Venus Boyz

Venus Boyz is a documentary film directed by Gabriel Baur in the 1996 New York City life. Various participants of the LGBT community showed a creative and insightful look into their everyday lives. This documentary showed Drag King and Queens in and out of their characters. These people opened up their sexual life, their family life, and a small glimpse into the inside of their beautiful realistic mind.

The following characters below are biological female:

Bridge Markland who is androgynous person plays Karl and Angela. Karl is a sweet, king and non violent man. Angela is sex bomb that radiates self confidence. Bridge lives in Berlin and expresses herself as a neutral person, not expressing either genders.

Shelly Mars is an aggressive female that expresses that personality as MO B Dick. Shelly has been a Drag King for 20 years and performs alongside other Drag Kings in the bar in New York City.

Mildred Gerestant is a person that does not categorize his/her gender. He/she says in the documentary “I’m not a Butch or femme. I just–whatever im feeling. I can be one way one day and another way the other. I just know it.” Mildred is a quite shy and to herself during her full time job as a computer analysis. But when she changes into Dred he becomes an erotic, lively man that says or does whatever he wants.

Image result for venus boyz

Storme Webber knows Mildred as his “Granny”. Storme was born and raised with a lesbian mother and a bisexual African American father. For being exposed to the queer culture as a young girl, Storme developed the mindset to handle anyone looking at her/him through outlooks only through distinct race and gender. As a transgender he/she is drawn to identity indifference, it gives a sense of comfort. He/she express,

“And so with Masculinity its the same. Its what surrounds it you know, its this its always a, the dichotomy, its the moving forward and the holding back and the being vulnerable and this is what is interesting that’s what i find that makes any performance good passion.”

Diane Torr mostly enjoys portraying herself as male characters. In her previous years before drag she was was married and had a daughter. But she wasn’t happy with herself, and so she found something that made her feel comfortable, which was being a Drag King most of her every day life. She feels more respected and more confident living as a man and dating butch lesbians. She also explains the outlook on women,

“As woman its like were open for access 24 hours a day.

 

People have to like us. That’s like the ruling thing in our psy

ches. So what does it mean to be a woman? What kind of a woman am I? I want you to like me. I want you to hold me. I want you to fulfill my dreams.”

Judith Halberstam a gender theorist says:

“We don’t as individuals reinvent the meaning of gender. Each person individually, one person at a time. We, we come in to genders that have already being constructed for us within political, economic, social cultural context. So what we do, when we are in agenda is perform an already socially constructed script.”

All of these participants may not identify as a female in this documentary biut make no mistake,they love their genitals and do not want surgeries to permanently keep them from being a biological female. Not many people outside of the LGBT community such as myself knew their are Drag Queens and Kings, who are both fighting to break stereotypes given to them.

In class we discussed the comparisons and contrasts of Caityln Jenner and the character Moira in the move “Transparent”. Although Caitlyn does not perceive highly to some members of the transgender community, she still suffered in what every woman in the documentary has gone through; and that is being an outsider.Moira in the show does show authenticity and reliability which more transgender people can gravitate towards but it was just a character in a TV series. Desire, sexual orientation, body, romance have no gender identity labeled with only men and woman, but i feel only pure satisfaction and self acceptance to ones self.

 

Sharon Needles

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 2.11.50 PM

Sharon Needles is by far my favorite drag performer. She embodies a drag persona that consistently challenges it’s own culture – the high-femme of drag queens – with her love of shock value. Her persona is strongly androgyne, and at other times “dusty-femme,” (defined below) but is presented within an art that most often deliberately acts in strict opposition to traditional gender display. Traditional here meaning consistent with one’s biological sex and accordingly masculine or feminine. Drag performers typically embody the opposite side of the gender binary to an exaggerated degree, which often produces a parody and theatrical performance of culturally constructed traditional gender – this can be seen in Ru Paul, Adore Delano, Alaska Thunderfuck, Courtney Act, etc. Sharon Needles does not seem to follow this “rule” of drag queen culture.

I consider dusty-femme to be a persona that is not traditionally feminine, but still is feminine: it is hard to see (it is “dusty”); it is rough around the edges, blunt, and/or crude, yet ultimately femininely styled. The mode of dress, including makeup and hair, is not always finely groomed, or elegantly presented, but the bodily movements are. This aesthetic is exemplified in the video “Kai Kai” with Sharon’s frizzy yellow hair, dark lipstick, and marijuana-leaf dress paired with femininely stylized movements. It is exemplified also in the glam-goth aesthetic of “Dressed to Kill” and “Call me on the Ouija Board.”

