Fanny and Stella, the ‘Funny He-She Ladies’

3 01 2014

Fanny and Stella Victorian Photography IDrag queens have it rough. They primp, preen, pad, paint, and tuck until their testicles squeeze out through their eyeballs, only to walk the nightmarish obstacle course of city streets filled with drunken fraternity boys and suburban tourists before reaching their nightclub destination, where they are lucky enough to get a spray of one-dollar bills across their carefully designed bosoms, let alone a slot on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Oh, wait, that is the twenty-first century.

Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park leave Bow Street Magistrates' CourtImagine what it’s like being a drag queen in Victorian London, where sodomy was punishable by the death penalty until 1861, and made legal in modern England and Wales only in 1967. (Many drag queens are gay and do have anal sex.) Now you’re not so sassy, are you, sister? You want to read up on your drag queen history now, don’t you?

That’s what I’m doing. I am reading the most delightful biography about two drag queens who graced the music halls, theatres, and ‘houses of accommodation’ of Victorian London. It is called Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England, by journalist Neil McKenna. The two queens, Thomas Ernest Boulton (Stella) and Frederick William Park (Fanny), got arrested by the Metropolitan Police for public lewdness after leaving a performance at The Strand Theatre in London. They were conspicuously drunk and leering at the men in the dress circle, like Fanny and Stellamany patrons of today’s theatres. It was an ambush—the police had planned it for a year or so just to capture these two queens.

Interestingly, some of the greatest defenders and secret champions of Fanny and Stella were their mothers, sisters, and housemaids, and the prostitutes they consorted with, who, rather than judge them, revelled in their saucy wit and rebellious charm. For some reason, this doesn’t surprise me. Jesus would have treated them the same, wouldn’t he?

One of the more bizarre and captivating chapters I’ve read thus far describes Dr James Paul’s strange obsession with the bodies of sodomites. He was a doctor commissioned by the Metropolitan Police to examine the illnesses and injuries of the police officers as well as the criminals in his jurisdiction, and he was trained by a doctor who also had an obsession with sodomy.

Fanny and Stella IVDr Paul did not neglect to go into the most explicit detail in describing his physical examination of Fanny and Stella. McKenna quotes Dr Paul’s examination of Stella: ‘I examined Boulton [Stella], and found him to be a man…. The anus was dilated, and more dilatable, and the muscles surrounding the anus easily opened’ (McKenna 50). Of Fanny, McKenna quotes Dr Paul as saying, ‘[t]he anus was very much dilated…and dilatable to a very great extent. The rectum was large, and there was some discoloration around the edge of the anus, caused probably by sores’ (50). One of Dr Paul’s own authorities on sodomy states that often, ‘the dimensions of the penis of active pederasts were excessive in one way or another’, were ‘pointed and twisted to the funnel shape of the passive anus’, and were sometimes ‘twisted’, a result of ‘the corkscrew motion required during anal sex’ (as cited in McKenna 51). This is the kind of creepy medical judgement to which Fanny and Stella’s bodies were being subjected in the dark, dank cell at the back of the courthouse on Bow Street after their first trial appearance, the day after they were arrested.

But the book isn’t just about the Fanny and Stella IIIsalacious and scandalous; it also deals with the way Victorians would have navigated relationships when it is discovered that a loved one is engaged in ‘unnatural’ and ‘abominable’ sexual practices, or even just cross-dressing (which wasn’t illegal, but which was greatly frowned upon). While Stella’s mother, Mrs Mary Ann Boulton, did not wholly approve of her son’s aspirations, she was probably more liberal for her time in accepting it:

I was always rather opposed to his acting…. But I did not forbid it. I would rather he would have done anything else, but he always had such a penchant for it that I was almost compelled to give my sanction. (61)

Mary Ann loved her son, and loved him happy above all else. It was Fanny and Stella VIIIalways an awkward acceptance. If I try hard enough, I can almost pretend to be her, sitting small and prim by the window in her front room, sipping a cup of Earl Grey, eyes drifting away into the past.

The relationship between drag queens and prostitutes in Victorian London is also interesting since it marks the intersection of two underclasses. At times, they had a special bond. With regard to Fanny’s relationship with prostitutes, McKenna writes,

…the whores were, by and large nice to her [Fanny]. They would call her ‘Deary’ or ‘Margery’ or ‘Mary Ann’ or ‘Miss Nancy’, and most of the time it was not in a nasty way. Sometimes she would talk to them, and she found—to Fanny and Stella IXher surprise—that she was drawn to them and liked them more than she thought she would. They did not judge her like the others. They did not look down upon her. They would curse and cuss her in a friendly way, and then she would answer back with a haughty toss of her head and they would laugh uproariously. (72)

Prostitutes and drag queens had an equal foe to contend with—patriarchy—although they probably would never have recognised such a concept. Patriarchy is a very modern, academic concept, and we are talking about pragmatic street urchins in the nineteenth century here. That said, it is no wonder Fanny and Stella should warm up to women who were considered lewd and unladylike. They were in a similar, slatternly league.

