12-year-old drag artist E! The Dragnificent wants people to change the way they view gender | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

12-year-old drag artist E! The Dragnificent wants people to change the way they view gender

“Unlearning gender means boys and girls should express themselves the way they want to.”

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E!, who uses they/them pronouns, is an active proponent of changing the way people view gender. They believe gender is a constricting construct, one that they actively push against. To fundraise for E!’s trip to Austin, the family made shirts with a photo of E! vogueing on it, paired with the message: “Let’s tell the world to unlearn gender!”

“I think that unlearning gender means boys and girls should express themselves the way they want to and without people telling you, ‘You’re a girl, so you should be doing this’ or ‘You’re a boy, you should be going over here.’ It’s this big giant thing, and it’s so hard for people to feel just one way or the other,” E! says. 

Discussions about gender are happening all over the world. And although many indigenous people, non-Western cultures and intersex people have long believed there are more than two genders, the conversation about gender is starting to get louder in the United States. 

During last year’s presidential election, the topic of gender became a talking point when the candidates discussed the rights of trans people to use the bathroom that matches the gender they identify with. In early October, California became the first state to legally recognize a third gender option on official documents. And some colleges are beginning to establish preferred name and pronoun policies to ensure students are addressed correctly. 

In addition to debates about allowing trans people to use their preferred restrooms, there are also conversations about ensuring public places have gender-neutral restrooms for those who exist outside of the binary male-female definitions. That’s where E! lives, and they say it can be hard to exist in a world that refuses to let you properly express yourself. 

Through drag, E! says they find freedom from rigid gender roles and expectations. Drag performers across the gender spectrum play with the absurdity and exaggerations of gender presentation.

“[Drag] has gender in it because there are queens that are nonbinary that play a big femme personality of a woman, or it’s a man who plays a woman that has a big personality, or a woman who plays a man,” says E!. “And it all has to do with gender.” 

City Paper sat down with E!, in October. With full makeup on, E! looks older than 12, carrying themselves with a sense of confidence as they donned their blue wig and shiny pink jumpsuit, covered in a thin layer of glitter. But E! also has a sweet little voice and a silly sense of humor.

“You can never have too much glitter,” E! says. 

On Sat., Nov. 11, in Austin, E! will be performing a Madonna montage of “Lucky Star,” “Vogue,” “Frozen” and “Hung Up.” They’ll also be performing “It’s Oh So Quiet,” by Bjork.

When CP asked E! how they felt about performing at their biggest show yet, they admitted to being “nervous-cited,” a combination of excited and nervous, of course. 

It’s a pretty calm and measured response for a 12-year-old who is about to perform with some big-name drag stars from around the globe, including one of their favorite drag queens, Latrice Royale.

“She’s very funny, and she has a great laugh that’s very long,” says E!. “She’s amazing!” 

“Esai is pretty naive about most things. They just have no concept that any of it is a big deal. I think it’s because E!’s been around performing all their life, and so they have no concept that this is that big of a deal,” says Varela. “They’re very lucky in that way.” 

When CP asked what they’re most excited about for the upcoming show, a warm smile spread across their face before they said, “I’m most excited about getting up there and performing as myself.”

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