Be careful what you wish for. Years ago, in the heyday of NYC clubbing, I became so enamored with drag performers--thanks to their wit, their nerve, and their gowns--that I secretly fantasized a world brimming with them. To me, drag queens have always been the court jesters of the scene--gleefully catty and incisive entertainers who got the party started and kept the show going. To be in a world with nothing but drag queens, I assumed, would be a glorious experience full of bantering, joyful noises, and makeup tips. Well, my wish has come true--and I'm afraid! There are now more drag queens per square foot than there are Chipotles and TD Banks!
Everywhere you go, there are guys shaving, tucking, teasing, frosting, and trying to be funny. They're in bars, they're at restaurants, they're on the street, they're on Facebook, they're coming out of my ears. Mind you, I'm thrilled with the success of RuPaul's Drag Race, which has prompted throngs of people to want to sew, lipsynch, and throw their arms in the air. They've given a voice to the disenfranchised, and that's fabulous.
But the nightlife scene has reacted too narrowly to drag's ascent. The way bars have evolved, drag has gotten so prevalent, it's driven out other forms of entertainment. Once the big dance clubs started waning thanks to the Internet and the power of community boards, smaller boites faced their own challenge in the name of Grindr (and other apps), which make it completely unnecessary for people to go out to hook up. When that happened, the bars needed to amp up their relevance level to try and lure some people in for a drink and a giggle, and they did so by putting drag queens on stage. And then more drag queens. And then more drag queens, until you go home with sequins in your lungs and Aqua Net in your navel. Drag queens are self sufficient--they come with their wig, their music, and their moves down pat--so you just plant them on the stage and they keep the gays happy for a few minutes, and then they scream, "Go buy drinks! The drunker you are, the better I look!"
There are well over a dozen gay bars in Hell's Kitchen, and practically all of them feature drag queens flouncing around and trying to amuse the crowd so they won't leave. (I guess it's better than just bolting the doors shut.) In the West Village, Boots & Saddle has a succession of drag queens performing virtually every night of the week. It's a drag emporium--a showcase for all things gender bending--and as exhilarating as some of the gals can be, you might also stumble into an off night, which, naturally, is part of the game. But it doesn't matter to the tipsy crowd in the least; as long as a guy in a dress is flapping his lips and doing some spins, they're as happy as if they've just witnessed Meryl Streep playing Maria Callas.
Longtime promoter Brandon Voss has found that regular weeklies at dance clubs are not the way to attract the gays anymore, especially since clubs are no longer where people go for their new music. So he's been throwing drag brunches at various locales, from NYC to Fire Island to Las Vegas, where the patrons get a reason to go out besides just some eggs. While they munch away on their meal, they get to see drag queens, something they haven't experienced since a whole night ago, lol!
I'm not really that mad about this development. I still adore the drag aesthetic and am happy to see these eager, brave folks all over the place, including up in my grill every night. I just wish they weren't all trying so hard to be famous--or do another Rihanna song. And I wish so many of them weren't following a formula, while assuming that wearing a dress automatically makes you brilliant and subversive. Once in a while, I'd like to see a comedian without accessories. Come on, make some noise!
THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
Actor/writer Drew Droege has donned drag for lots of reasons--like his hilarious videos in which he plays a sort of American Psycho version of Chloe Sevigny, rhapsodizing about lists of arcane things that have recently come to her attention. (Everything from Gogurt Squirts and cardamom butter to Shannyn Sossamon and Da Brat.) He's also a regular on the Logo movie show Cocktails & Classics, which I drop by on--and that's hosted by award winning Michael Urie, who directed Drew's new play, Bright Colors and Bold Patterns at the Barrow Street Theatre. So there I was, in a vintage half caftan by Vivienne Westwood Gold Label, thank you. Droege is Gerry, a one-man camp festival full of cocktails and joie de vivre, on the eve of going to a dreaded gay wedding in Palm Springs. His commentary to the other (unseen) party guests ranges from colorful to appalling, dotted with '90s references and witty repartee about Coachella patrons "with their feathered earrings and their intentional stench," not to mention how we, as a people, celebrate and mock things at the same time--"That is called gay." Gerry's understandably infuriated that the wedding invite came with instructions to avoid wearing anything with the title features; he's not of the self-loathing variety of screaming queen, mercifully enough. The upshot is a celebration of non cookie cutter gays who try to avoid the pricetag attached to assimilation, while never downplaying their gayness, and Droege performs the piece with brilliant verve and timing, Urie's direction helping it come off syllable-perfect. The crowd of proud, single gays screamed with appreciation throughout. By the way, Urie is working with Frank Langella on Arthur Kopit's 1962 absurdist mouthful of a comedy, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You In The Closet And I'm Feeling So Sad. The superb Langella will play Madame Rosepettle--yes, one more man in drag, but don't worry, he'll surely be wearing bright colors and bold patterns.
