Drag It Is Part I - Feminine Emotions for Men

I Wanted to be Bisexual but my Father Wouldn't Let Me

     Traditional forms of twentieth-century naturalism, as its roles have been canonized and documented over the past hundred years, can be revealed as effective tools for ingraining prejudice and gender phobia unless they insist upon de-stabilization, fracturing, and parody. As Michel Foucault suggests in his introduction to Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently  Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite, "Do we truly need a true sex? With a persistence that borders on stubbornness, modern Western societies have answered in the affirmative..." (vii). In this article I will illustrate, through examples from my own performance work, how I utilize elements of naturalism in an attempt to call attention to and de-stabilize notions of true sexuality. Notions that posit heterosexual masculinity as the ground upon which mainstream twentieth-century theatre and culture rests.

     Mainstream Twentieth century theatre has traditionally rooted itself in naturalistic re-presentation. From Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie back to Ibsen's repertoire of hapless heterosexual patriarchs, theatre and film have given the straight male, in a relay race of culture being handed permission from society, the nod. Mix your metaphors. Play whatever you choose. So long as there remains, in your repertoire, an assumed bedrock of heterosexual innuendo, a blank slate, a pure springboard to fracture, to bounce from, but rarely to blur. From early examples of naturalistic roles to present day automaton like re-presentations of the eternal masculine form (eg. - Pacino, DeNiro, Schwarzenegger, Stallone) we have an array of seemingly heterosexual men parading their degrees of privilege, this paradoxical blank slate of cultural innuendo(heterosexuality) across the screen and across the boards. We find this  so-called blank slate, heterosexuality, being relied upon over and over and over again.

     When we reverse the roles do we find the daily, public, effeminate individual playing the masculine other on stage or screen? No. Wrong order. The gendered feminine body (the effeminate) walks into a room, into heterocentric culture, in quotations, after the fact. The fact, the real being the masculine other. The masculine other, as I code it within my personal lexicon of cultural parody, exists as the norm, this blank slate of 'natural' behaviour. No blank slate exists for the openly effeminate actor/performance artist.

     The initial presence of the effeminate other, the 'queen', is ripe with association, unlike the initial presence of the masculine other. Only bitchy camp consciousness or feminist outrage, to name two arenas of profound academic thought, begin to uncover what Marjorie Garber calls the "crisis of category" (Garber Vested Interests p 17) in which we find ourselves today. Addressing this crisis, with theatre as a tool, reveals transvestism as a de-stabilizing agent upon which all great theatre rests (Garber ibid p 40). To further Garber's point, transvestism is the ground upon which all culture rests.

     Lesley Ferris, in the introduction to Crossing the Stage; Controversies on Cross Dressing, calls theatre "a kind of playground of feminine emotions for men. The problem, however, is that once the cross-dressed male actor leaves that playground he gets to step back into a patriarchal world that supports and elevates him for his maleness" (13). Ferris goes on to quote Jill Dolan's assertion that "'the stakes in the gender game aren't as high for these particular gay men. They can easily assume female roles, knowing that offstage, they wear the clothes of the social elite.'" (13)

     True. However, in my own performance work, my subjective objective, this fluctuating drive to fracture and de-stabilize, is to consider culturally coded re-presentations of masculine and feminine and to fracture those re-presentations visually, vocally, and textually. The particular gay man that Dolan alludes to does not strictly apply to my work. I am an effeminate, predominantly gay male with degrees of bisexual sensibility/desire. Bisexuality as cursed category because it hints at Garber's category crisis at the outset. The presence of the effeminate bisexual male de-stabilizes traditional grounds of masculinity and is not able, therefore, to wear what Dolan calls "the clothes of the social elite" as comfortably as the "particular gay men" referred to in the above quote.

The following is excerpted from I Wanted to be Bisexual But My Father Wouldn't Let Me - first performed at Queerculture, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Canada 1992, as part of the first annual celebration of Avant-Garde Drag (there was no second annual): 

 

                  no, i never wanted to be a man. . .

                 not in the strictest sense of the word

                 not like the Kennedy's

                 perhaps my outfit tipped you off?

                 no, i never wanted to be a man . . .

                 I wanted to be bi-sexual

                 but my father wouldn't let me

                 and when he finally entertained the notion

                 that I was a homosexual

                 who wanted to be a bi-sexual

                 he got really confused

                 and that always lead to severe bouts of anger

                 and he'd scream at me

                 "hey, why would a fruit like you want to fuck women anyway!?" -

                 One day, when I was old enough to fight back, I  said "hey dad,
 
                 I don't fuck women because I like them too much!?

                and in this terrible, secretive, end of the century world

                where you won't let me be anything I want to be, well dad,

                sometimes, when I fuck men I just think of you

               and that makes it a little easier"

      In this particular performance piece, the working out of the masculine and feminine occurs in a kind of indefinable antic drag that liberates, literally, from earthly gait through roller skates. I attempt to free myself from traditional notions of both masculinity and femininity. I walk, or roll, on stage in these other worldly quotations. Umbrella dress (see photo 1) as latter day ready-made a la Marcel Duchamp. I do not appropriate the feminine 'dress.' I re-invent, re-possess, and post-modernize it as I attempt to take it back to its non-original site, as all sites are non-original. The male others, the masculine, that I create in my work, come from a kind of camp storehouse, an acquired historical and practical/studio knowledge of Stanislavskian technique.

                                                                                                                                              ****

This series is based on work originally written in 1997, and published in translation in 2000 - (Anthology: Japanese translation - The Future of the Body; Essays in the Posthuman Humanities, Treville Press, Tokyo, editor Takayuki Tatsumi, 2000).  

Photo by Serafin Lariviere.

Stay tuned to Litlive.ca for Part II - Voices Boys and Girls!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barbin, Herculine. Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Translated by Richard McDougall. NewYork: Pantheon, 1980.

Ferris, Lesley. Crossing The Stage: Controversies on Cross-Dressing. London:      Routledge, 1993.

Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing & Cultural Anxiety. New York:    Harper, 1991.