Dancing Queens

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My preteen daughter’s favorite television show is Lifetime Channel’s “Dance Moms.” I know; I should be so proud! Last night’s episode featured drag queens teaching the girls their craft. So while there’s always a fair amount of drama on the reality show, the swaggering queens brought the drama to a whole new level.

Later my daughter asked me, “Mom, were those men dressed as women?”

“Yes they were,” I replied.

“Why?”

Good question.

I can’t pretend to know much about the world of men who dress in drag. I assume they are mostly gay men who prefer being seen as women. But I’ll bet it’s more complex than that. Interestingly, men dressing in drag has been a staple of entertainment for decades. From screwball comedies such as “Some Like It Hot” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” to musicals like “South Pacific,” “Victor Victoria,” and “Hairspray,” cross dressing has mostly been played for laughs. Even the great actor Tom Hanks got his start in “Bosom Buddies,” a sitcom in which two guys pretend to be girls in order to have a room in the all-girls dorm.

But it hasn’t been until recently that transgender identity was taken seriously and with a sympathetic viewpoint. Hilary Swank won an Oscar for portraying a real transgender youth named Brandon Teena, and just this year Jared Leto’s turn as Rayon, the HIV-positive trans woman in “Dallas Buyers Club,” won him an Oscar as well. And it’s no surprise that the TV series “Glee” has featured a transgender character in recent years. Do these serious portrayals signal a growing acceptance of people with different gender identities?

I must admit I was surprised to see a prime time, albeit cable, TV show featuring drag queens working with children. But I’m glad we did. My daughter and I had a conversation about gender identity as a result, and I hope she will grow up with a greater sense of openness to the people she encounters in her life.

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2 thoughts on “Dancing Queens

  1. I remember Bosom Buddies! I loved that show! But, getting serious now, I think there may be some growing acceptance, especially in larger areas. The places I’ve seen them recently, though, don’t seem to be that breakthrough. A movie about HIV/AIDS is not really going to appeal to a more conservative audience, so I’m not sure how risky it is to put out a film with a transgender character. And Glee and Dance Moms both have fairly large gay audiences, don’t they? I know Glee does.

    There are always going to be people who think cross-dressing is funny. It makes them uncomfortable, so they laugh at it.

    As to why men might want to dress like women? Gotta be pretty complicated, but maybe they like being fancy every now and then. I know I do.

    I just remembered a cross-dresser who lived in my neighborhood in “Boys Town” in Chicago. He wore heels, a dress, full makeup (including bright pink lipstick) and…a Cubs cap. Funniest thing ever. I always wanted to give his make over a make over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you would be surprised in the case of Dallas Buyers Club. My very conservative son and husband both loved the movie. But in general, I think it is a slow process to bring alternative lifestyles into the mainstream. When we see an openly gay character on the Disney Channel, maybe then we will consider it progress!

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