Drag Queen\'s

July 15, 2017 | Autor: Tafari Lewis | Categoria: Film Studies, Homosexuality, Drag Queens
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Refer to YouTube clip entitled "Little Latin Boy in Drag, why are you crying?"

Refer to YouTube clip entitled Wong Foo (The Funniest & Best Clips)

Refer to YouTube interview (Dallas Buyers Club: Jared Leto breaks down Rayon's big scene)
In explaining the process of identification it became evident drag queens often refer to themselves in the feminine article 'she' hence the utilization of words like 'she, her,etc'. This footnote should appear when you 1st refer to a drag queen with a feminine pronoun
Candidate Name: Tafari Lewis

Candidate Number: 813001322

Course Code: FILM 2102

Course Lecturer: Dr. Usha Iyer

Essay Topic: What are some of the reasons why a male individual would embody the female persona created through masquerading as a drag queen and to which persona (identity) do they refer more to?

Essay title?
We all at some point in time in our lives have been able to identify with someone or something that makes us feel we can be more in life. So much so we feel a sense of belonging and often desire to embody the person whether it is by characteristics, mannerism, or way of life. As a result, one's identity is no longer unique but set upon that of the person whom they idolize. Drag queens are a prime example of the aforementioned and pose a dilemma in that their appearance is based on that of someone else they venerate. These males who dress up as the opposite sex are viewed by society as sick men who have identity issues, homosexuals, and often marginalized for their choice of wardrobe. (veneration of women is not necessarily the reason for dressing in drag + need research to back up claims about prejudice) This essay will seek to highlight reasons why an individual would choose to perform as a drag queen and to which persona (identity) they refer more to. In this essay, the films to aid in this analysis will be Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990); Too Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar ("to" – wrong film title) (Beeban Kidron, 1995); and Dallas Buyers Cub (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)
The first film seeks to delve into the taboo world and well-structured community of the drag queen which for many seems very peculiar. The documentary film Paris is Burning (must always italicize film titles) tries to sensitize its audiences to the pressures these drag queens go through just to make it to the ball, their various backgrounds (most of whom are homosexuals, transsexuals, and transgendered individuals) and how they perceive themselves (what their aspirations are along with their take on society's outlook towards their lifestyle). To attempt to explain what some of the possible reasons are why these men perform in drag requires careful dissection of the film's main characters. Pepper Labeija and Angie Extravaganza are going to be the central focus for uncovering what are some of the key reasons why drag queens do what they do. Also, in understanding the why, the question of which persona (identity) is adopted will become clearer as this essay is read.
At the early start of the film, the audience is first introduced to Pepper Labeija giving her explaination as to why she is considered the mother figure to so many young homosexual men. It is utterly imperative to realize and understand Labeija's identification as being a mother figure to these individuals. This feminine article links itself to the being (though biologically male in nature) and signals some reasons why they would embody the drag persona. The documentary starts with three establishing night shots of downtown New York City, two long shots of the streets, two close-ups (the first being two very young Latin American teenagers and the other a group of African American males walking together) and a male voice saying:-
"I remember my dad saying to me you have three strikes against you in this world. Every black man has two that they are black and they're male. But you're black, male, and gay! You're gonna have a hard fucking time" (00:53-01:10)
The first reason becomes clear in that young black homosexual men represent a subculture in the gay community and find it extremely easy to be discriminated by their own race and others for being gay and black. As a result, the ball for these drag queens as explained by Pepper Labeija presents the oppurtunity for these young black homosexuals and others to feel cherished and belong to a community. It is this community that makes them feel right for being gay as opposed to societal norms that define what masculinity should be. Labeija talks about feeling cheated out of life for being poor and hints possibly of her sexual orientation as well. It is quite ironic because as she speaks (comma) a montage of high fashion brands such as Giorgio Armani, Chanel, and Saint Laurent (one of which is a drag house in the film) are shown on-screen. Thus, illustrating another reason why they choose to perform drag which is to get as close as possible to the feeling of being accepted, wanted, and in the spotlight of Hollywood (or the fashion industry, in which they're invested more). According to Riki Wilchins, in his book titled, "Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer" he explains how performing drag gives the person a new found sense of power and masculinity as they dominate the stage. (so wearing female clothing gives a sense of masculinity? Should explain and explore further) It also defies the prevailing structure within society and questions what masculinity ought to look like. (page number? Also, bring in some direct quotes from Wilchins) With this said, as one listens closely to Pepper Labeija speak it becomes apparent that she longs to be up there with society's elite and most powerful but the closest she can get to that is the balls (this is where she is respected and given a title other drag queens covet).
The ball for these drag queens not only represents a venue for which they can compete but also helps build up their self-esteem when the audience praises, chants, and applauds who rather than what? they have transformed themselves into while they embody the masquerade (Strübel-Scheiner, 13). Angie Extravaganza is the next person to whom most of the members of the ball identify with because she too is like a mother figure to a lot of young black men. She explains that she assists in the balls and is somewhat given a legendary status, something her children aspire to be. The ball is like their Oscars and it allows them to be whoever they want to be in the moment they are on stage. Consequently, the ball is not so much about competing even though there are fierce rivalries but more so giving the wearer of the masquerade an outlet to experiment with gender identity. As the individual dresses up in drag, he goes through a transformation that allows him to hide under the disguise of a masked female character. In doing so, he is stripped of any "social pressures that are required of them when dressed as men" (Niles, 47). Hence, it allows them to have an alter-ego (often flamboyant, loud, crude, rude, and flirtatious) one which is not socially bound to the codes of conduct usually associated with their male persona. (should talk about gender as performance here)
Too Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar is another well-crafted film that endeavours to shed light into the world of drag queens. Though it is classified as a comedic film on the surface, one can read deeper into the film's many layers of cinematic language along with symbolism and see it is a buddy film. Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) and Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) share an onscreen relationship that transcends beyond the screen and touches not only the critics but its audience to show how a friendship despite its numerous teething troubles can surmount almost anything. The adoption of Chi-Chi Rodriguez as their protégé is somewhat emblematic of a couple nurturing a child who is not biologically related to either parent. However, the characters look past all that is negative coming from Chi-Chi and decide to help transform her into what a 'true' drag ought to be. For Chi-Chi to understand what it means to be and live the life of a drag queen Noxeema breaks down her supposed identity as a drag queen to what she really is when she says (the use of the words, "supposed" and "real identity" suggest that being a drag queen is not a "real identity"):-
Noxeema Jackson: When a straight man puts on a dress and gets his sexual kicks, he is a transvestite. When a man is a woman trapped in a man's body and has a little operation he is a Transsexual.
Miss Chi-Chi Rodriguez: I know that.
Noxeema Jackson: When a gay man has way too much fashion sense for one gender he is a drag queen.
Vida Boheme: Thank you.
Noxeema Jackson: And when a tired little Latin boy puts on a dress, he is simply a boy in a dress! (20:40-21:17)
Some viewers of the film found the line to be very discriminatory but in retrospect it may seem so but it is not. When Noxeema describes the different sexual identities one may possibly be caught between (comma) she clearly brings to forefront the topic of performance versus identity. Thus, calling Chi-Chi a Latin boy who puts on a dress illustrates the point that his identity is neither any of the three because his transformation phase of desiring to become a drag queen is not complete. So with this said both Noxeema and Vida are educating their young protégé of what he needs to do to be classified as a drag queen. In understanding how costume plays a pivotal role in the performative identity of the drag queen's life; a series of photographic stills from the film will be used to show Chi-Chi Rodriguez' transformation under the care of her mentors.

