Point of View: I stand with drag queens

I changed my perspective when I saw my first drag queen show in Montreal in 1964

Taz Tally. (Photo by Christina Whiting/courtesy)

Taz Tally. (Photo by Christina Whiting/courtesy)

By Taz Tally

While participating in the recent community discussions surrounding the inclusion of LGBTQ-oriented children’s books in the children’s section of the Homer Library, I heard several disparaging references made about drag queens and drag shows. My experience is that most people who make negative comments concerning the LGBTQ community members and lifestyles in general and drag queens and drag shows in particular, often do so out of ignorance but not necessarily malice.

Look I get it, I was raised to think that drag queens were, at the very least, really weird, probably morally suspect and very likely sexually deviant. I changed my perspective when I saw my first drag queen show in Montreal in 1964 … here’s my story …

Somehow my big brother Sid talked my parents into allowing, then 15-year-old me, to join him and his army buddies on a road trip from our home in New Hampshire across the Canadian border to Montreal, Quebec. While there, they decided it would be fun to go to a drag queen show. I’ve always been adventurous and curious, but this was truly going to be “bad boy” behavior. I remember being nervous about going to the drag show, because at the time I didn’t really know what “drag show” meant, but I was quite sure that we would be consorting with morally questionable people. However, I figured I was quite safe with my big brother and his friends. Some people in the audience were dressed and acted differently from us, others not so much, but nobody seemed particularly threatening. Everyone was eagerly anticipating the show. I can only imagine how big my eyes must’ve been when the first drag queens came out on stage. These were supposedly men, who were dressed up like women, although I was not sure why, and I really had no idea what they would be doing on stage.

I recall having many different thoughts and feelings that evening. I remember numerous times thinking to myself “Is that really a man? He/she really looks like a woman!” I remember that some of the performers were so convincingly female that I was sure that they were indeed women. That by itself was a real revelation for me. Then, once I moved on from the binary he/she questions of 1964, I also remember being absolutely riveted by their singing and dancing performances. I was stunned at how talented these performers were. I specifically remember one Diana Ross cover song that I’m quite sure would have made make Diana herself smile. I was also fascinated by all the makeup, costumes and jewelry, which I had normally associated with women only. One of my most imprinted memories of that night was how much fun all the performers and the audience members had during the show. It was so joyful and gleeful. After the show, we hung around to see if we could meet and talk with some of the performers. To my shock and amazement, chatting with the drag queen performers was just like, well, talking with anyone else. Another revelation!

I had a lot to process. I was brought up in a moderately strict Christian, heterosexual household. Back then, the word “queer” had a much different and far more derogatory, judgmental, and even accusatory, connotative meaning than it does today.

In the intervening decades — I am now in my 70s — I have attended numerous other drag shows and I have come to expect and appreciate creative and fun performances. I can best describe them as a cabaret show replete with gorgeous costumes, fantastic jewelry, stunning make-up and enormously creative and talented performances — again, quite simply, fun and joyous entertainment. And yes, some shows are more risque than others, just like shows with straight performers, and you can pick and choose what kinds of shows you like to see. But I can honestly tell you that if you want to laugh and smile a lot, and, as likely as not, sing-along, take in a drag show.

Since attending my first drag show many decades ago, I have had the opportunity to interact with and have become friends with a number of drag performers. I’ve come to understand quite clearly that drag performers are like all of us, they engage the same issues of life, love, joys and challenges. In my experience, drag performers are to be enjoyed and their talent and creativity celebrated, just like any other accomplished performer.

Some fun and interesting resources for your consideration:

Enjoy the movie “The Birdcage” featuring both touching and hilarious performances of Nathan Lane, Robin Williams and Hank Azaria.

Enjoy the movie “In & Out” featuring Kevin Kline, Tom Selleck and Joan Cusack (Kevin Kline practicing with his manly-man audio tapes is a hoot).

Look through the nursery rhyme children’s book “The Hips of the Drag Queen go Swish, Swish, Swish” for a quick visual-cartoon celebration of all the bling and performance fun of a drag show. Truly, it’s hard not to smile looking at this book.

Attend one or both of the upcoming drag performances being offered by Homer’s own drag performers Falcom Greear, Tony Stanfill and Shawnisty Weber at the following dates times and locations:

Feb. 5, 12 p.m. at Oden Meadery. Tickets online at www.odenmeadery.com.; Feb. 18, 9 p.m. at Alices, $10 at the door.

Drag has a long history. According to a www search I performed, one of the first recorded Drag Queen Balls was held in 1867 in New York, where men and women competed for the most gorgeous gown and feminine figure.

While not exactly the same, in that presumably most of the men were heterosexual, in ancient through modern times men were quite often made-up and dressed as women, when women were not available, or sadly, not allowed, to perform in theater.

More in Opinion

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks in support of an agreement between the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and Goldbelt Inc. to pursue engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
State, labor and utilities are aligned on modernizing the Railbelt grid

Today, Alaska has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to capture federal infrastructure dollars and… Continue reading

No to 67%

Recently, the Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission voted to raise the pay… Continue reading

This image available under the Creative Commons license shows the outline of the state of Alaska filled with the pattern of the state flag.
Opinion: Old models of development are not sustainable for Alaska

Sustainability means investing in keeping Alaska as healthy as possible.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils proposals to offer public school teachers annual retention bonuses and enact policies restricting discussion of sex and gender in education during a news conference in Anchorage. (Screenshot)
Opinion: As a father and a grandfather, I believe the governor’s proposed laws are anti-family

Now, the discrimination sword is pointing to our gay and transgender friends and families.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Nathan Erfurth works in his office on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Now is the time to invest in Kenai Peninsula students

Parents, educators and community members addressed the potential budget cuts with a clear message.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: An accurate portrayal of parental rights isn’t controversial

Affirming and defining parental rights is a matter of respect for the relationship between parent and child

Opinion: When the state values bigotry over the lives of queer kids

It has been a long, difficult week for queer and trans Alaskans like me.

Unsplash / Louis Velazquez
Opinion: Fish, family and freedom… from Big Oil

“Ultimate investment in the status quo” is not what I voted for.

Dr. Sarah Spencer. (Photo by Maureen Todd and courtesy of Dr. Sarah Spencer)
Voices of the Peninsula: Let’s bring opioid addiction treatment to the Alaskans who need it most

This incredibly effective and safe medication has the potential to dramatically increase access to treatment

An orphaned moose calf reared by the author is seen in 1970. (Stephen F. Stringham/courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: Maximizing moose productivity on the Kenai Peninsula

Maximum isn’t necessarily optimum, as cattle ranchers learned long ago.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The time has come to stop Eastman’s willful and wanton damage

God in the Bible makes it clear that we are to care for the vulnerable among us.

Caribou graze on the greening tundra of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska in June, 2001. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: AIDEA’s $20 million-and-growing investment looks like a bad bet

Not producing in ANWR could probably generate a lot of money for Alaska.