Drag queens are an integral part of gay culture – but how do they stand up against alternative drag, asks Alex Hopkins.


I was 17, my parents were away, I was acting in a summer theater course. What else do you do but hold a house party? And as the drink flowed out came the leopard print dressing gown, which my grandmother made for me (her tacit her acceptance of my sexuality). Before long I’d transformed myself into Norma Desmond and was singing along to Glenn Close on the cast recording of Sunset Boulevard, dementedly waving my arms around as if I were hanging out the washing.

Before I came out, I spent years sitting in front of the TV in the living room studying Shirley Bassey’s every move. This early ‘drag’ performance came naturally to me. Like many gay men, I started to enjoy drag shows, fixated on the performer’s every move and the way he would chew into a lyric, miming every last drop of emotion out of it.

But as time went on I realized I had a problem with some drag shows. Sure, they were entertaining, but some things made me feel uncomfortable, particularly the often repeated jokes aimed at women in an audience: “Oh, look at the fish over there,” and similarly other predictable jibes about the female anatomy. I began to understand why some feminists found the notion of drag queens misogynistic. Here were gay men playing out their outsized fantasies of what women were: everything larger, more pronounced, glamor all.

In a recent debate about Glenn Close’s recent London performance as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, I crossed swords with a gay male friend of mine. He objected to what he called Close’s “aged” interpretation of the role. It seemed too subtle for him. A female friend pointed out that what she was presenting was an accurate portrayal of a woman of a certain age. “Many gay men want and expect women to be like drag queens,” she said. “We’re not like that.”

As a counterpoint to this kind of representation of women, the increased popularity of alt drag gives us an entirely different – and arguably more profound – disruption of gender ideas. The vision of a bearded man, for example, in high heels and makeup is perhaps one of the boldest statements on the interplay of the masculine with the feminine. In London, alt-drag performers like Jonny Woo has helped bring alt drag into the mainstream and garnered a cult following.
 

image_2214.jpg.jpg
Jonny Woo. Photo: Jorge Monedero


But perhaps the most prominent example of alt-drag is Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst. Russia’s fury at her triumph was fantastic and hilarious. Indeed, it is hard to know what was more amusing - the sight of Russian heterosexual men frantically shaving their beards off to distance themselves from the fabulous drag queen, Tom Neuwirth, or the predictable vitriol spouted by the Russian Orthodox Church.
 

image_2216.jpg.jpg
Conchita Wurst performing in Poland, 2015. © Praszkiewicz.


Vladimir Legoyda, chairman of the church’s information department, heralded Conchita’s performance – and the world’s enthusiastic reception of it – as an “abomination” – evidence of the planet’s moral decline, and one which 'the results of this competition bear witness to'. Surely, the supreme irony of being condemned by men wearing dresses that make Shirley Bassey look understated can only be taken as the highest form of praise.

Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have brought gender play into our living rooms, and consequently, have the potential to change attitudes. But it’s always those who opt for their own twist on alt-drag, that are the most interesting. But here lies the power of alt drag over a more traditional kind of drag. The vision of a 'bearded lady' play havoc with people’s minds; it’s not so easy to categorize such a performer, to place him in those neat little boxes that mainstream, heteronormative society need to feel comfortable and secure. These outsiders transcend definitions of gender, reminding us that the strongest and most indelible political statements are made when we refuse to blend into the norm.

 

 


YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

6 comments

Your content will need to be approved by a moderator

Guest
You are commenting as a guest. If you have an account, please sign in.
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoticons maximum are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



Guest

Posted · Report

SeanAaron, why are you testing the comments. I've heard your argument a million and one times before and such self-loathing bullsh*t. Who cares what people think of you?! Whether you go to a gay pride event or not, anyone who is incapable of seeing past drag queens, and people expressing themselves flamboyantly, they're gonna think of you this way, period. Because they're to stupid to see beyond what they want to see. They don't care if you're staying home. They aren't going through a roster of homosexuals in you're local area looking to see who's starting away from any form of gay related event and thinking 'hmmm that SeanAaron stayed home again this year, he deserves a metal'. You talk about taking only one bad egg to ruin it for all, I think you're that one bad egg thing it for the rest of us. Who do you think you are to sit there and call gay people 'frootie'. Man, f*ck you. How do you feel it's ok to demean members of your own community? You should rethink you're entire way thinking, one day you'll need you're community, and it'll be the to support you even though you repeatedly keep stabbing at it. I say this allot you because I have been you and I couldn't have been more wrong and more ashamed of being so much younger then and so unappreciative of what I had. I thought that I didn't need gay people, I was punk rock and I didn't fit in with all the flamboyant boys ruling it for me in the news blah blah blah. I learned that only one not having a good time was me. And I learned to accept and love and I don't care how femme a guy is or butch a woman is. I say queer it up and be happy. So as far you saying what everyone else is thing EEEEHHH!!! You're wrong. If you're speaking for anyone other than just yourself, that number is in the very small minority.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
SeanAaron