The above still is entitled, "Little Latin Boy in Drag, why are you crying? -To Wong Foo, thanks for everything Julie Newmar" in the film. This scene is important because it shows Chi-Chi's vulnerability and gives an insight to her thought process after losing the drag competition. It is here we as the audience first hear the label of Little Latin Boy in Drag used but are not given a reason for such ("for it"). We can only speculate that it is a label she is used to being called by other drag queens because when Noxeema addresses her question using the said label she doesn't verbally retaliate but submits to the name. The examination of her costume compared to Vida and Noxeema highlights stark differences in that the older drag queens are much more polished in their mannerism, make-up, speech, and most prominently their clothing. Chi-Chi's wardrobe shows she desires to be a drag queen but at the same time it does not reflect who she is as a person. Thus, standing alongside Vida Boheme and Noxeema Jackson, Chi-Chi Rodriguez has no identity amongst the drag queen community. It seems quite unfair because she has lots of personality, charisma, and seductiveness about her. Unfortunately, her attire does no justice to her because at the start of the film the audience sees her making her way to the competition in her dress, make-up, and other feminine articles of clothing. As she walks alongside the pavement, it becomes evident her ensemble is not complete because the wig isn't on. As a result, the illusion of being a woman is lost which results in her being verbally assaulted and bottles thrown at her. (this would be an important scene to discuss what constitutes "correct" performance of masculinity or femininity)
The second still is another indication to Chi-Chi's inept choice of style for everyday wear. When Noxeema describes a drag queen she mentions he is a gay man who has way too much fashion sense for one gender.

