Not another drag show!
While surfing the internet, I came across the homepage of a Taipeh bar, called
The Source. One of its subpages proudly displayed photographs of its Show.
Perhaps it was meant as their chief selling proposition. After clicking it,
pictures of drag performers slowly emerged. I didn't wait for it to finish
downloading. I surfed away. Not another drag show!
I wonder how many gay men share my position on this -- I find drag shows an utter bore. Unfortunately, many gay bars put up these things, such that, in a way, they've become a trademark of gay clubbing. They're so ubiquitous, in just about every country with a gay scene, that I am now left wondering, am I the odd one out, the wierdo who doesn't see anything in them?
OK, time to lay my cards on the table. What do I not like about drag shows?
In short, there is nothing to hold my interest. I'm not interested in second-rate mime and third-rate dancing. I'm not mesmerised by sequinned costumes. But the coup de grace is very simply that I have no sexual interest in feminised bodies or cross-dressers. In fact, if there are male supporting dancers, my eyes will follow them!
There was a time when I, less secure as a gay person, even found drag shows slightly offensive. I felt -- in fact I still do -- that they reinforced the stereotype of gay men as feminised, cross-dressing males. I would ask the bar what kind of show they were putting on and turn around, go away, if they said drag. Today, I still turn around and go to another club, though less as a political statement, more because I don't need to waste my time or money on something that doesn't interest me in the least.
However, there must be commercial sense for them to continue putting up these shows. There must be enough patrons of gay bars to want such things, otherwise drag shows would long ago have been replaced by something else with greater appeal. So I am always wondering: who are these patrons? Any gay men out there who like drag shows? Stand up! Explain to me!
I can understand the politics of drag. They challenge conventional notions of gender. There is a place for drag in pride marches, for example. But in bars and clubs that are essentially all-gay, where there is no need for politics, it hardly seems to serve any purpose. We go clubbing for entertainment, or (hopefully) gratification, and for me at least, drag shows seldom entertain and never gratify.
Perhaps drag shows descended from the days when gay men worshipped divas. Those were the deep-closet days when a handful of singers, always female, won adulation for their ambiguous lyrics that were construed to reflect gay longings. It also helped that they were glamourous stars, glamour being the perennial escape fantasy for the downtrodden. Another view was that the divas were surrogate mother-figures for lonely gay men. But whatever the reason for diva worship, it is a long, long way from drag shows and second-rate mime.
The only friends I've come across who enjoy drag shows are the straight guys. Well, not all of them. Some of them. Those who are less hung-up about cross-dressing.
A few years ago, I had two Singapore colleagues with me on trip to Bangkok, one male, one female. For both, it was their first time in Bangkok, so I had to take charge and arrange to fill the evenings after work. Thailand is famous for their transvestite shows, we absolutely had to go to one. The most commercialised outfits are Tiffany and Alcazar in Pattaya, but as we were in Bangkok, I took them to the Calypso. I had known about the Calypso for years, but I had never been to their shows. Why would I? I had no inclination for them. Thus, it was a first time for me too.
It was a surprisingly small theatre , and as we arrived early, we had virtually front row seats. There wasn't a stage, just a dance floor, so that at times the performers could come right up to us. My colleagues were thrilled and delighted by the performance. The guy, particularly. He said, not a few times, "they're so pretty, prettier than any girl I've ever seen!", a remark that is frequently heard from visitors who've been to these shows. There must be some truth to it!
It is this spicy combination of forbidden titillation and ogling at the grotesque that sells Calypso, Tiffany and Alcazar to mostly straight, packaged tourists, drawing them by the thousands every night. The mystery is, if this kind of show appeals to straight audiences, how can it be expected to appeal to gay audiences? How does "prettier than any girl I've seen" mean anything to men who only have eyes for other men?
Unless ... there is nothing rational about it. The gay bars put up the shows because they think it's the thing to do, and the audiences put up with them because they are never consulted. Perhaps it's all traceable to lazy habit and apathy.
© Yawning Bread