 

Call me on the Ouija Board

In both of these videos, Sharon Needles embodies a glam-goth aesthetic, which I consider to fall under the category of dusty-femme. In my observations and understandings, goth-aesthetic embodying females are generally viewed as unfeminine in relation to traditional female identity as a “pretty woman” (the woman we see in mass media) and thus mostly undesirable to our heterosexist and misogynistic culture at large – it is not the “proper” way to be feminine and female. It’s heavy and dark, blunt and overt, as opposed to light and passive.  Sharon Needles is the goth woman with traditional power, creating glamorous femininity with elegant movement on the fashion runway in “Dressed to Kill.”

Note: Not that upholding traditional values of the necessity of femininity in females and/or women is a great thing, but drag is an intentional performance of gender, and Sharon Needles performs well.

However, in “Call me on the Ouija Board” for a portion of the video she creates a sort of meta-drag with goth aesthetic – a male, impersonating a female, dressed in partial men’s attire. She pulls it off well, maintaining an air of femininity with elegant movements, but in partial male dress – producing a very powerful androgynous glam-goth woman complete with dark eye makeup, short black hair, long black nails, red eyes, red tie, white button-up, black dress, an aesthetically pleasing black hat, and words of ouija boards.
Sharon Needles
The androgynous figure she embodies in “Call me on the Ouija Board” calls to mind Judith Halberstam’s An Introduction to Female Masculinity as well as Judith Butler’s explanations of performance and performativity.

 

Kai Kai – Sharon Needles and Alaska Thunderfuck

I’d like to consider the approach of this video to be a parody of Pure Camp. According to Susan Sontag in “Notes on Camp,” Pure Camp is essentially naive and serious, in that the seriousness fails to be serious. This means that Pure Camp cannot be obtained with the intention to produce Camp because then it is not naive. The very statement of “going camping” is an act of deliberate Camp; deliberate camp is produced with the intention to be Campy. Alaska and Sharon fantastically, with exaggerated inflection, refer to going camping declaring, “It will be Pure Camp!” I analyze this to be a statement with deliberate intention to be paradoxical. It is not Pure Camp, and is thus a parody of Pure Camp. It is Camp that knows itself to be Camp while claiming the opposite. Camp itself has an element of parody, and self-parody, seeming to make this production a parody of parody, and under this analysis, is unquestionably humorous.
It’s certain that “Kai Kai” is Camp – it is very stylized, very exaggerated, and essentially contentless – much like John Waters film “Pink Flamingos.” In “Pink Flamingos” it is impossible to draw symbolic meaning. Every image is exaggerated and stylized to a point of unreal-ness. It is a great example of Camp (maybe even parody Camp) and is a fantastic representation of, to quote Susan Sontag, “things-being-what-they-are not.”

 

“Notes on Camp” – Susan Sontag: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Sontag-NotesOnCamp-1964.html

The Try Guys Open Eyes

From Left to Right: Ned, Zach, Keith, Eugene

The Try Guys is a group of four guys that tries things most men have never considered or would never consider trying. Buzzfeed conceptualized The Try Guys in September of 2014 when Buzzfeed released “Guys Try On Ladies’ Underwear For The First Time // Try Guys.” Since then, The Try Guys have exploded on the internet gaining increasing popularity among Buzzfeed’s avid YouTube viewers. The group consists of a fairly standard circle of four guys: Eugene—the cool, talented, and pretty one; Ned—the cute, silly, and fatherly figure; Keith—the kooky, awkward, intellectual; and Zach—the nerdy, weird, omega of the wolf pack. Together, these four have experienced anything from trying drag to nude sushi modeling to pseudo-childbirth to BDSM, all while allowing the YouTube audience to vicariously experience such activities accompanied by the guys personal insight.

This group is an important addition to this archive not only because of their willingness to cover taboo topics publicly for anyone to see (such as drag, nude male modeling, and male stripping), but because of who the four guys are. Aside from the civil rights oriented Eugene (who happens to be the only non-white member of the group), the group consists of fairly normative, presumably straight, white guys. This makes the group have so much influential potential; the group reaches out to a demographic of people who are arguably a conservative and judgmental group of people—straight, white guys—and allows them to see that a lot of “gay” things to do may not be stupid, weird, or “gay,” but actually very interesting, fun, and even liberating. Additionally, it also gives out the message that, “if they did it, and they’re cool and normal, then I guess it isn’t weird.” More importantly, Buzzfeed also has other audiences of many different demographics that these videos are viewed by both in the U.S. and around the world; to these audiences, this can send out the message that not all straight, white guys are the stereotypical, closed-minded person that many think. All of this added together just creates a recipe destined for positive influences.

