Hollywood Drags Out the Drag Queens
by Mubarak Dahir
Any time a movie with a gay theme is released, gay men feel some unexplainable desire, no, need to go see it, review it, analyze it, scrutinize it. I am no different.
So when the highly promoted ''To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar'' was released, I felt it nothing less than my homosexual duty to go critique this film.
In the movie, Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo play three New York City drag queens who drive cross country on their way to the Mother of All Drag Competitions in Hollywood. Along the way, they run into a good-ol'-boy cop who finds more than he is looking for when he manhandles one of the drag queens. The three women leave the cop face down in the dust and flee the scene of the crime assuming the dirty cop is dead.
But before they get too far, their old Cadillac convertible breaks down in nowhere's-ville, and they are forced to spend the weekend in a 2-by-4 town until a new car part arrives on Monday morning. Unbeknownst to them, however, the cop pulls himself up off the road, dusts himself off, and goes looking for drag queens.
Back in the little Nebraska town, the three are playing fairy godmothers to just about every down and out heterosexual hick in sight: an innkeeper whose husband beats her, the old lady who hasn't spoken since her husband died, the young cowboy looking for love in all the wrong places, and the young maiden who can't catch a cowboy's eye because she doesn't know how to put on makeup and do her hair.
By the end of the movie, of course, the drag queens beat up the wife-beater, the old lady talks, and the young lovers swoon. And when the cop comes looking for the drag queens, the townsfolk band together and drive the bad guy away.
Despite admirable performances by Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo, and one-liners that leave you laughing out loud, by the end of this totally unrealistic, painfully predictable, no-plot-to-save-its-life movie, I was full of criticism, like every astute homosexual should be.
The laundry list of complaints goes something like this: Why does every Hollywood movie about gay men have to be about drag queens? And why do they have to get three straight guys to play them? Why hasn't Patrick Swayze figured out that playing a drag queen is not the same thing as playing a woman? And what about all the substance a movie like this should have, like insight about discrimination against drag queens from within the gay community itself, or how, in real life, drag queens are more likely to be beaten up by guys in pick-up trucks rather than romanced by them? And who the hell is Wong Foo, anyway?
To prove my point, I turned to a real authority: Aigne, a 27-year-old Philadelphia drag queen who was crowned 1995 Entertainer of the Year at Stars Too, a Center City gay bar. (Aigne was born Greg Andrews, but no one except her mother has called her that in five years.)
Aigne quietly acknowledged that it is often difficult for drag queens to get respect from other gay men, and that there have been times when she feared for her physical safety because the machismo of a disapproving straight thug threatened to erupt in violence.
''But,'' she said, ''I am happy and doing what I want to do. My reward is making people smile and laugh, and it doesn't matter if they are gay people or straight people.''
She conceded, of course, that all the ill will between her community and ''mainstream'' America isn't going to be settled in a two-hour tirade of chiffon and lace.
''But,'' she offered hopefully, ''I've found that once drag queens and straights open their minds to each other, we can find ways to co-exist. Maybe a movie like this will help open that door for some people.''
And like every other gay man in America, Aigne confirmed she would comb the movie with her most critical eye: ''I want to see who has the best dresses and highest heels.''