Dina’s Diner 3/12/18

| Mar 12, 2018

QUEEN OF QUEENS

Both sides of RuPaul.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine had a long cover story (by reporter Jenna Wortham) on RuPaul in the January 28, 2018 edition. In last month’s Diner, I had a couple of items that also drew on RuPaul related articles. It seemed like Ru’s PR agent must have been working overtime in late January and February this year.

The Times Magazine article was quite good and covered a little of Ru’s personal history and how his ascension as the reigning Queen of all things drag intersects with the advances in LGBT acceptance. It also discusses, briefly, the current controversy over transitioning queens on “Drag Race.” First, the interesting biographical note: Ru’s name is a mash-up of another name his mother saw and liked before he was born. She had a vision that he would become famous and needed a memorable name to match his inevitable fame. So the story goes.

The thing that I always admired about RuPaul (and I think I’ve said this in earlier Diners) was that he self-promoted himself out of the typical drag queen rut and onto the celebrity “A” list (or at least the “B list), a record deal, a cosmetics contract and eventually television stardom. In last month’s Diner, I had an item about how difficult it still is to make a living as a drag queen. Ru came to New York City from Atlanta as a tall, glamorous but unknown Club Kid in “fright drag” (as he describes it himself) and left town a star. I’m sure some queens who came up in the late 1980s, and early ’90s when Ru was breaking out must have wondered why they never thought of changing the game for themselves instead of busting their chops in gay bars for chump change.

The Times article talked about the Drag Race show and some behind the scenes stuff but the best parts were in the analysis of drag and how it affects the individuals and society at large. From the article: “When Drag Race first began, it seemed like a fun window into an underground culture, but over the nine years it has aired, the show has evolved to reflect America’s changing relationship to queer rights and acceptance.” It also mentions how some contestants have come from hard places, or are still closeted to family, or living with HIV. “Amid the glitz and glamour of drag, the show doesn’t obscure the violence and terror that accompanies the life of the marginalized.”

Peppermint

In some ways, however, drag seems to be an old school thing when looked at in terms of modern gay culture, modern views of women as something more than a body to drape clothes on and ogle, and of course, the emergent trans community. The article points this out through a couple of examples. One, where the show used the term “she-mail” (objectionable) as a play on words for email on the show, and another where someone commented that much of the diva-like behavior of the queens seems modeled after black female stereotypes. Regarding the appearance of trans women as contestants on the show, the article points out that there have been some but it raises an interesting question: if drag — the art of dressing as a female — is a performance, how does that work when the contestant actually “is” a woman in her own identity? The Times said, “The centerpiece of the show is the contestants transforming themselves into queens, and then, after each competition, taking off their wigs and removing synthetic breasts to reappear as men. For most drag artists, the point is the performance; it is not their sole identity. But for those queens who identify as trans or non-binary, their stage persona is not necessarily a performance.” One trans contestant, stage name Peppermint, auditioned twice for the show without mentioning her trans status, supposing it would work against her. “I was always careful to separate my trans identity from my drag career,” she told the Times reporter. But the show eventually encouraged her to discuss it on camera, realizing its educational (and dramatic) potential.

Underlying all these issues is the basic male-female dynamic in society. Jack Halberstam, a Columbia University professor, said, “We still have this idea that femininity is malleable, and masculinity is a protected domain of real power and privilege. It is not transferable or attainable. The public has no appetite for artificial masculinity.” Ms. Wortham, the reporter, interjected her own thought: “I tried to imagine a version of the show where contestants won prizes for making fun of male archetypes and stereotypes, and demonstrated that male identity can be deconstructed as easily as whipping off a toupee and a soft prosthetic penis. It was impossible.” What’s good for the gander would not get television ratings for the goose.

THERE’S A PLACE FOR US, SOMEWHERE A PLACE FOR US

Trans touristas.

There are actually two places for us — but you better pack warm clothes because they are in northern climes. The gay travel advisory service Spartacus World published a list that ranks every country on the planet according to a gay and trans-friendly index they developed. I have to thank TGF’s The Week in Trans columnist Cecilia Barzyk for posting an item about it in last week’s TWIT.