Fanny and Stella VIII hope that whets your appetite. So far, Fanny and Stella has proved to be an eye-opening exposé of the Victorian criminal justice system, police abuse of power, sexual exploitation, and Victorian medical knowledge, especially as these relate to sexual minorities and prostitutes. (Fanny and Stella were gay and did have sexual relations with other men.) If you thought it was hard walking down the street in drag and getting cat-calls and bottles thrown at you, just imagine going out in full paint, a petticoat, a crinoline, a corset, a bodice, full jewellery, a chignon and various other hairpieces and accessories, getting drunk at the saloon, and then having the police arrest you and throw you into a dank cell overnight before being sent to court the morning after only to be probed by a creepy doctor who loves anuses. I am at Chapter Nine, but I will be providing a full review of the book when I finish it.

And with that, I feel the need to play this unabashedly lustful, flesh-hungry track by the Spanish dance-pop duo Baccara:

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My Halloween Night

1 11 2013

You know how parents protect their children a little too much? How they enfold their children from a frightening sight?

Rubbish.

Halloween is supposed to be a little bit scary—a little bit unsettling. I understand if your child is very young—around the age of 5—but even then they should be allowed to experience a little bit of the macabre, in my opinion. I will modify my actions for a young child, but not for a frowning father or mother who cares nonetheless.

With that, I thought I would share with you my thoughts on my Halloween dressed in full drag as a witch-priest raised from the dead as a vampire passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. Ultimately I decided that she might be some sort of vampire Carrie, but they didn’t know that. Nor did I until I looked in the mirror.

What a horror they must have beheld: Brandon - Halloween 2013

Can you imagine this camp queen spooning processed candy into the already-full baskets of your young ones?

It doesn’t help to acknowledge that this vile image exists: Brandon - Halloween 2013 II

The satisfying  thing was that I gave candy away to a tiny little girl dressed in full Superman costume. I have to give kudos to her parents for that.

But this other little boy said, as he was taking his candy away, ‘Wow, she is a real vampire!’ Brandon - Halloween 2013 IVWell, thank you. Yes, I am.

But on this solemn date, I must implore you to treat your animals with care:

Brandon - Halloween VI

There are still superstitious assholes out there who hurt cats for no logical reason.

Halloween is a night when the fairies run afoul of men, but it is also a night when parents let their children enjoy being scared shitless. It used to be a time when parents themselves were scared shitless. Why can’t we return to this, whether parents or their sweet, trick-or-treat child-things?





Jackie Hell and “Horror” Drag

10 09 2013

Jackie Hell XXXIX

The other day I watched a Youtube video by Seattle drag queen Jackie Hell, and I was reminded of what Pittsburgh queen Sharon Needles has said about her own art: that she wants to shine a light on the dark and ugly side of humanity. I don’t think Jackie would make the cut for Rupaul’s Drag Race any time soon—she is just too specialised—but I think she and Sharon have a lot in common, and they both have a lot of uncomfortable things to say.

To shine a light on Jackie’s horrible character, I decided to include that Youtube video below. Some people say camp drag queens mock women, but they fail to realise that camp queens are consciously flaying stereotypes about traditional womanhood. It is actually the critics of camp drag queens who mock women, because they actually believe in the stereotypes that those queens are parodying. I think Jackie is like that–she is creating a pastiche of anecdotal female caricatures and channelling her impressions through performance art:

I know, the child abuse part. It’s a touchy subject. But hopefully we can all agree that Jackie is satirising the ugliest sample of humanity and making it something we can all recognize, if indirectly. I actually think watching videos like hers is a way for us to confront our greatest fears. Who else would say it? Your schoolteacher? No. It takes the boldest performance artist to speak truth.

Anyway, what do you think about Jackie Hell’s style of drag? Is it offensive, does it challenge your way of thinking about gender performance, or are you simply amused by her style of drag?





Cartman Looks Like Steve Strange!

16 07 2013

I’m sure you remember my post on Visage. Well, Steve Strange looks uncannily like Eric Cartman from Episode 3, Season 6 of South Park.