Posted · Report

Hell no, panty parties we won't go. haha

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
SeanAaron

Posted · Report

I'm sorry but I've got to be "that guy" in the room that says what others are thinking. Well here goes. I don't go to gay pride. And why? Because of drag queen. Straight people think of gays as fruity guys dressing up as girls or girly guys. Truly, if society didn't think guys are dressing up and wearing stilettos, wigs, makeup, and carrying a whip to whip slave boys around. Older people see this and just get throne off by this. Or see naked people all painted and riding bicycles. WTF? Can't we reflect how we are in real life, instead of acting like a bunch of fruity queens who are all sprinkle dusts and screwing everything that moves. TRULY, and I'm being totally serious now. We could of had gay marriage a LONG FUCKING time ago if it wasn't for Gay Day parades with the drag queens being all bitchy and shoving their lifestyle in straight people's faces. Being cocky and rude. Being self centered and bitchy. Like life deserves to revolve around them. They act like this to escape the depression and confusion they have in their lives. Because of the negative effects of a poor image that's portrayed, society fears to accept us and grant us gay marriage. I totally can see their point where we it would be totally weird if drag queens are marrying men. And transexuals are marrying men but get the sex change and then they are no longer gay relationship. It just confuses people. I personally strive to be who I wish to be and that's keeping my 'gayness" to myself and not reflect it in my life. I'm with my partner of 19 years and when I'm out by myself nobody notices that I'm gay. They shouldn't pick up on it and effect their life. I wish not to look feminine, act feminine, or speak feminine. I am a boy who wishes to act like a proper boy not affecting others negatively or giving them reason to speak of things about me. But when I'm with my partner, they do notice we're together and it's obvious. Though they think we're brothers often, or paternal twins or something. We don't look a like but people still think that. I guess we have enough similarities that we get that correct comment. Truly, people who live with one another long enough, they start looking more and more like each other. Try it looking at long term couple and thy look a lot a like and have similar traits. So back to the drag queen bit. I don't have them so it's not a bashing them on here. It's just my viewpoint that gay marriage would of came sooner if they didn't persent themselves in the way that SOME do, not all. I have some very nice drag queen and kings and they present themselves very nicely and very kind. But we all know those bitchy bitch ones that own the universe. Old people see that or get televised. People get that infused in their and and it doesn't go away, ever. Until they get to know a drag queen and realize that their image from TV or in person was totally wrong. One person does not represent the whole. IT takes just one bad egg to ruin it for everyone else. So, gay days, not for me. I'm happy being the neutral non gay looking guy who has only been called a fagoot, hokey, cracker, once in my life by a black guy. All in one sentence. Quite proud of him I made sure everyone knew we were "together" and we were there to pick out some condoms! He freaked and left. Ya, go buy your shit somewhere else you dick head. A white boy, that must of been seen as cute, wearing abercrombie, had to of been gay and he was jealous that he wasn't a gay white boy. That's all it was. He just wanted a taste of my white chocolate and thought he couldn't get it so he would put me down instead. Little did he know, he was fine as hell and I would of shared my chocolate with him even after those not so kind words. haha. Okay I wrote enough. I doubt anyone reads these things. This was just a test to se if anyone does. ;) Shout at me if you did and if you agree or not.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Guest

Posted · Report

As someone born in the 60's drag / female impersonation has evolved a great deal over the years. Looking back now, a lot of drag in London in 70's and 80's was quite misogynistic and I love the new 'gender illusionists' and 'alt' drag on the scene pushing the creative boundaries. As for the previous post, this person doesn't know what they're talking about - drag is nothing to do with women??! What b*lls*it. RuPaul once said, "I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses?" He also said, "I don't dress like a woman; I dress like a drag queen!".

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Guest

Posted · Report

Actually this article must be written by someone young. RuPaul isn't a drag queen he is a female impersonator. A drag queen has nothing to do with women, the concept is making fun of straight societies ideas of what a gay man want to be. This Alt drag thing has been around forever and we called it rough drag. Nothing new. I hate poorly researched articles that only use the internet and never look before 1995. Sad really.

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites
Guest

Posted · Report

Another fantastic article

Share this comment


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Similar articles

Forum discussions