And Broadway rumors have it that Bernadette Peters might be the one to play Hello, Dolly! when star Bette Midler can't make it. If so, their ad campaign should be "Feel The Bern."
BUCK ANGEL HAS A NEW SEX TOY
Photo by Hans Rosemund
But back to the males: Trans men have a sexy new accessory to play with. Adult entertainment star Buck Angel and Perfect Fit Brand, have come out with the Buck-Off, described as "the first ever sex toy created specifically for FTM (Female-To-Male) trans men."
I honestly can't say it better than the press materials: "Engineered for FTMs who often see their clitorises grow in size as the result of testosterone therapy, the revolutionary Buck-Off was designed using Angel's vision for how it should feel and fit. Made from ultra-soft SilaSkin (Perfect Fit's proprietary blend of TPR and Silicone), its flat, flared base creates a suction cup-like effect and the inside is textured with soft ridges, designed to mimic the feel of a tongue. The Buck-Off can be stroked or just squeezed tightly, whichever the user prefers. The base also helps to stimulate the pubis, which can also lead to orgasm. 'The way Perfect Fit engineered this is amazing! It really feels like you are getting a blowjob', says Angel." So come on, men. Join the clitterati and get to it.
WHITE, WHITE, WHITE IS THE COLOR OF OUR DIN-DIN!
Photo courtesy of Le Diner en Blanc
From FTM, we go to DIY. The Apothic wines sponsored Le Diner en Blanc is the ultimate "do it yourself" event for people willing to pay $40 to bring their own dinners, tables, and chairs, just for the experience of being in a beautiful outdoor location filled with revelers dressed in their best end-of-summer white. And it's worth it. Watching the monochromatically bedecked people promenade onto the lawn of Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park last Thursday evening was like something out of a lavish art house movie about the Hamptons. (I should know. I watched it from the media VIP balcony, which was free and came with food, lol.) The annual dinner event--which launched in France in 1988--is held in various cities, attendees finding out the secret location about 90 minutes before it starts, at which point they begin their pale pilgrimage. I love a well-played out theme, and we gays certainly know from White Parties. And though Le Diner en Blanc creates a sartorial vision that's even whiter than a Republican intern meeting, the crowd is quite diverse, so it's way more fun than a blanc page.
Also fancy, but for a more serious purpose: I was invited to a Le Cirque lunch featuring co-director/producers Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, who did the documentary Defying The Nazis: The Sharps' Story. It's about a minister and his social worker wife who aided refugees in Europe in 1939. Joukowsky talked about how Burns helped shape the material, not to mention bringing his estimable friend Tom Hanks along for voiceovers. In other movie news, at my table, filmmaker Nina Rosenblum told me she's working on a documentary about late, great actress Maureen Stapleton, tentatively called Pedal Faster. (Nina is coproducing with her husband Daniel Allentuck, Stapleton's son, who's directing). She said Stapleton had several "loves of her life," including movie star Joel McCrea, though that was unrequited. And one of her closest friends was Marlon Brando, whom she lived in the same West 52nd Street building as. (Another connection was that they worked together in the 1959 drama The Fugitive Kind.) "All Marlon's castoff girlfriends would be crying on Maureen's shoulder," related Rosenblum. I guess he really was the fugitive kind. Anyway, a great boxed set would be docs about great actresses Maureen, Geraldine Page, Sandy Dennis, and Kim Stanley--followed by the inevitable feature films, not starring drag queens, lol.