We can see The Try Guys’s influence to multiple demographics (including worldwide audiences) in this clip from a video posted November 21, 2015 (from 2:30-2:37).

In two specific videos, “The Try Guys Try Drag For The First Time” and “The Try Guys Try ‘Fifty Shades’ Style BDSM,” The Try Guys cover topics directly related to this class. In these videos, The Try Guys explore the topics by performing them personally; this allows the guys to ask the very common questions anyone unfamiliar with the topics has and also bust any myths or misconceptions about the topics.

As we experienced in the Gender Performativity unit, specifically RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag performance is not some crazy act by men to get into the pants of other men, nor is it strictly for the purpose of “being a woman.” Instead, we saw that drag is like a theater performance; the actors do it for their personal desires—whether it be to enact a persona, entertain an audience, or to be a queen for a day, etc.—and the audience watches for entertainment, for a unique experience performed with skill creativity, and heart. The Try Guys give us all of this and more; we get to see their personal journey of a day in drag along with how their closest family and friends felt about the experience. Throughout their journey we find that the experience was one of hesitation at first, but ended with a finish of satisfaction and liberation. We see this best when Zach says, “there’s a fear of compromising your masculinity, but who cares.”

The Try Guys and their endeavors continue in another video where we get to watch and learn about BDSM with a professional, The Try Guys, and few female Buzzfeed coworkers. We start off with the Buzzfeed employee’s personal misconceptions about BDSM followed by an explanation by the knowledgeable Buzzfeed workers. This parallels Pat Califia’s explanation of BDSM; Califia shares what many think of BDSM followed by her explanation of why these misconceptions are not accurate representation of what BDSM actually is. Just like for Califia, Buzzfeed and The Try Guys are trying to dismantle the taboo of BDSM and show its true inner workings, specifically that BDSM is not crazy and violent sexual assault, but rather a consensual role playing coupled with a power dynamic and strong physical sensations. Together, I think the video and Califia’s work exemplify that, as Califia explains, BDSM is a fantasy where participants are enhancing sexual experience, not impeding it.

Because of such progressive work reaching out to a vast and varying audience, I believe The Try Guys are just one step in the right direction to help thwart misconceptions of taboo topics in our world. Much of their content is enlightening and entertaining; I highly recommend that, if you haven’t already, check out the rest of their videos. They have done plenty to bring a little perspective to their audience, and it looks like they have just scratched the surface.

Dancing, Drugs, and Dopamine

      Imagine a world where there is nothing but dancing, drugs, and dopamine. A world where you can snap your fingers and the most glamorous, exciting night is right in front of you. Parties, elaborate costumes, music; what can go wrong?  In the film “Party Monster” directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, Macaulay Culkin plays Michael Alig, a club promoter and leading member of the Club Kids of New York City, which hosted this glamorous lifestyle in the late 80’s and early 90’s that seemed to rise at the snap of Alig’s fingers. This euphoric and fabulous life was all Michael wanted, so he pursued his dreams and moved to the city to later establish the Club Kids, where he hosted parties and people came dressed in outrageous costumes. Mostly flamboyant and drag-like personas emerged. The Club Kids grew and grew until they were hugely prominent in the underground club scene. Alig learns to rules of fabulousness from James St. James (Seth Green), and he takes flight from there. “Party Monster” does a fine job in depicting Michael Alig and the Club Kids, and I believe it is a spectacle of queer culture that is important to take a look at.

Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin as James St. James and Michael Alig

     The darkness that was behind Michael Alig is something very important to understand “Party Monster” gives us a very accurate presentation of drugs that drove Alig to madness. Being an addict, Alig could never get enough. In almost every scene of the film, we see him high or using. It’s crucial to learn the role of drugs in this underground club life that Alig was basically constructing for himself. Some may argue the lifestyle wouldn’t even be sustained without them. Much of the plot is driven by his drug use, such as his overdose, being warned about them; his relationships are even sustained by them in certain ways. The phrase “dinner is served” is used multiple times throughout the film referring to the drugs he’s prepared for a large group or even an intimate night with James. Almost every action Michael performs in this film is under the influence of hard drugs such as heroine, ketamine, or methamphetamine.  

