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Friday, April 11, 2008

Such a drag...

A message from a guy I don’t recognise on nzdating - “So, do you still paint your fingernails black?” How long ago was that? 1981? Did I ever paint them black?Maybe in my late-70s wannabe punk days. I remember whore red, sometimes with turquoise glitter laid over the top when the varnish was still wet (cosmetics were more limited in those days). Not sure about black though. I did have black hair with pink stripes. And then lime green hair with a big pink triangle that came down over my forehead to the tip of my nose. I can’t remember all the rest of the stuff I put through my hair. It changed colour regularly. I used to have a beautiful white angora mini-dress, from Streetlife I think. I wore it to my first anti-Springbok tour protest outside Air NZ house, complete with the lime green and pink hair, and tights, one leg pink, one, you got it, lime-green with, I think, red boots. After getting baton-charged I started to wear more protection to protests.

I remember having a pair of black stilettos that fitted (I have big feet). I used to like to put on a pair of tight, torn Levis, a white T shirt, leather jacket, early 80s clone outfit, big glittery earrings and the stilettos, and wander along Jervois Rd, stoned, and watch the people watching me. It was fun.

I remember buying a length of cerise silk from Wah Lee’s on Hobson Street, and standing on the back porch of our house in Albany Rd, , draped only in that silk. Glen Morris, my flatmate standing with me, both of us shouting “Cerise!” as loudly as we could, disturbing the suburban calm. We liked the word. I think we were on acid.

We called ourselves “The Empresses in Exile of Sodom and Gomorrah”. Glen’s been dead 15 years now.

I can remember being upstairs at the old Aquarius (I think, or maybe it had changed to “Staircase” by then) in Fort St one night, when around midnight, there was a sudden pause in the music, a sort of throne was put on the stage, and what I believe I was told was one of New Zealand’s first transsexuals came up and enthroned herself, and then a procession of young men in drag, I think all in white, came out from the back bar, each with a male escort, and were presented to the queen on her throne. A mockery of the old custom of debutantes being presented to the monarch. It was funny, and fun, and tongue-in-cheek.

Although I used to do drag occasionally, I wasn’t a drag queen. It’s been a long time ago now, but I remember it as fun. I did it more to shock than for any other reason. Drag in the middle of the day on a busy street is a lot more subversive than drag in a gay club at 1 am.

And now, look around Auckland’s gay scene, and the rest of the country, and you can’t go out to a venue without tripping over a boa belonging to a professional “drag artiste”. It seems the same in Australia too. Less so elsewhere. Drag is big in this part of the world. I’m not sure why.

The professionalisation of drag is yet another instance of our mainstreaming. What used to be a marginal, witty, cutting-edge, in-joke sort of thing, has now become an object of academic theory and capitalist commodification. Drag queens can now make good money performing at conferences, acting as MCs for various groups, and somehow we’re supposed to think they’re all “fabulous”.

I don’t. I’m bored with drag.

It has lost its danger, its edge. Today it’s just one of the tame acceptable faces of being gay. There is nothing subversive about it, and all too often, nothing very interesting or talented either. Lip-synching to divas? I’d rather listen to the song without the visual pollution.

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