about desires that underpin everyday individual, social, cultural as well as political experiences of people.
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