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out on a limb

Volume 15/Issue 19

What's the difference between a Drag Queen and a Lesbian?

I have been pondering this question recently and I am finding that the drag queen seems to be a concentration of mainstream femininity whereas a lesbian is its rejection.

Now this is not true across the board. Some drag queens never successfully make the crossover from male to female. They are only close approximations thereof. And some lesbians are beautiful women in the more traditional senses, which is just as fine as a lesbian who assumes a butcher role in her daily life.

But where the lesbian and the drag queen part company is in the mind. They do think differently and all illusions crumble. I work very closely with a number of drag queens. They run the gamut from transsexuals to cross-dressers, from boys who do this for a living to boys who live as women. Some are gorgeous; some are not.

And I work very closely with lesbians, both as an employer and as a friend. We always seem to be working hard to achieve something-equality, cures for AIDS, breast cancer research-but I sometimes wonder if we don't bite off more than we can chew in one lifetime.

Recently, I have thought a lot about gender--what creates it, what shapes it. Is it just a biological thing? A socialized thing? A vision of ourselves we create in some internal mirror? Or is it simply mimicry?

Do boys mimic their fathers and girls their mothers? So what happens when girls mimic their fathers and boys copy their mothers? The flip answer would be to say lesbians and drag queens result, but that's just a smart-ass response.

In my dealings with drag queens, I am most fascinated by the wide range of beliefs they have about themselves. To say a drag queen is a drag queen is a drag queen is far from the truth. Dresses do not make the woman; a way of thinking makes her who she is. So put a boy in a dress and you are not assured of getting a female response, that's for sure.

While standing in a group of lesbians and drag queens last week, a customer approached and asked the usual question: Are you really boys? The beautiful visions of female-hood all smiled and assured the inquirer that they were indeed boys. I, on the other hand, remarked that I was the only "real girl" who worked at the club. Yes, the only real girl in Levis and Tevas, baseball cap and t-shirt, surrounded by drag queens with glamorous sequined dresses and long sexy hair, makeup to perfection, not a run in their stockings or a scuff on their high heels.

We are talking gender confusion here. These "girls" are everything my mother wanted me to be-a Miss America in lipstick and rouge. I fought my mother's dream tooth and nail. I refused makeup...I rejected dresses...I abhorred hairdos that required combing. All that stuff is so far away from me now...I have forgotten most of the skirmishes of those mother-daughter wars. But one incident frequently comes to mind, especially in the company of a drag queen.

My mother was one of those girly-girls-a product of World War II. She didn't work in the factories making airplanes, but she did drive her car alone on the ferry. Mom grew up thinking that she would be the epitome of suburban happiness: two kids, a dog and a station wagon under the carport. She planned it perfectly-a daughter, a son, a collie.

Well, the best laid plans do go astray. She got the two kids-a daughter and a son-but the dog was a Chihuahua and the daughter was more interested in fixing cars than in learning to cook.

One day, my mother was talking across the back fence to a neighbor when she announced that she was going to send me to dance lessons. Dance lessons! Oh horrors! I couldn't do it. No way. So I devised a plot to make my mother "believe" I was attending dance classes: The Dance Express.

The Dance Express was my bicycle taxi service whereby any number of young girls were delivered to the dance academy. I would ride one on the handlebars, one on the cross bar, and another on the back. For the service provided, I was paid one nickel, or 15c a round trip. I'd hang out and watch the girls dance just so I'd know enough about what was going on to convince mom I was a dancing queen.

But I forgot about "The Revue"--that painfully long and embarrassing display of dance students trying to do numbers in unison while not losing all the sequins off their costumes.

In order to miss the revue, I had to do some quick thinking, so I went to visit Johnny down the street who had the chicken pox. Sure enough, two days before the revue, little red marks started popping out all over my face. Mom was so disappointed; I was delighted.

In this way, I learned how to circumvent being a girl--or at least doing girl things. And I was a sore disappointment to my mother and her plans for me someday to wear the Miss America crown.

Which brings me back to drag queens. It is no small coincidence that they participate in beauty contests. There are whole circuits of these. Dressed in evening gowns, showcasing their talents, answering meaty questions, wearing the crown as Miss So-in-So or Miss This-or-That. Why, even Miss Love wore her wedding dress for this year's Southern Decadence...and a vision of loveliness she was!

So what does all this have to do with the difference between drag queens and lesbians, you ask? Well, the answer is one that may only make sense to me, but the answer rings true. The Drag Queen is, for me, an image of what MY mother (and the world) intended me to be. When I look across a room at a drag queen, I see the reflection I disdained. Unlike Alice through the looking glass, I never have to cross over to the other side. The drag queen does it for me and I never have to fill those shoes--all six inch heels of them.

I guess I love my drag queens for the way they have emancipated me. I can enjoy their beauty and their talents without having to step into those shoes. I can see the creature my mother wanted me to become without having to go there.

It's all a perfect picture, until a drag queen tries to solve the problem of her earrings falling off by super-gluing them to her ears. What every drag queen needs is a lesbian to teach her all the tricks of the trade that the drag queen's father never taught her. In fact, lesbians have a whole trunkful of gimmicks and gadgets that they could pass on to drag queens...stuff we never use... the lessons of growing up female in today's world.

There she is, Miss Gay America...Mom would have been proud and we probably could have pulled off the switch.

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