Tag Archives: drag

Chesty Mags

Alrighty, I’ve been lazy and haven’t posted this past week.  I was preparing for Doomsday.  But, alas, nearly the entire world made it through the day.  So prepare for a quarter-sized hailstorm of posts.

For Doomsday my friends and I went to a small rinky-dink, cash-only bar.  The local gay bar closed recently, creating a surprisingly beautiful blend of really white drunken country-singers and some really fun, amazingly good-singing gay men and women.  Needless to say, the whole bar was treated to jello shots by the end of the night.

The world did not respond to happily to the recent Dossier cover featuring a shirtless, Serbian androgynous model named Andrej Pejic.

As Adam Polaski from The Good Men Project points out, what’s the big deal?  “After all, men appear shirtless all the time on Men’s Health, Esquire, and Men’s Fitness:”

Barnes & Noble and Borders have told Dossier representatives that they wouldn’t shelve the magazine unless all copies were covered with opaque poly bags—the kind typically reserved for Playboy or Maxim. According to Skye Parrott, the co-founder of Dossier, both stores acknowledged that they understood the model, Andrej Pejic, is male. But representatives asserted that the femininity inherent in the image was too confusing to risk putting on the magazine shelf.

Let’s explore this “risk.”

Most everyone fun loves drag.  Get a guy with a cute face and some pizzazz and put him in a dress and you’ve got some great Saturday night entertainment.  Have that same guy want to wear a dress to work and that’s no longer drag – that guy’s trans and therefore “weird” and to some even “profane.” 

Women, obviously, have much more flexibility in wearing men’s clothes, as I can go to work in flats, suits, boxer briefs, and cut my hair short.  But can men wear heels or skirts?  Not really.  Over the past decade, America has barely come to terms with men wearing pink

But in the case of Pejic, it’s his body that both engages and frightens people.  Despite the massive gains we’ve made in moving towards gender equality over the past half-century, the controversy surrounding the issue reveals a nation of gender squareness. 

Polaski includes a quote from Jon-Jon Goulian, author of a memoir about his own skirt-wearing, who provides some interesting context about our country’s obsession with labels:

One thing I’ve learned over the course of 24 years of behaving and dressing androgynously is that people hat e to be confronted with indeterminacy. The uncategorizable is unsettling. If I were a man in drag, people would know exactly what I am, or at least they would believe they know exactly what I am, and have fewer problems with me: “Oh, yes yes yes, that man is definitely gay, and he has a very strong identification with women, he probably thinks he is a woman, and that’s why he dresses like one, and a sex change is probably in the offing, in fact it wouldn’t surprise me if his [own] special vagina is being made to order as we speak.”

But gender and sexuality, race, religion, and politics…aren’t so easily definable, despite our continual efforts to turn all of us rainbows into squares.

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Juárez’s Dead Girls

This essay was written by Amy Littlefield at Gender Across Borders.  Expect more posts from this amazing blog.

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In the lead sentence of a 2009 article about the murders of hundreds of young women in the Mexican border city of Juárez, one Los Angeles Times reporter wrote: “The streets of Juarez are swallowing the young and pretty.”

This dramatic lead, like much of the writing done about the rapes and murders of women in Juárez, romanticizes the crime by drawing attention to the youth and beauty of the victims.

But there’s nothing pretty, romantic or even mysterious about the situation in Ciudad Juárez, where at least 464 women have been murdered since 1993, according to the Mexico City-based newspaper La Jornada.

Many of the women have been young workers in the border city’s maquiladoras, factories famous for their abusive working conditions. Many have been sexually assaulted before being murdered. A few arrests have been made, but at least one investigation has shown that police and government officials are involved in the violence. At the very least, the response of the authorities has been inadequate.

While news reports have often responded with superficial dramatizations, Caridad Svich’s 2004 play Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a rave fable) dramatizes sexual violence in order to make a point. The play is set in an unnamed Latin American city where a violent general is plotting to sacrifice his daughter (Iphigenia), believing her death will save his political career.

Iphigenia is a multimedia and multi-sensory experience replete with gender-bending, sexual imagery, absurdism, confusion, and Greek inevitability. It’s an acid trip, and it’s meant to saturate and provoke. But I’d like to highlight one aspect of the play that I found fascinating: the playwright’s decision to cast Juárez’s dead girls as men.

The imagery of pink crosses with women’s names written on them and references to the “dead factory girls” connect the play’s setting to Juárez. But the murdered women — who Svich calls fresa or “strawberry” girls, a term that can mean rich or snobby in Mexican slang — are cast as men in drag. The decision to cast the “dead girls” as men messes with the image of the young, beautiful, dead female body. In at least one version of the play, the fresa girls are cast in overdone doll makeup, wearing clothes that are too small. Such imagery satirizes the over-emphasis on female bodies in reports about sexual violence. Dressing male bodies up as “fresa girls” dramatizes the process of presenting death as beautiful or romantic.

But Svich takes it a step further, challenging the privileged tendency to romanticize feminicidio. At one point, the wealthy and privileged general’s daughter, who is dancing her way to a rave in order to escape her own inevitable murder, yearns to be a fresa girl — a victim of sexual violence and murder:

IPHIGENIA: I want to be just like you, girls.

FRESA GIRL 3: Like us?

IPHIGENIA: Names on a wall. Written by lovers who caress me.

FRESA GIRL 3: Caress us?

IPHIGENIA: You are beautiful girls.

Her naivete about the dead girls, murdered brutally by “lovers” outside dance clubs, indicts the naive reader or viewer. There is nothing beautiful about a dead body — even a young, female one — even one found outside a dance club.

Svich’s strategic casting decision messes with canonical conventions of victimhood and confronts the idea that beautiful women somehow deserve to be raped — or that raping or killing a beautiful woman is either more or less violent than killing a less attractive (or less feminine) victim. The casting of men in drag as “girls” also draws attention to violence against transgender and transsexual people and makes the point that sexual violence is not just a girl’s problem. Despite attempts by the play’s protagonist to dress up murder with drama, drugs and dancing, there is nothing romantic about this death — or its inescapability.

Amy Littlefield is Music Editor at Gender Across Borders.

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