Macaulay Culkin as Michael Alig

      Murder is also a theme in this film. Part of Alig’s darkness is his real tendency to kill. He brutally murders his lover, Angel (while high) and dismembers his body. He stuffs his legs in a garbage bag and puts the rest of the remains in a box. Eventually he confesses and was sent to prison for manslaughter. This murder resulted from a long argument about drugs. He was so high he barely remembered his actions. 

Culkin and Green post-murder scene

      The culture and goal of this film, in my opinion, is not to just tell a story of Michael Alig and the Club Kids, but to really show darkness and pain that is behind the glitz and glamour of what often is, queer culture and practice (but not all). The culture of queer club scenes, underground drag, and practice cult-like groups, etc. There is a strong parallel between this film and “Pink Flamingos”. There are lines that both can connect to such as brutality and darkness, yet glamour and some sort of “perfect world”. Alig believed his club promoting and Club Kids was his perfect world, just like Divine did with her group. When actually, the reality of what they were engaging in was nothing but destructive. Like we discussed with “Shortbus”, and the actual existence of these kind of places, there is a certain set of “rules” and “norms” that govern these kinds of places always led by this great and fabulous leader. Justin Vivian Bond, Michael Alig, and Divine are all faces of their own “clubs” who really act as the eyes, ears, and especially mouths of these environments. “Party Monster” is a really important addition to queer film, in my opinion, and the true story of Michael Alig is something to take notice of when learning the history and culture of the queer club scene. 

Macaulay Culkin, Wilson Cruz, Seth Green

“Party Monster” movie poster

Sunday Lush (Fictional Character)

A senior at FIT in NYC, Antonio Devita lives his life college student by day, drag queen by night. Sunday Lush, Devita’s drag queen was created to criticize the idea of perfection. Devita is from an Italian family, raised in the abnormally conservative town of Plainfield, Pennsylvania. He attended the Big Spring School District, a school located in the middle of farm fields. This small town impacts Devita’s performance in a huge way. Devita’s first major experiences with queer culture began in this town. While the majority of the high school population spent their time going to vocational school or volunteering at the fire department, Devita spent his days in room 219. Mrs. Mitsliski was an art teacher Devita spent a lot of time around. His experience with high school art not only developed his skills; it liberated him from the harsh conservatism of the community.
After graduating, Devita began his journey in New York City at the Fashion Institute of Technology (his dream school). Devita explained how drag wasn’t something he fell into overnight. Rather, it was an artistic process and personal development. Devita said he started painting on canvases, and then moved to painting on his face to create fictional characters. Because Devita is so heavily involved with fashion, he learned how to use fabrics and materials to express himself artistically. The combination of fashion and art is what moved him to drag. NYC also plays an esse10650060_1624554744452452_5734296502450745139_nntial role in Devita’s drag life. It has brought him endless opportunities and supports his journey.
The drag culture Devita partakes in is very relative to the unit on gender and our exploration of drag. The class studied RuPaul and other drag stars. Devita explained that his role models vary based on the character persona he portrays. Pop culture icons like Brittany, Madonna, and Cher are frequent inspirations. Devita also expressed his appreciation and inspiration in his mother. Regardless of the inspiration, the theme of strong women is the backbone of Devita’s role models. The class through the entire gender unit has also focused on the strength in femininity.
As an overall analysis, Sunday Lush is essentially a climax for Devita. After growing up in a picture perfect town ruled by narrow minded conservatives, Sunday Lush has allowed Devita to break free. Sunday Lush is a criticism of the community he came from and “picture perfect girls”.
He was once approached by a stranger in a café (without makeup). The stranger asked “are you Sunday Lush?”
“Yeah.”
“Well I fucking hate you.”
That was when Devita decided that this kind of hate would fuel Sunday Lush. She is the embodiment of hate towards anything that goes against the grain, especially women and the LBGT+ community. The hate is why Sunday Lush is so successful. Coming from such a small town, Sunday Lush helps Devita make a comeback at the ‘picture perfect’ town he came from. As Devita wraps up his senior year, he is unsure of whether he will go back to grad school, or pursue a job. One thing he knows, is that Sunday Lush will be with him forever.

