Drag vs cross-dressing: Troye Sivan sparks debate

Troye Sivan’s latest music video is undeniably sexy. For his new song “One Of Your Girls,” Sivan donned a dirty blonde wig, long acrylic nails, a soft face of makeup, and a number of sultry femme outfits to dance on Ross Lynch, all while singing about how he can be just like one of the girls Lynch hooks up with.

Sivan’s feminine persona started plenty of internet chatter on its own, but one drag performer raised a question that stirred up new controversy: “Y’all do know that he isn’t doing drag right, he’s cross-dressing,” wrote Chicago drag artist Eva Styles. “There’s a difference.”

What’s the difference between drag and cross-dressing?

What’s the difference that Styles is referring to? If we turn to the dictionary, cross-dressing is defined as “the wearing of clothes designed for the opposite sex,” while drag is “entertainment in which performers caricature or challenge gender stereotypes,” per Merriam-Webster.

But dictionary definitions don’t always translate to real-world usage and connotations. Generally, cross-dressing is seen more as creating a quote-enquote “illusion” of presenting as a different gender than one’s own, and it’s often associated with kink or sexual scenarios. Drag, on the other hand, is more concerned with exaggeration and entertainment, and is an art form rather than a lifestyle.

Is Sivan cross-dressing or doing drag?

The scenario of Sivan’s video certainly aligns more with cross-dressing than with drag performance. In the video’s narrative, he’s appealing to a straight man’s sexuality by dressing as a woman, rather than subverting gender stereotypes for the sake of entertainment. But Sivan’s real-world intentions are closer to drag: to entertain his audience with a gender-based performance.

“The only reason [there] is a performance aspect is cuz it’s a music video,” Styles elaborated. “Also gender expression and performance is NOT exclusive to drag.”

Sivan, for his part, referred to his performance in “One Of Your Girls” as drag, not cross-dressing, in an interview with People.

“I’ve never done drag before, [but I’ve] always wanted to, and it was a really beautiful, fun experience,” Sivan said. “We were trying to think of a name, but honestly, I feel like her name is Troye.”

Other drag artists weighed in, including RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Luxx Noir London, who ruled that the debate wasn’t necessary in the first place.

“Crossdressing…drag…who cares she looked c*nt,” she wrote. 

Meanwhile, Kiara from Canada’s Drag Race answered the question “Was Troye in drag?” with a much-memed video of Tokyo Toni saying, “Well, sorta kinda.” Couldn’t put it better ourselves.

Does it matter?

Ultimately, it’s good to know the difference between drag and cross-dressing: Words have power, and using them with accuracy can help break down harmful stereotypes and stigma for both drag artists and cross-dressers. Sivan, however, is neither a drag queen nor (as far as we know) a cross-dresser outside of this music video, so in this case, the stakes are pretty low.

Instead, let this be a learning opportunity for everyone to hone their queer vocabularies, and stream Sivan’s undeniable bop. His new album Something To Give Each Other is out now on all platforms.

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