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.
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.