11 January 2013


Last time I saw you
We had just split in two.
You were looking at me.
I was looking at you.
You had a way so familiar,
But I could not recognize,
‘Cause you had blood on your face;
I had blood in my eyes.
But I could swear by your expression
That the pain down in your soul
Was the same as the one down in mine.
That’s the pain,
(That) cuts a straight line
Down through the heart;
We call it love.

— From “The Origin of Love”

Ever heard of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar? It’s a movie that I watched when I was a young boy. HBO had shown it a bunch of times, sometimes twice in one day. So I watched it a bunch of times, too. (In those days—we’re talking mid to late nineties here—I preferred to stay awake while everyone took their siestas.) Back then, I, being no more than twelve or thirteen, didn’t really understand what the movie was about. It was lost on me. (As was everything else possibly important in my misspent youth.) But I do remember how I felt seeing Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo in drag. I felt startled. Men dressed up as women! My Christian Living teachers would not have approved of it.

I was also held spellbound. 

I bring up To Wong Foo because recently—between hours of listening to Georgette Dee and Frank Ocean—I watched The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Both of these are—how do you describe it?—both are drag queen movies. They kind of brought back the same feelings that I had had watching To Wong Foo as a kid. Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp, and Guy Pearce were freaking fabulous in the former; and if I start with John Cameron Mitchell in the latter, I will not run out of good things to say. He was simply terrific as the title character, a transsexual singer from Berlin supposed to represent, metaphorically speaking, the old divide between communist East Germany and democratic West Germany. The story is more philosophical than political, though. If you haven’t seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch—well, I would at least recommend that you look for and listen to “The Origin of Love,” one of the songs from the original stage show (the film is an adaptation of a musical by Stephen Trask), which is based on Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium. The sound, I daresay, is Bowie-esque. The lyrics are even nicer.

Are all drag queen movies supposed to be preposterous? I won’t pretend to have an opinion on the matter. (People who know me, however, will hasten to tell you that I can be either a drag or a queen!) Besides, if they are, it’s probably because they’re only being faithful to the dramas and realities of drag queenship. A couple of months ago, I was hanging out with my dear friend M at a local bar on Pio Nono in Santiago, Chile, and we came across this dancing man-woman who touched, or attempted to touch, the ass of every male passerby. It was a hoot. Escudo almost came out of my nostrils, and M and I had as good a time as she did. She was dancing, shaking, sashaying in this glittered lavender ensemble, complete with bold red lipstick, a classic blonde wig, and heels that clattered, and she reminded me, not with words but with appearance and action, that I took life way too seriously, that I ought to have fun once in a while, you know? The way she was having fun. Someone gave her a quiniento—an insult to her talent, apparently—and she just tossed it in the air and proceeded to grab the shirt of a random Chileno for a few minutes of non-traditional street-side cueca. Again I was held spellbound, but no longer was I startled. 

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