"It's easier to hide an elephant in your armpit than a queen in a crowd" : apparently a popular saying in Constantinople in the 10th Century or so.
OK, so I'm fudgeing the date a bit, but the friend who told me this was a Byzantine historian from Athens, and a big old sodomite to boot, so I believe him. I've always loved the saying. It's not always the most popular observation, but the queen does seem to be a pretty unviersal human type, and one we can recognise whether you're in the streets of Moscow, Cairo, Beijing or Dunedin. I swear that in Jerusalem a few years ago I saw two screaming mincing queens dressed up as Orthodox Jewish women, wigs, head-scarves and all.They seemed to be having a great time, though causing some level of puzzlement to those around them.
Queens are powerful, and that's how I use the word queen, not in a disparaging way, but they are strong. Think of Quentin Crisp. Think of Philippe, Duc d'Orleans in 17th Century France, and according to Saint-Simon "the silliest woman at Court" yet a soldier who won huge admiraiton for his courage on the battlefield, even if apparently he was prone to run shrieking when there was a thunderstorm.
Edmund White in his biographical novel "The Farewell Symphony" notes the change that went on in the gay world in the 60s as the Gym Body moved in and the old queen style moved out - "Gay boys who just ten years earlier had hissed together over cocktails, skinny in black pegged pants and cologne soaked pale blue angora sweaters, and had disputed Callas vs. Tebaldi now lumbered like innocent kindergartners in snowsuits of rosy inflated flesh..." But really, when you think of it, we don't call them "Muscle Marys" for nothing now, do we?
And as we've just passed the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in NY, it's worth remembering it was led to a large extent by the queens who lived in the area and used the bar.
So we are we now so quick to disown our royal pedigree? Why are queens so out now, and why do people claim (and puh - leez! it so often is just a claim) to be "straight -acting" or "discreet". What's wrong with being In-Your-face? Why is there so often the unease in the gay world around the obviously and effeminately gay male? They did, to a large extent, pave the way for us, yet now we seem ashamed of them as we try and sink into decent, dull, suburban, gym-toned obscurity.
You don't have to be a rabid screecher, you don't have to do drag, or wear makeup to be a queen. You can have a great body from the gym, a moustache, a deep voice and a hairy chest and be one too. Some of the campest queens I've known were some of the most aggressive tops I've come across too. The stereotypes just don't apply. I suppose it's the attitude. The confidence, the "Don't-Fuck-With-Me" to your enemies and the warm, loyal friendship (if sometimes expressed behind a veil of rapier like sarcasm) to those you love.
Queens are subversive and threatening. They pose a challenge and don't fit neatly into the current nice boringly beige model of gayness we live with. Queens, just by their existence, ask us "Do you really believe this shit they are peddling? Is this what we fought for? Is this what being a fag is really about? " Their bullshit detectors are flawless, and their hearts are deep.
And if they have airs and graces at times, well darling, don't forget, life in a palace changes one.
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