 

To see more pictures, check out the Facebook and Instagram pages:

https://www.facebook.com/sundaelushh?fref=ts

https://instagram.com/explore/tags/sundaylush/

Taxi Zum Klo

The film “Taxi Zum Klo” is a semi-autobiographical movie from the year 1980, and is about an elementary school teacher who is forced to live a triple life at work and then at night. It was written and directed by Frank Ripploh who is played by himself in the film. This movie takes place in West Berlin which an island surrounded by East Germany. When this film was released in 1980, West Berlin was a capitalist culture surrounded by communism. The main character Frank Ripploh pretends to be straight during the day and then lives as an open gay man and sometimes a drag queen at night. In order to maintain his occupation and fit in with society, Mr. Ripploh is forced to conceal his urges to be with other men.

The first side of Frank Ripploh’s life that is revealed is his role as an elementary school teacher. It can be assumed by his lack of seriousness and passion for his job, that Ripploh is not feeling fulfilled by his job and he does not like this part of his life. Ripploh only attends school events when they are required, he grades his student’s papers in the bathroom stalls, and he even used a student’s notebook to write down a guy’s number at a gas station. Immediately after teaching his class, Ripploh rushes to the bathroom to cruise with other men to satisfy his needs and urges that must be ignored as a straight schoolteacher. I would argue that Frank Ripploh is very unhappy while at work, even if he does not realize it. Instead of focusing on his duties as a teacher he is fantasizing about what he will do when he goes out at night.Taxi Zum Klo Teacher

Secondly, Frank Ripploh is shown cruising when he is in pursuit of anonymous gay sex. A majority of this cruising took place in the bathrooms, but there were also some scenes in the woods and other random public places. Despite the constant cruising and random hookups, one of his inner conflicts is that he has a current steady boyfriend named Bernd who is expecting a monogamous relationship. However, Ripploh is not satisfied by a relationship only with Bernd. Frank Ripploh needs more sex and titillation in his life, so he turns to cruising to pursue this alternate lifestyle.

Lastly, towards the end of the film Frank Ripploh goes to Berlin’s annual queen ball where he expresses his third lifestyle as a drag queen named Peggy. During this part of Ripploh’s life, he is free to explore sex with other men and other drag queens. There is a scene where Ripploh is dancing with another guy right in front of his boyfriend Bernd, and this upsets Bernd but also turns him on at the same time.Taxi Zum Klo Drag Queen Peggy

Frank Ripploh’s monogamous relationship with Bernd filled some of his needs. Although it left him feeling bored and he wanted the relationship to work, he knew that it was not fulfilling all of his needs. Bernd was a “wallflower” and Frank needed a “wildflower!” His desire to be free and live without rules eventually had a stronger pull on him, and he gave into it. As Ripploh danced with strangers right in front of his boyfriend Bernd, he gave in to the excitement that he craved even though he knew he could be crushing any chance of maintaining a meaningful, committed relationship.

Frank Ripploh’s worlds collide at the very end of the movie when the reality that his life as a drag Queen, his desire to have random sexual partners and his job as a fourth grade teacher can no longer coexist. At the very end we watch Frank Ripploh struggle with a deep inner conflict when he shows up to his job dressed in drag and gives his students the opportunity to play a game with dice where they write down a list of six things they would do if they had no rules. The students became very aggressive, destructive and out of control which was a compelling parallel to Ripploh’s own chaotic and conflicted life. When the students left he rolled his own dice, but only expressed two options of resolution. Suicide was a thought but was quickly dismissed as too dramatic and the other option of settling down with Bernd just did not seem possible either. It seemed this collision of worlds was a sad but true reality check that forced the realization that although he wished to be a monogamous man and get back with Bernd, he knew that was not a life he could live. He had to face the fact that the same issues would just repeat and he found no resolution at all.

I chose this archive because from the description of the film I felt like it had many parallels to this course. “Taxi Zum Klo” and “Cruising” are very similar in that they both took place in 1980, and they both portrayed a strong emphasis on cruising in the gay culture during that time.

There is a very strong parallel between the aggressive, destructive, and out of control students and Ripploh’s chaotic and destructive life. When Ripploh asked the students what they would do if there were no rules, their unruly response was in fact representative of Ripploh’s life. He is basically living life with no rules, because he was engaging in sex with who he wants, whenever he wants, even when he is supposed to be in a monogamous relationship. The students’ behavior became chaotic without their regular structure and rules, like when Ripploh pursues cruising and dressing in drag, the more exciting part of his life that he feverishly desires.

