Sunday, May 06, 2007

Socio-political Drag-Queening

Suffering through the herky-jerkiness of post-bar boozing, let me TRY to describe tonight's moment of horrible revelation.

There I am in the bar, wearing another crotchy outfit, my intention to thwart the bad boys who arrive to pick up the cheap girls. I'm thinking: here I am, a plague, a negative thing, something which makes girls feel good and boys feel bad. Crotch, feathers, silliness. You bastard crappy men.

Then I speak to Rachel. At the video bar, she's sitting down and alternating water and alcohol. She starts off in the usual way: "I love your outfit, I respect what you're doing." So I move in to feel good and to try to be a little bit humble.

But then she says the Important Thing, which completely changes my impression of the night: "If I wore that outfit, people would think I was a slut."

I can't belive this: NOBODY HAS EVER SAID THIS TO ME. Fifteen years of doing drag -- silly, over-sexed girl drag -- and no female has ever explained to me that *I* am able to do something that SHE cannot do. She goes further: "When people look at you wearing those clothes, they say you're adventurous and fantastic. If I were to wear those clothes I'd just be a slut."

And holy cow...RACHEL IS RIGHT. Sitting there, drinking her water, without being accusastory or vicious, she has told me something I have NEVER REALIZED. I can't even begin to explain how this affects my personal idea of "what I'm doing." I can stand here and criticise women for being "over-sexed," meanwhile wearing a ridiculous outfit that no girl in the bar would ever THINK of wearing. Because I can be "odd" while she'd just be "sleazy."

Why am I wearing my outfit? To thwart the men. But what do the WOMEN think when they see it? I'm sad to say that I've never thought about it. "Duh," say the females I ask. "Of course, I could never get away with wearing something like that." They feel too fat or too thin or too conservative or too desperate, and there I am just NOT CARING.



VanillaJ said...

Gawd, I thought YOU KNEW! I'm sure thoughts like "I'm too fat to wear that" or "I can't wear heels that high" obsure the complexity of why women don't dress like show girls in real life. The expressed lack of confidence in wearing outfits like yours is larger than body-image issues or shyness, let me assure you. As a woman, not only are there consequences for dressing like a slut, but there are consequences for being to 'showey'. Especially if your goal is to solicite male attention, and then thwart it. That makes men angry.

I've always viewed drag conventions as a subversion of patriarchal beauty ideals. A parody, in fact. In actuality, a real woman dressing that way (that isn't a professional entertainer) is widely regarded as courting danger or possibly violence. Of course, you know you are not immune to aggressive overtures or violence whe you are in drag.

I don't speak for all women. I'm sure there is some crazy bitch out there that will say "I'm comfortable dressing like a slut, even though I'm not a slut. And all the men around be treat me with respect. Now, excuse me while I try to make up for the lack of attention my daddy never gave me".

Adam Thornton said...

I still haven't figured out what I think of this issue. I know that the showy, over-the-top women I consider role-models are self-sufficient objects that simply present themselves without any real interaction or any sex promise; I'm thinking of Ann Miller doing a crazy tap routine in a ridiculous outfit, after which the men politely applaud her as a "pin up" or a "performer" without ever being a "slut."

And while that sort of persona is largely a movie ideal, I think it CAN exist in real life, if a person is crafty or rich or talented or eccentric enough.

And, most importantly, if she is careful about where she goes. I've been thinking about this all day, and I realize that at Club Abstract there are several girls who dress "showy" but are not perceived as "sluts" (except by the type of men who think all pretty women are sluts anyway). Granted they're not necessarily dressing as strangely as I am, but there's a fair amount of corseted cleavage and garters on women who AREN'T crazy bitches.

So I think this is all true most of the time -- for most people in most places -- but not ALL of the time. I'm not the ONLY person allowed to be sexy-silly in a bar without being a slut. But in some ways I'm in a priveleged position.