Cartman:

Cartman South Park My Hot Body II

Steve Strange:

Steve Strange IV

Is it just me, or is Cartman channelling early 1980s New Romantic gender-scepticism?





Drag Queens out of Drag, in Drag!

7 05 2013

I’m happy, so I’m going to use Dragulator.

My hopes and dreams came true when Jinkx Monsoon won the crown on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly why she resonates with me. Part of it is her slightly sloppy, adorably camp good humour, but it is also her rich understanding and appreciation of vintage drag and drag history–something to which more of us need to be exposed. I even liked the fact that her crown was slightly crooked when RuPaul placed it on her head. When I look at the “sleeper from Seattle”, I see Mae West after a rough night in bed. Everything about America’s first narcoleptic Jewish drag superstar–from her unfinished lady-of-the-night look to her comedic buffoonery–screams Pacific Northwest “realness”. To me that means liberal, relaxed, and willing to be yourself while letting others do the same.

Like Jinkx, I do believe we should take drag less seriously. That is, after all, why RuPaul herself created the Web site Dragulator, where you can take pictures of people’s faces and transform them into their drag alter ego. Since Season 5 of Drag Race is over, I thought I would try to deconstruct the very scrupulously crafted drag persona of each of the season’s royal triumvirate–Roxxxy Andrews, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Jinkx Monsoon–by taking photographs of them out of drag and then dragulating them! And how could I leave out the queen-bitch of them all, RuPaul? I bet she never imagined that scenario when she created Dragulator.

And with that let us commence with the dragulation!

1) Roxxxy Andrews

Roxxxy Fuck

Darling, you don’t look so bad-ass here! Your sartorial presentation is refined and polished, and you have much to teach about sewing and costume construction–but why are you trying to sneak away with Jinkx’s crown?

2) Alaska Thunderfuck

Alaska Thunderfuck Dragulator - Body

Hark! It is Alaska without a wig. You’ve turned trash into 1980s prom queen couture, darling! I can’t wait to see you dance to ‘You Spin Me Round’. How does it feel to be a cool high-school girl from the ’80s, garbage-hooker??

3) Jinkx Monsoon

Jinkx Monsoon Dragulator - Body

Oh, god. Jinkx, did somebody ask you to do blackface? Because that’s one area I don’t think you’ll master. The face doesn’t match the–oh, wait. That’s right. I matched your face with a black queen’s body on Dragulator. Somehow, though, I think you’ll pull through and render a masterpiece out of the random scraps and pieces.

4) RuPaul

RuPaul Dragulator - Body

Whoooaaagh, shit! Tell me one thing–how do you stick that wig on your head? Do you use Elmer’s Glue (which is apparently cruelty-free)? Do you use superglue? Because that would be very painful to tear off. I just want to know how you create that seamless melding between forehead and hair. It is an important part of drag.

Oh, wait. I forgot an important part of this post. Singer and songwriter Aubrey O’Day said she didn’t like Jinkx Monsoon. Well, how would this Playboy model like it if I took a picture of her without makeup and transformed her into drag?

Aubrey O'Day Dragulator - Body JPG

What’s wrong, Aubrey? Cat’s got your–oh, wait. Half of your head is gone. I guess it’s like when Uma Thurman sliced off Lucy Liu’s skull in Kill Bill, Vol. I. Well, some people deserve a lobotomy.

With that, I want to say that I appreciate the contribution of all three queens to drag history: Roxxxy’s professional pageantry, Alaska’s unabashed sordidness, and Jinkx’s subversive commentary on gender. All of these things open up our eyes. But, still, I want to know how RuPaul  puts her wig on. How? I wonder….





Jinkx Monsoon Kills Detox on “Drag Race” Lip Sync

21 04 2013

Jinkx Monsoon RuPaul's Drag Race Lip Synch IIII would have posted about this earlier, but I only just found the perfect clip of it on Youtube. If you’ve been following the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ll have noticed it was the first time kooky underdog-turned-fierce-multi-talented-competitor Jinkx Monsoon had to lip sync for her life. And boy did she put Detox Icunt in her place–albeit in her sweetly flamboyant, non-aggressive manner, which I must say is perhaps her most refreshing and endearing trait.

In Episode 11 of the show, the queens had to perform a ‘sugar ball’ as well as create a candy-inspired look in three categories: ‘super-duper sweet sixteen teenage party girl’, ‘sugar mama executive realness’, and ‘candy couture: edible eleganza’. Alaska killed the cougar construction supervisor look. Amen! For the last category, Detox donned this odd black-and-green toxic licorice contraption, Roxxxy Andrews created this very precisely made long stringy licorice look, Jinkx wore this weird candy-cane-deer-on-crack look, and Alaska Thunderfuck cobbled together a gorgeous bodice-corset thing with thick, gorgeous plumes of cotton candy bursting out of the top and bottom of the piece, and lollipops stuck to the bodice and cotton candy plumes. It was the best-conceived outfit, and Alaska deserved to win that week’s challenge for it.

