What's the...the 'point' of a Drag Show?

I saw Victor, Victoria a day or so ago and I’ve seen The Birdcage, La Cage Aux Folles and Pricilla Queen of the Desert. I can enjoy all of those movies but…I’m at a cultural impasse here.

What’s the…point (artistically) of guys dressing up like women? Why not just see women? I’m not putting a moral judgement on this, but…when I see examples, I get the same sort of “…th’ hell??” reaction I get when I see clips of, say, Kabuki theater.

Anyone able to explain the point? the cultural expectation…the art of a drag show?

If you aren’t a gay man or at least somewhat open to that idea then forget about it, you’re not the target audience.

It’s raunchy comedy for the most part, which sometimes includes political or cultural satire. In the 1970’s drag was part of establishing a gay identity, the exaggerated femininity is a reaction against the fact that most gay man before the 70’s were closeted and had to hide their feminine aspects.

I used to go unwind after long shits of stressful work at a gay bar across street from hospital where I worked in Austin with a lady friend co-worker. She went there to escape guys hitting on her (she was gorgeous and wanted zero attention from guys), so I have seen a few of these type ‘shows’. Kind of shocking if you never seen one, but those folks were doing it for the fun - almost comical fun as mentioned above. It was like no one was really serious about any of it, and most of 'em just hollered and squealed ~‘you go girl’ or whatever. This was mid to late 80’s and things were definitely more hush-hush, even in Austin which was kind of San Fran of 3rd-coast America back then. I really do not know how to succintly explain the motivation of those fellows, but tell ya what, every dang one of them was happy and enjoying the heck outta themselves. I guess its fair to say that they were unwinding in ways they enjoyed, going to extremes as they could not easily do such minimally ‘in public’. Maybe call it going wild after being pent up all week in a disguise they strongly disliked. It made me feel good seeing everyone so happy and comfortable since I would often hear from my cop-relatives of gays getting beat/killed in back alleys, etc. I knew about the other side of their lives, and wished they did not have that crap to deal with.

I learned a LOT about gay culture, and am so grateful that Deana made me go to that bar - fought my ignorance, she did! I even got to listen to Rob Halford (of Judas Priest rock band) there once as he sang tenderish love songs to men-in-leather-dresses (honest!) while playing other great non-metal piano-tunes. His Bach literally rocked. Apparently, Rob wanted to have a few with the ‘guys’ after the concert that night, and I just happened to have gone there that evening after the show with my lady-friend. Imagine my surprise when Halford came in unannounced and asked if he could play the piano awhile - most of the patronage had no idea who he was, but I knew him as the Rock God that he is (and will always be in my heart and mind). My brother, who is/was a huge anti-gay ignoramus still does not believe me. That culture seems to have a hard time being themselves, or having ways to blow off steam, as it were. Turn up their volume to eleven when possible because otherwise they stay muted for safety/fear of being outed (or whatever reason). I bet Halford went by there to scratch his particular itch(es) that he never wanted to show in typical public venues. Like drag shows of OP inquiry, I guess.

Those who are fans of Judas Priest, picture this…Halford singing ‘Last Rose of Summer’ sweet and tender-like to a man in huge bouffant (sp?) wig with pounds of make-up and perfume that chokes you silly while laying across a shiny grand piano. Twists the Metal God image for some folks at first, huh? But damn, what an artist :cool: Halford even went so far as to encourage an impromptu ‘bar show/walk’ with most of the guys there before he had to leave, who strutted their stuff for him so proudly along the made-for-it bar.

Too many folks cannot, or refuse to, understand such mind-sets, but its just how it is. You almost have to see it to understand how much those guys love it, especially when given the chance to let it all hang out (so to speak)/ I know I did not directly answer the OP but maybe gave a little more understanding of how that culture is ‘oppressed’ (lack of better word?) and when given the chance, they take it to eleven because they can.

What’s the point of a ventriloquist act? If you’re going to tell jokes, why not just have a human partner?

The point of a ventriloquist act is a skillful illusion. Aside from the points already mentioned, seeing a male put on a convincing imitation of a woman is a demonstration of artistic skill.

Ionizer, is your brother aware that Halford has come out since then as gay? I think he publicly announced it in 1998.

I don’t do drag, though I once had plans to (comedy genderfuck (we both had beards and no intention of shaving them for the show) drag with another guy who frequented the same bar I did at the time…he was already established as “Cooter DeVille” and I was going to be Cooter’s sister, Caddy…“Momma named me that because I’m built like one!”). Most of the drag shows I see are charity shows, usually for the local AIDS Project. There are also pageants (Miss Laurel Highlands is one of my hometown’s local ones). My cousin (really more complicated than that…his ex-step-grandmother is my aunt) is an up-and-coming drag queen, actually.

These are all wildly different examples of drag, only the last of which I would really classify as containing a ‘drag show’. VV was about a time when it was taboo for women to do theater, so men had to do all the women parts in drag. LCAF is about dressing up like a woman to fool somebody else as part of a comedy of errors. Similar to Mrs Doubtfire. Pricilla though does actually features characters who put on a bona fide drag show.

For the actual drag show, which really can’t be classified as “any form of entertainment in which any act of cross dressing happens in some context”, usually men (often gay but not always) will dress up as women (or the reverse) in particularly exuberant or thematic clothing, and sing or lipsync to showtunes, diva music, or other gay-friendly songs.