Of the 197 countries reviewed, Sweden and Canada tied for first place. Skol, eh? I guess it’s not too surprising, really. Those two countries and cultures are about the least offensive, live and let live kind of places most people can imagine, anyway. Of course, the rest of the list is where the rankings get interesting, some patterns are easily discernible, and some anomalies seem to present themselves.

The index ranked countries on fourteen topics, e.g. Legal Marriage, TG Rights, Religious Influences, Locals’ Friendliness, and Murder Rate. I couldn’t find any explanation of how some of those categories were actually comparatively measured. So let’s assume the category indexes and total scoring is mostly reasonable and accurate.

So Sweden and Canada came out on top and then – as you might expect – the remainder of the top 20 spots were mostly European, Scandinavian and Aussie/NZ nations. But a few surprises show up in the top 20, too. Uruguay and Colombia showed up and Israel was close behind. Oh, the United States of America (heard of it?) placed 39th between Estonia and Bolivia. The USA seemed to lose points on Religious Influences, Locals’ hostility and Murders. This is where you start to wonder if a gay or trans traveler would really be happier in Estonia, Greenland, or South Africa – all of whom outranked America the Beautiful. Too many hostile locals, I guess. The murders ain’t helping either, word to the wise.

The over-riding pattern would be that affluence generally makes for a more tolerant culture. The notable exceptions to that rule of thumb would be economically advanced Japan and South Korea who ranked 55th and 121st, respectively. Hard to believe with all that gender bending boy band stuff over there. Another pattern seemed to be that countries with patriarchal/traditionalist societies as found in Latin American and other Asian countries scored in the middle of the large pack. This probably explains the Japan and South Korea results, too. Countries with heavily religious cultures or (sorry) backward economies as in the Middle East and Africa scored — unsurprisingly — at the bottom.

Armed with this scientific information, grab your Baedeker, pack a bag (plus a spare for wigs and high heels) and book a flight for Andorra. (Look it up). It got high marks for various legal protections, no red marks for nasty local sentiments and a goose egg for murders. You really can’t discount the “no murders” thing because it can really ruin an otherwise fine vacation.

BUT SHE HAS A GREAT PERSONALITY

I was searching for material for this installment of the Diner and came across an old article from 2008 that appeared on a site called CrossdresserHeaven.com. The title of the piece was “What Is Your Crossdressing Personality?” The author was a crossdresser by the name of Vanessa Law. Since the article was rather short, I will quote directly from most of Vanessa’s text.

“Last night my wife and I were watching the episode of Boston Legal where Clarence — the otherwise shy unassuming lawyer who enjoys crossdressing in his spare time — enters a singing competition as his alter ego Clarice. We watched the dramatic transformation — his feminine persona shone radiantly with confidence when she set foot on stage. Singing, dancing and shaking her booty with freewheeling abandon. As if crossdressing psychology had dazzled her mind and switched her personality. After the show my wife asked me a question which got me thinking about my crossdressing personality. Am I more confident and outgoing when dressed as Vanessa? Does my personality change in ways not easily explained by being more feminine?”

“When I put on my makeup, heels and hose I become more feminine, more outgoing, more confident, more excitable, less contemplative, less uncertain and more open to being vulnerable. When I’m in male mode I’m constantly worried about what people will think of me. I try to be perfect, to not offend anyone, I shape who I am to fit into the person I believe others want me to be. When the transvestite inside of me comes out I realize that I’ve probably already offended some people. I don’t mold myself to their expectations, but find myself free to be who I am inside.”

“It’s a strange balance. I find myself less interested in what others think about me and more interested in them. Even a light dusting of makeup and a feminine mindset will find me chatting with cashiers in the checkout line, willing to share a piece of my day and eager to hear a bit more about theirs.”

It sounds to me like Vanessa’s transformation puts her in a mental state that is almost the exact opposite of what we usually hear from real women. Rather than feeling confident, outgoing, and with greater certainty, I think most women would describe those as being personality features of males in our society. Further, the traits she describes for her male persona — worrying about others’ judgment, trying not to offend — sounds like typical female traits. I say this using the common stereotypes of male and female traits rather than what I feel or believe should be the case. In short, Vanessa’s “female personality” sounds more like magnified male personality that has been freed by her crossdressing alter ego.