The look is one thing–the full repertoire of talents is another. RuPaul had Jinkx and Detox lip sync to a tune unfamiliar to most of us–Malambo No. 1an operatic mambo piece performed by Peruvian chanteuse Yma Sumac and composed by Moisés Vivanco. From the start Jinkx nailed the rhythm with her thump-a-thump hip thrusts and bomp-a-bomp fist twists. By the end of this most unusual of lip sync challenges,  RuPaul had proclaimed Jinkx the winner and sent Detox packing. Jinkx was able to prove her talent as a lip sync artist, singer, dancer, and actor, and she was able to meld all of these things into one stellar performance. But perhaps most important, she was able to express her appreciation of vintage drag and burlesque culture.

I didn’t want Detox to go. I thought she deserved to be in the top three along with Jinkx and Alaska, but Detox and Roxxxy were really busy being jealous of Jinkx, while Alaska seemed really kind towards Jinkx and circumspect about her former RoLaskaTox teammates’ jealousy. She even began to identify with Jinkx as a common comedy queen. How often does that occur? Well, I thought Roxxxy should go because she seemed professional yet uncreative. But Ru decides. If you really want my opinion, the triumvirate of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5, in order of the contestants who deserve to win, are Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Detox. We will see shortly who takes the crown.





RuPaul’s Queens Get “Red” for Filth on Their Perfume Commercials

24 03 2013

RuPaul RuPaul's Drag Race Perfume Commercial ChallengeLook! It’s RuPaul smelling “Grandma’s vadge”, as the always meek and subtle Aubrey O’Day put it. I usually hate reality television, and I’m constantly watching documentaries on asteroids and volcanoes, but RuPaul’s Drag Race pumps out some hot stuff, hookers. On Episode 8 of Season 5, the dolls had to concoct their own unique fragrance and make a commercial for it which reflected their personalities.

Well, I was not terribly impressed with the girls’ work. London makeup artist Joseph Harwood himself expressed surprise over the quality of the commercials–and I agree with him. They could have been more polished as actors. Nevertheless, I do think some queens did better than others, and I’ve included their delightfully tongue-in-cheek perfume commercials below. Enjoy!

1) ‘Red…for Filth’

Alaska had RuPaul cackling like a witch with this fine gem. The pun in ‘red’ is obvious, but it’s just so funny and catchy that it hits you out of nowhere like a friendly drunk hooker turning tricks on the street. Alaska’s right up there with Jinkx in terms of high-kookiness, in my opinion. She carried through with the theme of red in her runway look in the same episode, and her fragrance was the only one Aubrey didn’t think smelled like Grandma’s vadge. (Alaska wanted to create a raw, earthy, leathery smell.) So, deservedly, Alaska won this, her first, weekly challenge. Are you read(y) for me?

2) ‘Heroine’

Another clever double entendre. As Lineysha Sparx said in a previous episode, Detox looks like eyes with legs, but she is so posh and polished, and so very refined and committed to her art, that she is virtually unassailable. Her dark, alluring, expertly applied makeup matches perfectly with the message she conveys in her commercial: ‘I may be a drug addict, but, by golly, I am glamourous about it’. The deep ‘heroin’ voice nailed it for Joan Van Ark, one of the judges who critiqued her in this episode and loved her for being so bold. By the way, Heroine is available at the clinic.

3) ‘Delusion’

Jinkx is the queen of glamour-kook. She is a melding of beauty and humour. Tammie Brown has done kooky, but she depended too much on kookiness at the cost of glamour. Alaska is kooky, like Jinkx, but she doesn’t possess Jinkx’s appreciation of vintage drag, which is important when you want to make drag history accessible to modern-day youth. Jinkx is multi-layered and fascinating, always responding to criticisms from Michelle Visage by upgrading her look and growing as a glamour-queen. She is the strange, gorgeous, funny vaudeville surprise. And she isn’t defensive or catty, which is refreshing. Con-vince yourself!

So, while I prefer educational documentaries on asteroids and volcanoes, I have a weak spot for RuPaul’s Drag Race. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be for RuPaul to smell the samples of her minions. It must be like eating poisonous flowers. I am confident, however, that she will make a wise decision about who will take home the crown. And I will let you speculate on who that individual shall be. *hint, hint*