More specifically, there is a parallel between Ripploh’s relationships with the students and Bernd. On a typical school day, the pupils in Ripploh’s class sit quietly obeying the rules, which can be boring and stagnant, much like the relationship between Ripploh and Bernd. While their relationship could at times be boring, it was also steady, but Ripploh struggles with that lack of stimulation. The students following the rules is parallel to Frank being with Bernd, it is not the most exhilarating relationship but for sure it is a more reliable and stable path.

Queering Racist Symbols

While watching the movie “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar”, I was so wrapped up in the plot that I did not notice the big details. One of the larger details that I missed that was brought up in class is the moment in the film when RuPaul dressed in the confederate flag at a drag ball. The ball occurs in the beginning of the film; the three main characters are in a competition to take the ball’s title. RuPaul is introduced as last year’s winner and makes her début donning the glamorous confederate flag gown. RuPaul is one of the most widely known drag queens. She is an actor, recording artist, television show host, and has been the face of drag queens for quite some time.

Not only is RuPaul’s dress made from the confederate flag, but also the dress is made to be very extravagant and glittered. RuPaul has taken the very negative symbol that goes against even aspect of her character – black male, queer, drag queen – and turned it into a freaking dress. If that is not a huge   to the confederate flag and its meaning, I do not know what is.

RuConfed

There has been a controversial debate around what the confederate flag represents. Some people believe it is a symbol of southern pride – while most recognize the confederate flag as a symbol of racism and a reference to the horrible acts perpetuated against black people during that time. The flag also represents white supremacy and the push that happened against the civil rights movement. In my opinion, if the confederate flag is considered a symbol of southern pride, we have to take into consideration the period in which this represents. The south openly embraced slavery and the lynching of black peoples during the time the confederate flag was embraced. It is also important to note that this era has not ended, these acts have just changed form and are still perpetrated in a different manner. Southern pride must include that history so if you are claiming to embrace racist ideals. During the time of the confederate flag, this was also southern pride:

The only difference between these two images is that this image cannot be put on a flag and be mainstream.

Why is RuPaul wearing this symbol of racism and white supremacy?

Elizabeth Freeman would describe this phenomenon in terms of “temporal drag”. According to Freeman’s piece “Time Binds”, “temporal drag is a productive obstacle to progress, a usefully distorting pull backward, and a necessary pressure on the present tense”. Temporal drag is when a specific object representing a certain culture is revamped. This remaking is meant to conjure memories of the past, but not continuing or mocking it; it is remodeled for a different reason.

I agree with partially with Freeman’s concept of temporal drag. I agree with the notion of an object of the past being created into a new entity, however, I do feel like RuPaul was mocking it. I believe she was showing that the flag meant absolutely nothing and was just another piece of fabric. Drag queens are known for two actions: performing and “reading”. Reading, in drag queen terms, is a form of publicly making fun of someone. I believe RuPaul was definitely reading those individuals who embrace that flag by making it into a dress and performing for those at the ball. She was demonstrating how much she did not care about the meaning of the confederate flag and showing the lack of respect for it. The flag means the world to some people and she was showing them that the flag and it meaning actually meant nothing.

In carrying out this performative reading, I believe RuPaul is concurrently reaching for something else, something deeper. As Jose Munoz said in his novel “Cruising Utopia”, “Turning to the aesthetic in the case of queerness is nothing like an escape from the social realm, insofar as queer aesthetics map future social relations. Queerness is also a performative because it is not simply a being but a doing for and toward the future. Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.” In a way, I believe RuPaul was performing the acceptance of all people. By making that flag into an extravagant gown, she is rejecting white supremacy and the systems that are created by that supremacy which oppress groups of people.

I believe there are many reasons why RuPaul decided to wear that dress instead of verbalizing her opinion. However, the main reason could be that she did not want to spend time explaining how she felt to those who would questioned her.

Audre Lorde said it best, “Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.” Why should those that are oppressed explain their plights and their feelings to the oppressors? In order to avoid that explanation, RuPaul decided to wear that gown instead of speaking her feelings. If the oppressors want to understand the oppressed, they need to do research of their own instead expecting the oppressed to explain everything.

Portlandia

“Every time you point, I see a penis.”

This line from Portlandia’s genius sketch, Feminist Bookstore, is just one of the many outrageous exchanges between Toni and Candace, the two owners of “Women and Women First Bookstore” who happen to be the most extreme and comical illustrations of a feminist.

