I am what I am and what I am is an illusion. . .
~ “We Are What We Are”, La Cage Aux Folles
written by Jerry Herman
I have a thing for men in drag. I know it doesn’t make much sense, but there it is. I admire the guts it takes to dress up and blur gender lines. I am particularly drawn to performers; I like the clothes and the glitter and the high heels and the banter; I admire the showmanship and talent. I like the inevitable 80’s music and the sheer camp of a good drag show.
This may have started when I was a teenager, when my grandmother and I went to see a performance of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy (in which Harvey’s character plays a female impersonator) at the Carpenter Center in Richmond. I don’t think we had any idea what we were about to see; I think we went because we liked theater, and Nana likes torch songs. Well. By the time they started preparing the set for Act Two (a giant bed), I was sitting there thinking, Oh my god I’m sitting here watching this with my grandmother. . . As it turns out, she was sitting there thinking Oh my god I’m sitting here watching this with my granddaughter. . . Both of us were fine with it, and in fact enjoying the show, but worried about what the other was thinking. Eventually, we both loosened up and laughed at ourselves and enjoyed the rest of the play.
High school students don’t typically have a lot of contact with drag shows, and the football team dressing up for a “womanless beauty contest” just doesn’t count. (well, maybe.) I’m not sure what the appeal of men in drag is for me—-for one, I'm impressed that, not only do they seem comfortable in a dress and high heels, they're at home in their own skin. We all make decisions about how we want to appear to the world--some of us choose to appear more flamboyantly than others. Drag queens make me feel butch, because they’re more dressed up, have on more makeup, and are often prettier than I am, and at the same time they make me feel femme, because I know I can be feminine by definition, without having to try. I’ve long been a fan of the shows put on by local gay clubs, as a form of fund-raising, and eventually I found my way to Finnochios in San Francisco and Boy-lesque in Vegas and a whole assortment of shows in New Orleans—in the Big Easy they take this very seriously, and many of the performers are well on their way to becoming women. The funny thing is, upon returning from each trip, I’d talk to Nana, and find out that she’d been to the show, too . . . maybe my predisposition is genetic.
My neighbors think it’s a hoot that my grandmother accompanies us to drag shows. Then again, Nana has a slightly different take on things. On at least one occasion, she ‘explained’ to the person in the seat next to her, “ These men aren’t necessarily gay—some of them just like wearing pretty things.”
I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses . . .