GLOW drag show addresses the gender binary

Sonia Emmons

When I think of drag, I think of Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” By no means does the movie project an accurate representation of drag, nor does it embody the message of personal expression that drag culture embraces, but I can think of no better opportunity to discuss my favorite “Mrs. Doubtfire” scene in print. The more I think about it, there are aspects to the movie that do support the intrinsic values of drag culture.
The scene I love has Robin Williams using all sorts of funny character voices while on the phone with his ex-wife. He wants her to be completely fed up with babysitters when Williams/Mrs. Doubtfire, beautifully fake-breasted and dressed up like a grandmother, makes his/her appearance.
“I don’t work with the males because I used to be one,” he utters in a classic voice that sadly cannot be captured in print — watch the scene if you have some down time over reading period.
What Robin Williams poignantly captures in his portrayal of a 60-year-old woman is the performative aspect of drag, as GLOW president, sophomore Mike Korcek, explained to me.
“Most people only see a man in a dress. But drag displays the performative nature of gender, and it is meant to be an over-performance. It is exaggerated for a purpose: to break the gender binary.”
The binary was broken with full force and color last Saturday evening at GLOW’s annual Drag Show.
GLOW stands for Gay, Lesbian Other, or Whatever.
The drag show contained six acts featuring student performers, both in groups or singing solo. Two performance highlights were colorful renditions of Whitney Houston and “You + Me = Us” by the forgotten MTV band 2gether. Remember them?
Korcek, an Anthropology major and Art History/Gender Studies minor, explained that drag is a queer culture tradition that began in the 1700s. Most people do not understand or appreciate the reality of drag, that it carries an important social message.
“Drag carries a message behind a man in a dress. It allows people to explore stereotypes about masculinity and femininity, make fun of them and play with them.”
The gender-bending nature of drag sometimes makes it an easy target for someone unaware of the political impacts of mid-20th century drag culture. Korcek relayed a tidbit of drag’s social history: “’50s drag queens really started the gay liberation movement by moving into the political sphere and bringing it to the forefront. Their traditions need to be appreciated and continued.”
A Google image search for “drag queen” produced endless pages of men wearing heavy makeup and King Louis XIV wigs.
This deliberate over-feminization of men carries an important message and makes for a good show. The $600 proceeds from the show went to a Wisconsin AIDS research fund.
Have no fear; the drag show will be back next year. And when you get tired of Robin Williams, as is bound to happen, I recommend watching Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie.