Dina’s Diner 8/27/18

| Aug 27, 2018

LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!

Michelle DuBarry

Our own TWIT feature on TGForum.com recently commented on a few very young drag queens who were getting press coverage for their appearances. I had an item about a few schoolboy queens several Diners ago, also. But what about the old queens? I mean, the really old queens? There are some very old broads out there still doing their act.

A Google search turned up a Guinness World Record honor bestowed on Darcelle XV of Portland, Oregon as the oldest working drag queen at age 85. She operates her own nightclub “Darcelle’s Showplace” in Portland. The honor was noted in 2016 so if Darcelle is still banging she’s 87 now.

Another contender appears to be Michelle DuBarry, a Toronto, Canada based drag queen who is a year younger and was previously noted by the Guinness people as the “oldest” in 2015 until Darcelle’s fans disputed the honor.

An internet article about Michelle had this quote about her beginnings: “And then I got dressed up in drag. I didn’t know anything about drag then. We got dressed up like girls at the high school Halloween night. And then, when I got into the city in the 1950s, I got involved in theater and ballet. I was a ladies’ shoes salesman and started doing underground dress-up.” Watch out for those ladies’ shoe salesmen who like the theater.

Darcelle XV

There was an internet article from 2014 that showed some senior citizen drag queens who worked at a San Francisco bar called “Aunt Charlie’s.” When I was regularly visiting New Hope, Pennsylvania in the 1990s there was an old drag queen everyone called “Mother” who occasionally performed at “The Cartwheel” a drag and gay club that doesn’t exist anymore.

In England back in 2013, a 62 year old queen named “Betty Swollocks” was charged with benefits fraud for not declaring her meager earnings as a drag queen in Brighton when applying for housing and other subsidies. The local paper reported that “Betty has been performing in Brighton for the past 17 years. She performs up to seven times a week.”

Undoubtedly, there are many other working senior drag queens about. The sudden appearance of elementary school-aged queens is a bright shiny object right now. So they get all the attention. Let’s check back on them in, say, fifty years to see how they’re holding up.

A WELL TURNED ANKLE

I thought of that phrase when I saw a photo in The New York Times Sports section on July 27, 2018. The photo accompanied an article about the Tour de France “Podium Girls.”

Podium girls with winner.

Here is a brief paragraph from the article: “The daily ceremony during which the winners of the Tour de France’s various competitions slip into their leaders’ jerseys is tightly choreographed. And a key part of the ritual is a cycling tradition that many argue is, at best, long beyond its prime. Each day, pairs of young women wearing high heels and dressed in evening gowns or above-the-knee skirts help the award winners into special podium versions of their jerseys, give them a trinket and, eventually, deliver chaste kisses.”

It’s a quaint– some would say sexist — tradition that is under scrutiny in our evolving feelings about gender roles in society. A female cyclist said, “There is a role for people on the podium to make the presentation glamorous. It really helps to have people there who know what they’re doing when they hand out the goodies. What I don’t understand is why sex or sexuality has anything to do with it.”

The Times article points out that the podium presenters jobs involve less glamorous chores also, like acting as car valets for honored guests and hostesses to mingle with the guests at the receptions. The Times also reported, “For many years, the podium presenters were recruited from the towns and cities where each stage finished. Currently, the corporate sponsors of each award select and hire the women using modeling agencies. [A sponsor’s document] indicated that most of the women were students, some of them in graduate programs. Most spoke more than one language.”

It is forbidden for the podium girls to fraternize with the Tour cyclists but at least one marriage resulted from a podium presentation. Nice legs and high heels: it works every time.

CRAZY PRETTY ASIANS

I’ve met very few Asian crossdressers personally. We had a couple members of Asian heritage when I was in the Renaissance group and met maybe one or two others in my travels. But in the online universe of crossdressing, there are many Asian crossdressers here in the U.S. as well as in their native lands and scattered about elsewhere. I am speaking now only about crossdressers rather than transitioning trans girls or the fabled katoey “ladyboys” about which we’ve all seen or heard.

It was always said that passing was easier for senior crossdressers and our Asian sisters. The thinking went that the effects of aging made it easier for senior crossdressers to blend in since no one paid much attention to older women anyway. A kind of harsh reality with that single upside. The Asian crossdressers (it was generalized) had the advantage of smaller frames, smoother complexions, and less masculine-feminine differentiation. It’s all dangerously inappropriate now to say this sort of thing — but there you have it.

Thanks to the internet, we can find all the crossdressers of any nationality or race you can possibly want to see. All the “missing” Asian crossdressers are found now — looking unfairly better than many of us American and European crossdressers of similar age. Of course I’m generalizing in this discourse but the visual evidence seems to bear it out.

