Coming this fall

A new issue
every other Friday

The long lost story of Mother Flawless Sabrina / by Dale W. Eisinger


by the Sisterhood of the Traveling Bats
Starless Night / Are You Seeing This?

by Ronnie Nordac
Ronnie Nordac Tries 2 B Tru.

by Faye Orlove
All hail (and then color) America's Next Drag Superstar.

Drag 101
An ongoing compilation of our favorite drag performances.

Jack Doroshow is a walking hot dog. It’s a warm Saturday afternoon in October, weeks before Halloween, and the 75-year-old wears a costume that turns him into a mustard-slathered wiener in a bun. He’s ambling with a sleek rosewood cane from the crowded corner of 15th and 5th in Manhattan, through Madison Square, and up to Bryant Park. Curtis Carmen, Jack’s boyfriend of 34 years, wears a cardboard box, with a cartoonish hot dog drawn on it—he’s a “conceptual hot dog.” This procession has nothing to do with Halloween. And Jack, with his coke-bottle

glasses, Gray Asics sneakers, baldhead topped with the dome of this wiener, all dressed upin that hot dog guise… Jack smiles with the enthusiasm of a young man. It’s a nearly crooked, wolfish grin that spreads to his eyes, suddenly bright with the punch line of a joke, bright as his flawless teeth. When asked, “Where are you going?” He replies with his Philly-by-New York City accent, “The grocery store.”

As loud as Jack’s costume is, the hot dog is of the more understated . . .

A radical reconsideration of RuPaul's
reality show / by Allison Francis

As a casually aspiring drag performer, RuPaul’s Drag Race is my most cherished self-indulgent entertainment. As a politically-minded radical queer, it’s my  biggest source of oppression-related cringes. Drag in and of itself is subversive, but the drag culture depicted on Drag Race is just a wigged, mascara’d, and tucked status quo. 

The premise is simple, parodying shows like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway: get a bunch of drama queens with huge personalities battle for attention, a shit-ton of money, and promotional opportunities. RuPaul, the legendary drag performer who werked his way from rags to riches in the 90s, presides over the competition with unmatched fierceness and more backhanded comments than the drunk homophobe cousin at your family’s Thanksgiving dinner table.

Without a critical eye, Drag Race may seem like a fabulously inclusive window into drag culture. Black queens, white queens, Puerto Rican queens, fat queens, and queens of many ages share the runway, partaking in ridiculous and impressive challenges to become “America’s next drag superstar.” But the visible diversity in races, ages, and size only leads to vicious stereotyping and discrimination amongst the queens based on these differences.

Judges describe Black queens as exotic and fiery, Latin@ queens as spicy and caramel, fat queens as frivolous and sassy. Queens occasionally become frustrated with being boxed into their socially predetermined roles, and attempt to break out. Almost without fail, they are criticized, ridiculed, and told to play up their strengths. RuPaul and the judges claim they want to see contestants take risks, but when those risks include challenging the status quo, the consequences are real – at least as real as anything is on a reality show.

Drag Race disguises cruelty and

violence as ambitious competition. Even a casual viewer needn’t look far for hella problematic behavior. During season four’s “Frock the Vote,” RuPaul challenges contestants to promote a campaign for their presidency. Contestant Phi Phi O’Hara plays a Sarah-Palin-type character and goes so far as to refer to the Black contestants as “the help.” She gets some flack, but instead of her behavior being named as the racist violence it is, it’s grouped in with the typical petty drama of any reality show. When Manila Luzon, a top contender of season three, plays a Japanese news anchor with an exaggerated thick accent, contestants argue about whether her act was racist. Ultimately, the judges reward the “risky decision” by praising Manila’s act, saying “it was so wrong, it was right.”

On every season, concerned contestants attribute any and all shortcomings of one of the tokenized Puerto Rican queens to the dreaded “language barrier.” RuPaul and the judges nod in agreement, enforcing thinly-veiled excuses to take queens down a notch because they are not American-born. Only once can I remember a contestant naming oppression for what it was: in the All Stars season, Alexis Mateo declares that the only reason she and her fellow Puerto Rican teammate Yaara Sofia “get read” by the other queens is because English is not their first language. Unsurprisingly, her comments are written off as emotional and without any real substance.

Drag culture shouldn’t enforce the gender binary, but on Drag Race, it does. Contestants who stray from being anything other than a gay man dressing up as a feminine woman run the risk of having to “lip sync for their lives” to avoid being eliminated. In season four, Milan pulls off a fierce Janelle Monae tribute, smooth moves and all, but is totally discredited because she “looks like a boy.” What does a boy look like? What the fuck is the point of challenging . . .

On the problems and potentials of identity play / by Chris Lee

As a form of performance, drag is politically fraught -- in part because drag tends to negotiate gender presentation, which is necessarily political, in part because the idea of parodying gender stereotypes bolsters the political theory that gender might itself be performance. Drag, as some queer theorists have suggested, has the potential to expose gender categories as acquired, rather than essential. But first, an admission: drag doesn’t always act against expectation; some drag in fact colludes with social norms, mining discomfort for mainstream derision.

The historied tradition of male actors dressing as women speaks to the capacity of drag practices to codify existing social mores; popular media like Tootsie, Bosom Buddies, and the unfortunately-named Juwanna Mann depict drag as a technique of necessity, performed for the sake of employment or, curiously, in service of a romantic subplot. Any threat that drag might pose to the masculinity mythos is counteracted by the presence of a desirable and biological woman, whose affections are at once complicated by drag, and then clarified through the revelation that the dubious female impersonator is, after all, a respectable man with respectable male urges.

That many depictions of drag concern heterosexual courtship is a common but confusing trope in popular media. Drag can empower men to get closer to women, demonstrating their ‘feminine side’ and

thus winning women’s hearts for the sake of a tidy narrative. The humor grounded in this kind of drag preys on the anxieties of the straight mind; laughing at drag is enacted at the cost of queer identities, reinforcing rather than resisting the taboo of even lightly disturbing the gender binary -- that is, for reasons other than career advancement or heterosexual desire.

Drag is rendered acceptable for straight men to the extent that their discomfort with it is registered and acknowledged; arguably this implementation of drag practices, masculinity unceremoniously furnished with a dress or wig, fails to meet the aesthetic sensibilities of gender illusion. This is not to discount the mainstream appropriation of drag techniques, but to acknowledge that the political stakes of drag might be more adequately pinned to the character of the contemporary drag queen.

Drag queens gesture at a different political resonance because their performance of female impersonation -- a composition of cosmetics, clothing, and articulation -- is spectacular in a culturally significant way. Spectacular also in the modernist sense, as the ‘art of drag’ invites and skews voyeuristic viewership. Indeed the most visible and popular modes of drag performance, staged in the showgirl tradition, are spun from the objectified archetype of the chanteuse-starlet. On . . .

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