Thank You, Drag Queens

Photo by Elizabeth Barrineau

Drag queens fascinate me. How can men be more comfortable in a woman’s body than I am?

During a performance, four brides-to-be in the audience, and their all-women entourages, celebrated with male inspired table décor. I’m an old married person, so I thought young brides-to-be enjoyed bachelorette parties with live male entertainment of a different kind. Why did our audience of heterosexual women have an appetite for this art form? The show’s effect on me explained why.

As a teen, I walked and took public transit around Philadelphia. Daily, men and teen boys hooted, whistled, and yelled comments from corners and cars. I felt threatened on my way to school, especially in the early morning when men threw open car doors and, “Need a ride, baby?” echoed from inside. It crushed me with powerlessness. Harassment and disrespect from strangers added to my male biology teacher wanting to photograph me. Another teacher congratulated me on my engagement ring with raised eyebrows and a grin saying, “There’s only one reason why you won’t wait to get married. But that can work. It’s enough to keep some people together.” These experiences rocked my fragile self-confidence. On elevated trains, and buses, I ignored someone standing over me looking down my blouse and the creepy nods and leers as eyes scanned my body. Towering over me, someone penned me in by putting his knee between mine as I sat in a sideways-facing bus seat. I said, “Excuse me.” He must have thought I was getting up for my stop. “Of course,” he said, and moved to let me get up. I switched to a forward-facing seat. That bus wasn’t crowded.

This backstory may be why seeing a man dressed as a woman has always struck a sensitive chord. The drag show’s fun music and comedy kept me from crying as I watched men allowing themselves the same vulnerability as women. In exaggerated hair, make-up and body suits, their message, This isn’t real. There’s more to a person than what you see, was refreshing coming from males. Its novelty rocked me.    

The queens spoke to that scared girl on her way to the pharmacy for her disabled grandmother. In tight jeans that were comfortable and stylish, I blamed myself when someone pinched me from behind and ducked into an alley before I turned around. Drag theatrics shout how ridiculous it was to be ashamed of cleavage or height, or to have enjoyed make-up I bought with my transit and lunch monies to feel like the woman I was becoming, with hopes of being respected by appearing older.

I felt more dignity dancing along with men dressed as women than I did around men dressed as men. I wanted to hug the performing artists like other woman did who held out money to get the dancers to come within reach. The queens’ fun exaggerations celebrated me and the other women. No one laughed when Brittany Spears entered the stage in a parochial school-girl uniform. Her girth exposed not only female sexual stereotypes, but also body bias.  

The next show I attend, I won’t hug a performer, even though I’ll ache to do so. I’ll simply hold out a ten and say, “Thank you” and try not to cry.



  1. Although it has not, yet, been described as such, again, I believe there's a new women's movement in its infancy. While I think the discussion of unreported rape and sexual abuse are important, I appreciate your sharing that it's not just that stuff. Males need to know that the behavior you describe is inappropriate and -- I would truly like to believe -- unmanly. And, they need to teach and model appropriate behavior for their sons.


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