What’s the point? It’s entertaining for the audience, and it’s fun for the performers. Same as any other form of entertainment. The singing, dancing, and costume aspects are well grounded in other forms of entertainment, I assume you understand that part. As far as the cross dressing, there’s different reasons for different performers, but I think they all boil down to either free expression, or comedy, both of which boil further down into playing with expectations and having fun.

Definitely aware of it. He is of mindset that there is NO way a male would ever actually do such things and be functional in any viewable and/or public form of societal interactions. To sum-> ~“those folks live in caves and don’t contribute anything positive. Ever”. Halford really gave me an epiphany of the ‘culture’, not even ten feet from me. Everyone needs an outlet/place to ‘strut their stuff’, to have fun with no one getting hurt, whatever their stuff may be.

Most of the guys I saw there that night did seem to exaggerate their actions/appearances as expressions of their feelings and/or identity. Happiness was all around, true happiness in folks that likely had to instantly hide such things the moment they walked out the door of bar.

Yes, but La Cage (and maybe Birdcage…been a while since I saw it) also have snippets of drag shows, since that’s the whole background of both of them.


Yeah, because gay people haven’t been prominent in the arts (at least) forever. No offense, Ionizer, but your brother’s a neanderthal.

I’m moving this from General Questions to Cafe Society, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

General Questions Moderator

Fenris, you may be interested in watching Paris is Burning to learn more about the subculture, who participates in it, and why.

It’s about expression. It’s about being someone you’re not. That’s why an actor acts. They play a character that they’re not. In a drag show, the actors are playing characters of a different gender. I’ve done Drag King stuff (woman dressing as male) and find it fun to be someone I’m not for a while on stage. It’s exhilarating to play a “dude” for a while… my character was a frat boy type, who would “hit on” all the “hot chicks” there. It was fun to play that for a while. I could really go all out, really lampoon the stereotype, and that’s what makes it funny.

Why watch those students who do birdcalls, who show up on David Letterman once a year? Why not just listen to real birds?

“The astonishing thing about dogs walking about on their hind legs is not that they do it well but that they can do it at all.” – Dr. Johnson. For some reason, this immediately popped into my head.

There are a couple of major transvestite cabarets in Pattaya, over on our Eastern Seaboard: Tiffany and Alcatraz. Can’t seem to find a working website, though. The tour buses line up every night. One or two in Bangkok also, but the Pattaya shows are the big ones.

I’ve seen the Tiffany show. The wife’s office holds an annual meeting upcountry. Sixteen years ago, it was in Jomtien, next to Pattaya. We all went to Tiffany. It was very entertaining. At one point, one of the “girls” even zeroed in on me to come down off the stage and plant a big kiss on my cheek, leaving a giant purple lipstick stain there. The wife’s office was rolling in the aisles.

It was a regular form of nightclub entertainment back in the sixties - “Female Illusionists” were featured performers, with the same status as a headlining comedian. My Dad was a magician/puppeteer, and while he mostly performed for kids, he also had adult and even “blue” material. One of Kansas City’s best drag performers was a family friend, and my parents would sometimes visit the “Jewel Box”, the drag cabaret.

What a perfect day to bring this up - Halloween. Think Halloween 365 days a year and that is a drag show; costumes, fantasies, silliness and fun.
Having lived in LA, Chicago, New York, Berlin and Las Vegas, I have pretty much lived in the hubs of drag show environments. However, nothing compares to Berlin where drag is an art and a long standing tradition.
In Berlin, I know people who have made a good living doing nothing but drag - Romy Haag being one of the most famous, having even had a brief, public relationship with David Bowie. But there are many others - Everest is famous for his spot-on impersonations of Marlene Dietrich, others created their own “character” and some simply adapted to the persona of the day - Cher, Madonna, Streisand, Liza, Shirley Bassey - most likely there are several Lady Gaga’s running around now as well.

We have a good friend who visits Las Vegas once a year and he makes most of his money in Berlin doing drag - working stage shows, galas, private parties and making television appearances. He is actually a very funny comedian and can work an audience like you cannot believe - snappy comments, quips, political commentary. The fact that he dresses as a woman makes it easier for him to get away with a lot of his material - women laugh, as they seem him as sympathetic to their viewpoints, and men laugh as they hear him make comments “nice women” would never say. His audience is rarely Gay men, mostly heterosexual, older couples who find him non-threatening, but wildly funny and exotic.

There is a huge difference from professional drag acts vs the amateur who will maybe do it a couple times per year. The professionals know their niche - some are drop dead gorgeous and others are purely comical - some go for the big names and lip-sync the songs, other sing using their real voices - but they have all learned how to entertain and adapt their shows to various audiences.

Drag shows are not for everybody - to be honest, I have pretty much “been there, done that” and don’t go see them anymore. But they are entertaining diversions - nothing more odd than watching country singers dressing up in cowboy drag for a concert in Madison Square Garden, or strippers doing pole dancing wearing 12 inch stilettos, the bling on hip-hop singers, the piercing/tattoos/long hair of heavy metal rockers - everybody has their costumes for their shows.

:confused: Victor/Victoria is set in 1934, not exactly Elizabethan England.

It was a funny movie, but I never bought Julie Andrews as a man, unlike Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry

Funny, I never could buy Julie Andrews playing a woman. Even with her tits out, in S.O.B. I was a little dubious.

I’m sorry, I had to quote this because of the extreme amount of joy it gave me. Please feel free to continue with your regularly scheduled thread.