By Jesse Marx
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Welcome to October, a season of froufrou cider concoctions, carved pumpkins lighted by scented candles, and a big jump in the number of boys in dresses. It's that special time of the year when straight people, fresh from trick-or-treating, approach me and ask my favorite straight-person question: "So, what's the deal with drag?"
Drag is all about commanding attention, so it's hardly shocking that such questions arise from the masses. It is a little surprising, however, that anyone would think I have the answers. When the inquiring mind belongs to one of my minivan-mom friends, for example, I'm tempted to poke a little fun: "C'mon, you know more about women's clothing than I do--why do you wear it?"
I suppose I've seen more of the drag world than most straight folks--even with certain nightclubs now broadening quite a few hetero horizons. But I'm reluctant to serve as spokesqueen because I've never actually done drag. I think if I did, heads would turn--away. I'm about 6-foot-3 (without heels), and my facial features, body hair, and Adam's apple are all on the stereotypically male end of the spectrum. I do have that tall, thin look so common among supermodels, but still, I suspect that Jim As a Girl would never fly.
Thanks to the technological wonders of the postmodern age, I've been able to confirm my suspicions without applying a drop of Mary Kay. Two friends with too much time and too many gadgets from Computer City recently presented me with a digitized photo of myself as I would appear, post-makeover, with a mane of brown curlicues and a bosom that screamed silicone. The image was hilarious but disturbing, aesthetically and otherwise--it seemed an omen of something I wasn't wired for.
The fates, however, have offered me mixed messages. Once, as part of some computer training, I had to learn the military alphabet that always shows up in war movies--Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc. I thought it might be a sign of drag destiny when my initials produced the perfect stage name: Juliet Foxtrot. A few of my friends are less conflicted about dressing up their feminine side. My buddy Bruno, for example, was a big Halloween hit one year in the wig his grandmother helped him pick out. But even if I had a prayer of mastering the awesome cosmetological responsibilities, the bottom line is I just don't think I could pull it off. I wouldn't feel at ease.
I have, fortunately, developed an appreciation for the gender-bending endeavors of others. Back when I was first coming out, I used to think that drag embodied gay behavior at its most absurd and that drag performers, by reinforcing stereotypes, were making life more difficult for men who prefer menswear. And I had questions of my own: Why would a man want to look like a woman if he's trying to attract a man who's attracted to men?
Expecting a visceral understanding of every human inclination quickly turned out to be a bad idea. There are of course men who seek men who seek the perfect pump at Nordstrom--just as there are guys who have wives and yet secretly don chiffon, as entire pages of personal ads can testify. And as for drag-performers-as-threat, I'm sure my less-than-liberated adherence to the traditional idea of what men wear has a role in making their lives more difficult.
So that's what I tell my curious hetero allies at Halloweentide. I'm hardly the most qualified person to teach Introduction to Drag, but regular contact with the sub-subculture has forced me to tackle some of the essay questions for myself. Of course, there's one question, multiple choice, that I'm still not ready to answer: Would I want to be called Miss Foxtrot, or Ms.?
Jim Foti is a Minneapolis editor and writer whose Q Monthly column debuts this month. His future columns will look at gay culture and other topics from a personal perspective. He can be reached at JimFotiQ@aol.com.