At first glance, this remark may not seem as much but drag queens take great care into their physical appearance, attire, and usually are creative in personality. This scene shows Chi-Chi Rodriguez arguing with her companions as to the state of events that has befallen them. In her argument, she mentions she never asked for their help to be transformed into a true? drag queen. However, earlier in the film (first still as shown above) she is crying and telling Vida and Noxeema how beautiful they are as drag queens. This illustrates that she has self-esteem issues and is constantly comparing herself to others. Along with other comments, she mentions she doesn't want to be called a failure by her family, friends, and people. It demonstrates her desire to be more in life but she does not want to openly admit her identity needs a complete makeover. Therefore, when Vida reiterates to her that she will start off as a tired Latin boy in a dress but by the time they are done with her, she'll be the most beautiful drag queen (see photographic still below).

It brings the point out that the drag persona often expresses those aspects of the drag queen's male persona "that the performer may not feel comfortable expressing as a male, and thus the female persona acts as a conduit for personal expression" (Hopkins, 145). Thus, societal norms dictate that males are not supposed to openly express their feelings to others but in the scene with Chi-Chi opening up to Vida and Noxeema it shows the above-mentioned point by Hopkins. The drag persona is so powerful that these gay men feel much more comfortable in expressing themselves in the female persona than the male persona. As a result, they more refer to the female identity over the male one because in society's eyes they have not met certain set of attitudes and behaviours "that exude independence, a preoccupation with career, competitiveness, physical strength, aggressiveness, and courage" (Crosscope-Happel, 366). (need a more in-depth discussion of drag – relating it to sexuality, fashion, class etc.) (Paragraph break) The next film Dallas Buyers Club will shed light into how parents can push their children to such an outlet for not meeting such goals in life as a male.
In an individual's existence, more so the male being, (phrasing needs to be worked on throughout) they are socialized to become men in a capitalist environment that is ruthless. Young men are indoctrinated to excel at sports, be aggressive, and not to openly express their emotions in public. So what happens when a character like Rayon (Jared Leto) is forced to feel accepted? through the drag persona in Dallas Buyers Club? The scene to be analysed is when Rayon goes to visit his father for financial assistance to support Ronald Woodroof's (Matthew McConaughey) club. As the scene starts, the audience sees Rayon's male persona amidst the other business men (1:24:00-1:25:26) (don't insert counter numbers in an essay) but upon closer inspection, something seems off with her character the moment she inhabits the same space with her father. Throughout the film, Jared Leto's character is never truly seen in a weak emotional state and it makes her often seem cold in the sense that she isn't affected by the verbal abuse that is directed in her way. However, despite her habitual drug use and excessive need to be recognised by others it does give one insight to understand why she embodies the character and who/what pushed her in this direction (in what direction?). As Rayon's father sees his son in male clothing the camera lingers on his expression for a couple of seconds. It is this subtle static placement of the camera that gives the audience a hint of the dysfunctional relationship that exists between the father and son. What is even more interesting is the conversation among the two and this will support my point that parents have a significant role in their children's self-esteem and how they view their identity.
Rayon: She looks great. I guess I didn't make the cut.
Father: You made that choice yourself.
Rayon: It wasn't a choice dad.
Father: What do you want Raymond?
Rayon: Oh I'm fine thanks and you? Long-time no see.
Father: I suppose I should thank you for wearing men's clothes. You're not embarrassing me.
Rayon: Are you ashamed of me cause I hadn't realised that!
Father: Oh god….help me.
Rayon: He is helping you I have AIDS!
In an interview with John Horn from the Los Angeles Time: The Envelope Jared Leto (need punctuation for this phrase to make sense) explained this scene is one of impact because it depicts the physical and emotional deterioration of himself in front of the father's presence. As he continues to give the interviewer a breakdown of the scene he mentions something noteworthy to be included in this essay. Jared Leto described what his childhood was like as he was raised by a single mother (who he mentions was just a teenager at the time, living off food stamps to help feed her two children and herself in the absence of a father who walked out on them as he was born) on which the character Rayon has some qualities embedded into. The moment such insight into the character creation/development is mentioned it gives clarity to the scene and also reflects what possible emotional state he was in at the time. The exclusive interview also mentions him recanting that throughout the entire film embodying a woman for so long was his armour. So much so when he had to visit his father in men's clothing he felt emasculated. (again, a very important point to think about drag and masculinity)
Analysing the above dialogue with the father and Rayon is truly heart-breaking because to put so much of oneself into a film and to see its physical and psychological effects diminishing the actual character over a period of time speaks of how powerful a film can be when it has that much of a personal attachment to the person who embodies the character (which in this case has trouble conforming to what his father ideally thinks he should be and look like seeing he is the son a reputable lawyer). (rather than speak about the film in these general terms and trying to psychoanalyze the character and the actor, would be interested in seeing more research and analysis of the relationship of drag to gender performance)
Rayon seen in the photographic still from the film above seems to be gathering her thoughts as to what she is going to say to her father after picking up the photograph of her mother (second picture left of character). The line of dialogue when she says, "She looks great. I guess I didn't make the cut" sparks a very cold remark from the father who throughout this scene is only seen for twenty-two seconds in the shot/ reverse-shot dialogue scene. Rayon is given so much onscreen time that we feel her pain and awkwardness as she embodies her male persona just to help out her friend Ronald Woodroof who is the reason she has come to her father for financial assistance. Jared Leto noted even though the character Rayon didn't have her heels, wigs, skirts, and other accoutrements he still glided across the floor with ease that she would have if he was in drag. It is quite imperative to acknowledge this because the female persona created through drag is so resonating on the biological male that even whilst dressed up as a man his gestures, speech, and movements are as graceful as an eloquent woman. If a viewer watches the scene this feminine behaviour is not only brought to the forefront when Rayon says, "Are you ashamed of me cause I hadn't realised that!" but also with the sarcasm in his tone of voice, the way he rolls his eyes, flutters his eyelashes, and the manner in which he crosses his hands together. It is emblematic of how a lady would show her annoyance at something that was said without any thought. (but the gestures are also exaggerated beyond "normal" female behavior and that's the aspect of gender performance I want you to analyse further) Furthermore, Rayon cements her father's disapproval of him by revealing to him he has AIDS (a malady which in the film for Ronald Woodroof is only associated with queers, something he thought he could not have gotten because he was heterosexual man) and that nothing he says or do can be worse than knowing his life is nearing its end. I think this scene from this film in particular fittingly answers my research question about why an individual would embody the female persona created through masquerading as a drag queen and to which persona (identity) do they refer more to. The character despite his father's obvious disdain still holds fast to the prevailing identity he wants to be remembered by and not that of the fragile other who could not live up to the societal requirements of what it means to be a man. As a result, the masquerade fashioned through a drag queen allows them an avenue to express their innermost feelings; something that they would no doubt have lots of trouble revealing if their the male persona has to say it.