I picked out three examples of Asian crossdressers from internet photo sites. These ladies are not kids. At least two are in their 40s. Their beauty seems more effortless perhaps because of the genetic factors mentioned above. More power to them — and anyone who can keep it together and look beautiful given the biological and social factors that make ours a very challenging but rewarding pastime.

Jasmine, Kyoko, Vivian

THE WAY YOU WEAR YOUR HAT

Clam shell hat.

The New York Times “T Magazine” had an article about Bill Cunningham’s early career as a milliner. Bill Cunningham was a New York Times photographer, famous for his photographs of street fashion that appeared as a weekly feature in the Styles section.

The article was headlined, “Before Bill Cunningham was a Photographer, He was a Hat Maker.” Mr. Cunningham passed away in 2016 after decades working for The Times. But he originally came to New York to work in fashion in 1948 and after some retail and advertising jobs opened his own designer hat shop in the early 1950s.

The Times article said, “While about two dozen of Cunningham’s hats are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, and a few are on display in the current Bill Cunningham exhibition at the New York Historical Society, the majority of them are lost forever. In part, this is because by 1962, Cunningham had stopped making them altogether. Women’s fashion was shifting. Young women weren’t wearing hats anymore. But it’s also because Cunningham didn’t make his hats for posterity — they were daring and inventive objets willed into existence by the sheer force of his imagination.”

Octopus Hat

The Times points out that the wildly inventive hats seem “at odds with the disciplined, even ascetic, existence for which he later became known” as he bicycled through Manhattan photographing interestingly dressed passersby but rarely seeking attention for himself.

I loved seeing the “clam shell” hat on a swim-suited Eisenhower-era model. A perfect pairing of form and function. Except for royal weddings, you don’t see hats on women much anymore. Crossdressers likewise disdain hats — probably because we’re already wearing unnatural wigs. Too bad because Cunningham’s chapeaux show how much fun they can be.

ODD-VANTE GARDE

The New York Times Sunday Styles section had an article headlined “I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty, Please Don’t Back Away” in the August 12, 2018 edition. The article featured a pair of conceptual clothing designers, Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj Bhaskaran, who create outfits that are way out there. Bhaskaran uses the gender neutral pronoun Mx and their creations seem to be more femininely oriented (skirts and high heels) than male, if I could be so traditional in pointing it out.

Bhaskaran and Dalton

The Times reported: “We’re not trying to be an influencer,” Mx. Bhaskaran, 24, said during a recent phone call from London. “We’re not trying to follow the rules. The rules were not made for us. Instead of trying to reach a standard that’s not going to happen, we want to have fun and create what we want to create.”

The article pointed out that several Instagram accounts feature other designers who create otherworldly fashions, makeup, and accessories. The Times reporters may be onto something when they wrote: “After all, as artificial intelligence and automation threaten the job market, is it so strange that some would like to dress up as robots? With the looming threat of ecological disaster, what’s the harm in using makeup to explore life as a post-human mutant? And why be so negative? Maybe [they] are in fact heralding an imagined, idealized future of pan-gender, post-racial identity.”

Miss Thing

Oddball drag has always been a part of the crossdressing scene. Sometimes it’s done in purposeful attempts like the Club Kids of the 1980s and ’90s. Another New York Times article about Raoul’s — a celebrity hangout in Manhattan’s SoHo district — showed Raoul’s former maître d’ Rob Jones who was dressed in a form of drag that was hard to categorize. When we held our Renaissance support group meetings back in the day, we had the occasional visitor whose drag was a vinyl catsuit and thigh boots while we were disporting as “ladies.” Be it odd or not, sometimes you need just the right outfit to do some late night shopping — like Miss Thing pictured to the left.

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Category: 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.

Comments (2)

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  1. MIkki says:

    Check out the Aunt Charlie’s video on their website. There’s an ancient drag queen who might well be 100!200?? Ha! https://www.auntcharlieslounge.com/

    Thanks, Linda, for mentioning Butch. I spent a fair amount of time at The Queen Mary in the early to mid 70’s. One old drag performer who quit the business before looking like a grandmother was LaVerne Cummings. He was recently hit and killed by a driver who failed to respect a pedestrian walkway.

  2. Linda Jensen says:

    I remember the Cartwheel and Mother. I also remember Dina in the Poconos but that is another story!!
    Thanks for the mention of the elder drag queens. They are survivors for sure as so many of their compatriots got caught by surprise in the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. I recently met another elderly Toronto T-gal who did not go on stage but she has lived the lifestyle for some 50 years now. I’ll be writing up her story soon.
    But my favorite of all time was Butch who hosted the shows at the Queen Mary Show Lounge from God-knows-when up until its closing. No idea how old she was but she looked a bit like portrayals of the old lady in Hansel and Gretel but she sure could make a room laugh.