Thursday, June 18, 2009

Camp Straight

I've always had a strange interest in the side-shows and freak shows of the early circuses/carnivals. A group of outcasts moving from town to town entertaining the supposed "normal" folks is a concept that greatly intrigues me. We now know and understand the horrific conditions most of these men, women, and children lived in and acknowledge how wrong this was, but at the same time there were very limited options for people who didn't fit the norms of the period and I have to believe in some way they found a community and home in these harsh conditions. People always do. You can't stop bonds from being formed.

Of course this "othering" of people is nothing new. It wasn't new in the early years of the the American circus and and it's not new today. Now we place our "freaks" on TV and laugh at them. 

I'm partly interested in the "other" because of being gay. Gay people fit into the idea of the freak being placed on display for entertainment purposes. Take a look at any make-over or fashion show in TV. We are the funny, bitchy queens who can make your life better and people love it as long as they don't have to think about us as real people who have feelings and desire love and sex. We are the bearded ladies.

This brings me to my greater point and story. Last night I went to the Parliament House for what they call Camp Drag. Now I've been to the P-House countless times but I've never gone for Wednesday nights. What happens is people from the audience volunteer to get into drag (P-House provides the clothes and make-up) and then the person must perform a song in drag. They don't get to pick their song instead they spin a "wheel of drag," which selects a genre of music for them (showtunes, top 40, country, disney, latin, oldies but goodies, etc.). They don't know what song they have until it starts playing and they have to start performing. Sounds hard, right? Well it is. 

Last night five contestants volunteered and all but one of them were straight men. This seems to happen often for contests at P-House. I've gone on Mondays for the strip show and I have even participated myself and there are always a lot of straight men that come and do it. I have no problem with this on the surface. Straight people coming to a very popular and well known gay club is great. It opens eyes and encourages a dialogue between the gay community and the straight community. However, last night while these straight men put on dresses, smeared make-up on their faces, and sort of moved to songs they didn't know I couldn't help but wonder why they were there? Had they come to gawk at the others? To have their night with the freaks? Had they come to make fun of drag queens and gay people and to have their girlfriends snap pictures? 

Yes, I over think everything. This is my lot in life and I know it, but last night at times I felt this strange sort of voyeurism/participation that may or may not have been positive. Of course the drag queen hosting still got the last laugh (they always do) when any of them attempted anything stupid, but I have to wonder was there enough good happening there to overcome the negative? 

I see straight people all the time at the Parliament House and I'm often annoyed by the treatment they get. At shows the drag queens often make them stand up and make the men take off their shirts and I know this is all in good fun (I normally laugh) and I often enjoy looking, but sometimes I fear the message it sends. Are we just being someone's freaky night out? Our we putting our best stereotypes forward just to entertain? At the same time does it matter if we are?

I'm all about voyeurism and most of the time find nothing wrong with it, so I'm really stuck here. Maybe there is a line where it crosses and becomes offensive or damaging. There is always that risk, but maybe it's worth it. Maybe those guys in dresses making fools of themselves last night are just as freaky as us gays and we provide a place to let it all hang out. Maybe they do have stereotypes that start to crumble when they come in and maybe some of mine crumble too. 

Regardless I had fun and screamed as loud as I could for the only gay guy in the competition and he won, because we freaks stick together.  

1 comment:

  1. That was just a really awesome post. When reading-I felt your mixed excitement, distraction, and your own form of voyeurism ; )

    I think women should try drag camp too. If its more than just gender, than gender "bending" shouldn't be necessary for it to be freaking fun.