My impression of crossdressers has been that the male personality traits are not really sublimated by the outward feminine transformation. I think we are somewhat competitive about our appearances, comparing ourselves to others and grading accordingly. In groups, we conversed much the way we would as guys except we might be trading comments about shoes, cosmetics or wigs instead of sports, cars or what have you. I always felt that the physical part of the transformation — the tighter, more restrictive clothing, the high heels, the full head of wig hair, is what makes me feel feminine. I’m not even sure if it’s important to me to internalize a psychic transformation. But that’s me and I think all our stories are different even if they share some obviously common story lines. Of course, context is important and if you are out solo as Vanessa mentions, one may act and genuinely feel more feminine in contrast to our normal male personas.

ALL MANNER OF BEAUTY

A generic fishnet wearer.

I was out of town recently to attend a college basketball tournament and noticed a few things that made me reflect on feminine beauty. The first thing came while sitting at a high table in the bar area of a nice restaurant on my first night in town. I spied something that hearkened back to a Diner item I wrote at least a year – maybe longer — ago. There were three middle-aged ladies sitting at the bar in front of me having wines and chatting animatedly about work or something. This was a weekday happy hour in the early evening, not a big girls night out. After a short while, something caught my eye as the more attractive of the trio moved her legs below the seat of the bar stool. She was wearing fishnet tights, mostly hidden by her long skirt, as a fashion accessory rather than as an attempt at sexiness. It recalled being seated at another bar back home when I spotted a young woman also in fishnet tights as she sat quietly flipping through screens on her phone.

When I was younger, fishnets were exclusively the domain of showgirls or pinup models and excited the male libido. Nowadays they are used as a (very occasional) fashion accessory without any meaning of sexual provocation. Tell that to my brain, though. My eyes kept dipping down to watch the small slice of fish-netted ankles on the attractive woman and imagining her stretching those tights on in the privacy of her own boudoir. I guess I’ll never grow up.

Cheerleaders with ribbons.

The basketball tournament was in an arena across the street from the city’s convention center. As luck would have it, the convention center was having some sort of cheer leading event wholly separate from the tournament. The streets around the hall were filled with middle school and high school age girls in cheer leading togs, their moms chauffeuring and chaperoning their energetic charges. The thing that struck me about the cheerleaders I saw were their hair ribbons. Yes, really. In the bright sunshine of outdoors, their ribbons tied in large loose bows held so many different hairstyles with the strands flying in the breeze. My favorite hair-do is what I call the “hair fountain” where the ribbon binds up a shock of hair and it splashes out in strands from the top. It conveyed the very essence of what youth, femininity, and athleticism is all about.

Saint Louis Billikens cheerleaders.

Meanwhile, inside the sports arena, the basketball tournament raged on. Yet more cheerleaders: this time of the competing colleges. It’s funny that in a group of women doing almost anything one will always stand out. In this case, it was a brunette with a pretty smile but her stand-out feature, to me, was her calves. Between her knees and soft white ankle socks, her calves flared in pleasing curves. Like the fish-netted lady above, my eyes kept drifting back to that young woman’s lovely legs. And finally, another university’s dance team (who perform during timeouts with the cheerleaders) had a young woman who was movie star beautiful with a head of blonde hair cascading in curls halfway down her back. It was hard to imagine this world class beauty doing normal college stuff like going to classes and dance team practice. Her college got knocked out in the second round but the memory of her kisser (and everything else about her) made her the tournament MVP for me.

Women!

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Category: Community News, Fun & Entertainment, Opinion

About the Author ()

I started crossdressing and going out publicly in 1988. I joined the Renaissance group in the Philadelphia area that year and later became chapter leader for two years in the '90s. I always enjoyed writing and wrote for the Renaissance newsletter and magazine throughout my membership years. I've been writing for TGForum for several years now. I also contributed items to LadyLike magazine and other TG publications before the advent of the internet. My hobby-within-a-hobby is singing live as my alter-ego Dina Sinatra and I have had the opportunity to do that with several accommodating performers and in a number of venues over the years since the mid-1990s. In the Diner column items here, I try to relate crossdressing or transgender themes (and my own pet peeves and fetishes) to the larger world -- and vice versa.

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