The Independent Film Channel’s Portlandia is a sketch comedy starring Carrie Brownstein and SNL’s Fred Armisen, who were also the creative minds behind the show. As assumed from the title, the show is filmed in Portland, Oregon and highlights many of the quirky landmarks around the city. Portlandia first aired on January 21st, 2011 and is going strong in its 5th season which is currently on air. There are several sketches that have consistent story lines from episode to episode, as well as some gems that only pop up once; but no matter the sketch, Fred and Carrie take the lead. This creates some very unique skits in which Fred and Carrie assume a somewhat unconventional character and or dress in drag.

Portland itself is a very notable location in queer culture. The city has adopted a fantastic stereotype of being the most alternative place in America, and is regarded as a safe space for any and all oddities. Natives have embraced the slogan “Keep Portland Weird,” which originally acted as a support to local businesses, however it has evolved into a mantra that encourages uniqueness and eccentric individuals. The city wholeheartedly falls under the category as a queer space.

It only makes sense that the show capitalizes on the alternative nature of Portland. Fred and Carrie, through the story they tell with their characters, truly bend the norm of our standard patriarchal society. One of the most extraordinary parts of the show is a sketch titled “Lance and Nina.” For starters, Fred and Carrie portray the role of a boyfriend and girlfriend, however Fred acts as Nina and Carrie as Lance. Besides being outrageously clever, this skit also highlights non-traditional relationships. Portlandia provides a really rare balance between bending the norms while still maintaining a realistic vibe that does not make the audience question the genuine nature of the sketch.

Portlandia uses stereotypes to its advantage in illustrating ridiculous customs. The theme of the “wedding” has made several appearances in the show, and essentially everything upper-middle class Americans know and love about weddings is thrown to the side. A clip titled “Gay Weddings” is the best example of Fred and Carrie ironically shutting down a heterosexual wedding for being too gay. This moment in the show ultimately poked fun at the bland standard for a “straight” wedding all in a hilarious one-minute video.

Portlandia is important in queer culture for many reasons already explained. But what makes the show stand out even more is that it aims to override many truths of our society through a light-hearted, comedic script. As Monique Wittig wrote in The Straight Mind, “(D)iscourses of heterosexuality oppress us in the sense that they prevent us from speaking unless we speak in their terms.” Portlandia uses a discourse that is fresh and does not seek to fit in any existing category.

Miss Coco Peru- Comedian, Actress, World Savior

“We gender benders understand that if you have the balls to change yourself, you have the power to change the world.”

On any given Friday night, you are likely to find one Miss Coco Peru giving a stand up routine to some crowded theater, maybe throwing in a signature song or two to get her audience laughing. For over 20 years, Clinton Leupp has been putting on his infamous wig and becoming Miss Coco Peru.

During the week, you are more likely to find Coco volunteering at one of LA’s many LGBTQ help centers. Often still donning her red hair, she dedicates her days to making the world a better place. Although for many drag is only an avenue for entertainment, Coco has embraced the role of drag queen in a larger way. 

During her speech at the 38th Gala Event for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Coco shared why she got started in drag.

“Drag for me was born out of a calling to be an activist. I was living at home in the Bronx, and although I was fortunate to be out, it was the late 80s and it was a scary time for a young gay man in New York City. It was a time when walking down the street you could see the effect of AIDS on people walking towards you. People you knew were suddenly unrecognizable, and it scared the hell out of me. It also made me feel like I had to do something.”

Miss Coco was inspired to become and activist and help her community. However, she knew that in order to make an impact, she had to be visible. She empathizes storytelling as one of the best ways to educate people on issues that are unknown or controversial. The personal impact of someone’s own story is more likely to resonate with people. Coco employs gender bending as a way to help vocalize her story and the larger story of the community. She takes all the negative that is thrown at the LGBTQ community and throws it right back by celebrating it.

“I always felt the way to educate people who didn’t understand me was to tell my story, but I took it a step further, and I made the choice to embrace everything I had ever been taught to hate about myself and instead glorify it, celebrate it. I would embrace my two spirit nature with the intention that if people could listen to my story and forget all this (gesturing to her full drag), they would realize that despite appearances, it is what is on the inside that matters. And that what every human being wants and deserves is love, respect, equality, and justice. With that in mind, I created Coco Peru, and it became my mission to empower my community while letting the world know that drag queens empower a powerful law of mama nature’s. And that is, if you transform the outer, you can transform the inner, and vice-versa, if you transform the inner, you can transform the outer. Yes, we gender benders understand that if you have the balls to change yourself, you have the power to change the world.”

