Sunday, February 1, 2009

Speaking of Drag Queens

Let's talk about RuPaul :-). (Thanks to BigLugLand for this one, via Twitter.)

While my positive experience as a gay teenager is not a universal one, by any means, it's one that's becoming more and more common. In the 1970s, the average coming-out age was 21; in 2007, it was closer to 13. Gay teens are coming out earlier to increasingly accepting parents, and the cocoon-to-butterfly narrative that has shaped much of gay culture -- and drag in particular -- is no longer as universal. For many men of my generation, coming out registered on the personal trauma scale somewhere between our first pimple and the pain of our first breakup.

Which is somewhat at odds with the message of the drag queen. A drag queen is sassy, glittery and fabulous -- "a punk rock reaction to our masculine culture," as RuPaul told me, when I spoke to her over the phone. Drag is a way of taking what has often been held against gay men -- our effeminacy, our outspokenness, our passion for ABBA -- and celebrating it with style. Drag queens imitate women like Judy Garland, Dolly Parton and Cher because they overcame insult and hardship on their path to success, and because their narratives mirror the pain that many gay men suffer on their way out of the closet. These women didn't become drag icons because they had a mildly awkward sex talk with their parents.

According to Lady Bunny, the founder of New York's now-defunct Wigstock Festival, drag faded from pop culture at the end of the '90s because "people got used to the idea of the drag queen." Mainstream audiences -- and gay audiences -- simply stopped being shocked by the idea of a man dressed as a woman. "We've had an entire generation grow up seeing drag queens play basketball on daytime talk shows," she says, "and I don't think it's that freeing for gay people anymore."

It also raises a bigger question: Without the trauma of oppression, how will future generations of gay men define themselves? Through promiscuity? Party drugs? A flair for dinner parties? "With more and more teenagers coming out of the closet earlier, and parents being more supportive, the whole dynamic has changed," says Sean Mullens, the director of "Filthy Gorgeous: The Trannyshack Story." "The explosive party scene doesn't really have a place anymore."

I thought this was an excellent and well written piece on the state of gay culture, especially the role of drag queens within it. It's funny because, when I first started doing drag, I remember an older friend of mine saying, "I just don't like it, but I'm from an age where you shouldn't do anything so openly gay." And then, of couse, there's the endless stigma of men my age who won't sleep with a drag queen because now we're obsessed with straight men.

And so it goes, all this gender stuff.

Regardless, I went to a drag show (by myself) last night. After all these years, I posited drunkenly on Twitter, I will say this: a drag show still makes me smile.

So theorize it all you want, I still fucking love them.

Oh, and an interesting little bit praising drag queens when I did a google search, "researching the topic," for "drag and gay culture.

1 comment:

Peter C. Frank said...

Crikey m8 but another reason that drag queens faded from public view circa Y2k = drag queens were basically ousted from the NYC club scene (which, really, is where most got their start). I would write more and let you know about the connection between exile of the drag queen from NYC club scene and disappearance of drag queens from public view but it's like 4am and I still haven't finished this freaking blog post!!! :p