Academic Drag and English


Tommy-3-1200x800UWaterloo PhD Student Tommy Mayberry is the subject of a feature on Waterloo’s Arts Student Stories site. Tommy, who has won awards for teaching and research, is studying transgender visual culture in nineteenth-century art and literature. He’s also a practitioner of academic drag. If you have no idea what that might be, read on! –JLH

“Tommy,  PhD Candidate, English”

Tommy’s research on transgender visual culture in 19th century British art and literature evolved from his first “encounter” with William Blake. “I did my undergrad here in Fine Arts and English Honours and I really never understood how the two fields could work together. And then I met William Blake. He would create watercolours of his poetry. For the first time, I saw art and literature together as this inseparable thing.”

“I began to create visual versions of Blake’s characters. It was a kind of performative modeling. And then, during my MFA at University of Windsor, I pushed the photography a bit further and thought ‘what if I was all of the characters? And so I walked into my studio defence in drag and said ‘this is my work.’ And they got it.”

Since then, Tommy has presented at conferences and competed in the 3MT competition in drag. “I love public speaking.” He explains that the challenge is really getting your research down to just 3 minutes. “At family dinners, people ask what you are working on. ‘Do you have 3 hours? This is my life’s work!’”

“It’s amazing to see what everyone else is up to as well. I wish more people would dedicate the time to prepare and compete.”

Tommy recently won the Amit and Meena Chakma Award for Exceptional Teaching by a Student. “I love to teach and this award was really meaningful because it was from the students.”

He was also one of eleven University of Waterloo winners of the SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship competition for the 2014-2015 academic year. “Getting SSHRC funding still feels like a dream,” says Tommy. After applying in previous years and not receiving funding, Tommy believed that other work was more pressing than queer theory. “But now I know that my work is pressing. My work is important.”

“There is something magical about the drag transformation. The first time I dressed in drag, I kept thinking about what her name would be, what her personality would be. But then I looked in the mirror and she looked like me. I knew her. It’s really an acceleration of identity.”

“I knew I would get backlash because people haven’t heard of academic drag. But once I ground myself, it becomes untouchable. This could only have happened in Canada. The federal government wants to fund a drag queen.”

This story and photo originally appeared on Artsonline.

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One response to “Academic Drag and English

  1. thomashenryhigginson

    This is groundbreaking work!

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