And so Coco began a long acting career both on screen and on stage. Notably, she starred in “Girls Will Be Girls”, “Trick”, and even “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything. Julie Newmar.” You may remember her as the angry drag queen who missed the opportunity to take the trip to California.

However, the majority of Coco’s career has been her stand up routines. For almost 20 years she has been both empowering and inspiring her audiences, while almost making the laugh out loud. Take a look:

Coco continued her activism work alongside her acting work. She helped create the bullying documentary “Teach Your Children Well” and she spends much of her time volunteering for organizations like the Trevor Project and Aids for Aids. Visibility is a big thing for her, so she shops and goes out in drag. She says this is how she feels most comfortable, and it creates an awareness of the community. You can see one of her shopping experiences here:

Miss Coco Peru just wants to make the world a better place. She says she follows a long history of drag queens making a difference. She recognizes the work that many of the queens have done for the community, which is often overlooked in queer history.

“I want to recognize all the drag queens out there in the world and in the worlds beyond, who despite being the first to start the queer movement at Stonewall and who were also among the first to respond to the AIDS crisis by organizing fundraisers, are often dismissed and their contributions rarely recognized.”

If you would like to listen to her empowering speech, you can find it here:

 

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is an all-male ballet company based out of New York. It was founded in 1974 by a group of ballet enthusiasts and dancers, and in its early years, it performed late shows in Off- and Off-Off-Broadway spaces. The company is famous for its interpretations of classical ballets, which feature male dancers playing the lead female roles. In tutus and en pointe, their performance blends a commitment to iconic choreography and ballet technique, with a camp humor that parodies what is usually a serious art form. They just recently closed a short run at the Joyce Theatre in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, where I saw them perform, before continuing on to dates scheduled around the world.

For the most part, the Trocks (as they are known for short) maintain the choreography from the original productions, swapping in men for the roles usually played by woman. Although they are incredibly physically challenging, these roles demand grace and elegance, qualities usually associated with femininity. In the famous scene of the dying swan from Swan Lake, for example, Ulyana Lopatkina, a prima ballerina for the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia, exudes these qualities:

The dance requires significant skill and training, yet Lopatkina makes it look effortless. As she enters the stage, her torso and her legs form a straight line, while her arms flutter in contrast to suggest the flapping of the swan’s wings. She remains mostly en pointe, which means that she dances on the her tip-toes, yet she never loses her balance. Her steps instead are either small and dainty (the careful tip-toe of the opening) or grand and flowing (the sweeping arches of legs and arms, like at 1:02). Either way her performance achieves the qualities of grace and elegance.

In contrast, the following is the Trockadero interpretation of the same scene, with Ihaia Miller, whose stage name is Maya Thickenthighya, in the role of the swan:

At the beginning of the scene, and for moments throughout, the choreography is the same as the original production. Miller keeps his torso and his legs in a straight line, and the steps that he takes en pointe as he glides across the stage are elegant–each one advances only a little bit so as not to disturb the strong line from the ankle to the head. Although his muscles are bigger than Lopatkina’s, his arm gestures maintain the grace of the swan’s beating wings. Such resemblance between the two performances suggests that feminine qualities need not emanate from feminine bodies. For the young boys who yearned to play these feminine roles throughout their ballet education, such an insight might be obvious, but Les Ballets Trockadero provides an opportunity to realize that desire on a professional stage.

In some of the scenes that the company performs, this resemblance between the original ballerina and the Trockadero ballerina is the primary goal, but like the clip from Swan Lake, most incorporate campy elements that spoof the seriousness of the original. In her iconic essay “Notes on Camp,” Susan Sontag describes this humor as “a vision of the world in terms of style–but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not.”

This exaggeration is throughout the Trockadero performance, but we might see it most clearly in the feathered tutu. In the original, there are no feathers–just a formal tutu of stiff taffeta–but Miller has a feathered tutu that sheds throughout the dance. This shedding adds further drama, visually emphasizing the slow and tragic death of the swan. These feathers continue to fall throughout most of the dance, their ridiculous quantity contributing to the exaggeration. Even the dance gestures are changed, like at 1:20. The camera focuses first on Miller’s legs, whose steps achieve the feminine qualities of grace and elegance. Following the straight vertical line of the body, however, the camera arrives at the feathered tutu. In contrast to her legs, the ballerina’s arms are whapping the tutu with erratic gestures to precipitate the feathers’ fall. The costume, the props, and the dance work together to exaggerate the original production’s pathos, but the performers push it so far that pathos turns to humor. This incongruity is where camp emerges.