Works Cited/ References

Harris, D. "Diary of a drag queen". New York: Carroll & Graff Publishers. 2005.
Hopkins, S. J. "Let the drag race begin": The rewards of becoming a queen. Journal
of Homosexuality. Volume 46 Issue 3-4 (2004): 135-149. Print.

Berkowitz, D. and Belgrave, L."She works hard for the money": Drag queens and the
management of their contradictory statues of celebrity and marginality. Journal of
Contemporary Ethnography. Volume 39 Issue 2 (2010): 159-186. Print.

hooks, bell. "Is Paris Burning?" Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA.
South End Press. 1992.

Gundacker, J. "Paris is Burning: An Analysis of the Issue of the Issue of Race " Spec. issue
from Different Light: An Introduction to Queer Theory class (2006): 56-62. Print.

Los Angeles Times. "McConaughey, Leto discuss making Dallas Buyers Club" Online Video
Clip. YouTube, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. https://youtu.be/eQg6TGCp7h4 .

Los Angeles Times. "Dallas Buyers Club: Jared Leto breaks down Rayon's big scene" Online
Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. https://youtu.be/mguqbo-hiBU
Niles, R. "Wigs, laughter, and subversion": Charles Busch and strategies of drag
performance. Journal of Homosexuality. Volume 46 Issue 3-4 (2004): 35-53. Print.
Wilchins, C. "Queer theory, gender theory: An instant primer". Los Angeles: Alyson Books.
1995. Print.

Crosscope-Happel, Hutchins, Getz, and Hayes, G. "Male anorexia nervosa: A new focus.
Journal of Mental Health Counseling". Volume 22 Issue 4 (2000): 365-370. Print.
Wilchins, C. "Queer theory, gender theory: An instant primer". Los Angeles: Alyson Books.
1995. Print.
This is an interesting topic and choice of films, Tafari, and I appreciate your desire to think about drag and analyse what it means as a gender identity. However, there's so much excellent academic research on drag and on these films that you could include to strengthen your analysis. Also, this topic demands a discussion of gender and performance as we've talked about in class. Do work on phrasing issues for future essays and exams.
Essay grade: B
DB grade: B

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