Sunday, August 25, 2013

Drag This: The lie that tells the truth

Yes, that is I, Cookie, in a dress, the one time I have ever gone out in a dress, and it was on Halloween, about 20 years ago.  I haven't been that skinny since the first Clinton administration.  And I haven't put on a dress since.  Why?  Well, frankly, I'm not very good at it.  Take this picture - I refused to shave off my goatee, making it a bit less draggy and bit more gender fuck.   And frankly, women's clothes don't become me and I don't become very ladylike in them.

So I went and did it once, and there is the proof.

I'm sharing it because Muscato, that bon vivant and world traveler was writing about his visit to a drag show and how it was a drag.

A dear friend of mine once tried to impart his wisdom on me once by saying "There is no such thing as bad sex.  Sex is sex.  The same goes for drag shows. It is what it is."

I agreed with him, because when someone says something stupid like that what else can you do?

Look, I have had plenty of bad sex.  You know, you meet someone, look at them with beer goggles, its late and the bar is closing and you go to his place and you get him unclothed and you find that he's 6'5" and the 5" is as thick as a pencil.  Or you meet this really good looking mans man, and he's all man, with the perfect man's build, and you go back to his place and you find everything is covered in floral chintz and doilies.  And no sooner than you say "are those ceramic mime masks on your wall?",  Mr. Butch is on his back screaming for you to "fuck me like the woman I am."

Yeah, that is bad sex, right there.

Well, bad drag is a lot like bad sex.

There used to be a time when a drag Queen would take the stage and "a night of illusion" would commence.  Some would have great talent at picking their songs, or working the crowd or making you hoot and hollar for more.

And in these shows, they knew enough that the bad acts got tucked and taped like a penis in the middle.  Where most people wouldn't notice the lull.  Start them off right, finish them with a bang, and in the middle were Queen's who were "meh" because the head Queen running the show knew that people after to go potty sometime.

The bad shows?  They were beyond bad.  There was the "My parents just found out I do drag and their in the audience tonight" bad.  The performance that followed was always something tres dramatique. Lipsyncing "The Rose" or "I've Never Been to Me" kinda bad.

Once you find out that the Drag Queen's folks are in the audience and they JUST learned that their son does drag, you never get Sweet Pussy Pauline, an MC Luscious tribute with "BOOM I Fucked Your Boyfriend".

No, you get Buffy St. Marie or a song that starts off with the lyric "Hey, Lady..." and well there goes the night.  I know I should be supportive.  This man, wearing a dress that once belonged to a bridesmaid at Bohl-Holder wedding, in shoes high enough to give anyone a nosebleed, is exposing the real person that they are.   But its a drag show, not family therapy.

Call me a curmudgeon, but if its family therapy night, I want my cover back.

The other type of drag show that is bad is one in which men put on dresses and go out to the crowd and demand tribute like the audience owes them something.  I've seen these dude in dresses even bring out coffee cans for people to fill up why they parade around the stage move their mouths in a "oo-ah, oo-ah, oo-ah, brown cow, brown cow, oo-ah, oo-ah, oo-ah" as if that is supposed to make us think that they are singing "Its Raining Men".

I mean if you are out there to make money, put some effort into it.  Get an act up, girl.  Just don't act out.  You know what I'm saying?

But the worst of the worst was a drag show at Wall Street, a bar in Columbus, Ohio where the show was opened by a "Drag King" - a lesbian dressed up like a man - named "Jimmy" who had no talent.  The "King" came out on the stage, trying to do Elvis, but "him" small stature (maybe 5'4") and greased back hair (a Sha Na Na knockoff move) and glittery lounge jacket made him look like like a pip squeak.  Instead of lip syncing, "Jimmy" sang the lyrics of "Teddy Bear" while trying to force the girl voice within into a muffled growl. Jimmy was horrible.

Wounded animal horrible.

The only redeeming value to this charade was that "Jimmy" brought a female with him who was supposed to be his groupie, and that is where the real show took place.  The woman was dressed in a lycra white dress, two sizes too small, and giving real meaning to "Baby Got Back".  On her feet were black Doc Marten boots, and she tied the whole ensemble together with a black feather boa.  On top of her head was dark hair bleached white - the kind of white that looks yellow because someone did it using a box product and didn't prep their hair right.

But as "Jimmy" sang his groupie jumped up and down and writhed like a teenage girl.  Normally people would be buzzing with talk, booze and some drugs, because thats what happens when a bad drag act is on the stage.  But in this this moment of experimental theater you could have heard a pin drop had it not been for "Jimmy's" "singing".  Three hundred eyes were fixed not on the stage, but on this "groupie" and her tourettesesque performance.

And we all applauded.  Why?  Well because we wanted this to happen the following weekend.  No one was going to believe this.  And we were going to bring friends to see this.

And that's the thing about drag.  When its good, its really great.  When its bad, its awful.  But when its the lie that tells the truth, like the rehearsed group writhing over a no talent?  Sweetie, that's not drag, it's camp.

And camp is never bad.  Its just flawless as it is.


  1. I actually did some drag and had great fun with it, in college days and not long after. One memorable night, dressed as Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun, I definitely passed, at least going on the expression of the charming young sailor who discovered, far too late for his tastes that, unlike Oakland per Gertrude Stein, there definitely was some there there (well, it was a Hallowe'en party, and he was really quite charming - and more than a little intrigued - about it).

    In any case, it's the exactly what you say that's the problem: the total lack of knowingness, of formidability, that makes bad drag so very, very bad. The one we went to wasn't quite so horrid as to to include coffee cans (they probably haven't thought of that dodge yet), but there was a woeful drag king who did zilch to liven up the proceedings.,"

    That said, to be fair, "Never Been to Me," in the right hands - even outside Priscilla can be a work of genius...

  2. i have intentions of going to a rupaul traveling show next month.
    it'll be the first drag show i've been to since the 80's in LA.

  3. Secret Agent Fred and I went to a thrift store this afternoon and we're still arguing about whether the person we saw there was a really, really ugly woman or a really, really ugly man and if what he or she was wearing constituted drag. It included a yellow sailor's cap.

  4. I was once accosted by one Rhoda Horse outside a club in Manchester. I wish I'd had the foresight then to suggest "she" did so - right outa town!

  5. Hold everything. Peenee, you went thrifting without me???? Curses.

    Also, "I agreed with him, because when someone says something stupid like that what else can you do?" is a priceless line that I'm planning to steal, Cookie. You've been warned.

  6. You hit the pig on the snout with your summation.

    I remember going to The Stagecoach in Akron, back in the late seventies (South Arlington, I think). Most of the gals were over six feet, three hundred pounds & dressed like Miss Kitty, all the while behaving as if they were petite. Talent and camp. It was a few years later in Pittsburgh before I met drag queens that took themselves so seriously that they were no fun at all, they had talent for sure, but it just wasn't the same. I've always preferred the campy old broads myself.

    (Glad you retired your one piece lace foundation garment, you're too manly for a skirt!)