The death of Diane Torr, the performance artist whose work did so much to highlight the gender performativity, has been announced. According to her website, Torr died in Scotland on 31 May. She had been suffering from a brain tumour.
At the present time, gender and its performance (in whatever arenas by whatever methods) is never far from the media eye, so it’s easy to either forget or overlook just how pioneering Torr’s works actually were. In 1996, when I interviewed her as part of a small feature on gender for the New Statesman, a greater discussion and exploration of what we might loosely call gender fluidity was only just coming out of the universities – and this the legacy of Judith Butler’s groundbreaking Gender Trouble (1990). Torr’s drag king workshops were playful and political – she pulled in people who were seriously curious about presence and power. I didn’t take one, but I do remember her saying, in one of the sections of our interview that I didn’t use, that dressing up was one thing, but acting the part was something else. Until one gets a handle on the power that gender triggers and figures out how to lever it, then clothes are just clothes and a moustache just a moustache.
Ps The photo used in the NS article does not show Diane Torr. It’s a photo taken in a drag king club in the mid-1990s by Gordon Rainsford.