Letter: A queer sort of theatre

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AS THE author of the text in The Drag King Book, I must express my outrage at Natasha Walter's article "Maketh the man" (Review, 16 May). The Drag King Book is a careful attempt to document and explain the phenomenon of male impersonation in urban queer communities. The book includes histories of drag, interviews with individual drag kings and chapters on gender, race and locality.

Walter writes: "What hits you about most of the photographs is their theatricality. They tend to rely on an artificial performance of masculinity." Of course the photographs are theatrical, of course they seem artificial; these are people making masculinity into theatre, into an act. In The Drag King Book, we define drag king performances as an attempt to make visible the theatricality of masculinity at a time when masculinity most often represents itself as "natural", "obvious", "untheatrical" and "real."

Walter also comments that women in drag are unconvincing. Actually, it is remarkably easy to pass as a man once you don a little facial hair, add a little crotch stuffing and put on a suit and tie. On the other hand, it is quite tricky for a man to pass as a woman and those tall and muscled drag queens whom Walter so admires depend upon the camp distinction between dressing and being.

"Why is it," asks Walter, "that women dressed in drag are so ... unattractive?" Why is it, we reply, that heterosexual women are so ... defensive. Natasha, put on a goatee, go to a drag show, date a drag king; it's never too late to learn something.

JUDITH HALBERSTAM

San Diego, California, USA

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