Tonight I watched two excellent shows that shed light on things I know almost nothing about. The first was the BBC’s Blue Planet, showing incredible footage of the very bottom of the ocean and the weird things that live there.
The second was much closer to home – a show about the lives of drag queens living in Brisbane. On comparison, I am still not sure what was more flashy and glam.
‘DragQueensland’ is a charming jumble of snippets from the lives of three full-on transvestites. I came into it expecting oddity and flamboyance and the show has loads of that – they have the trashy over-the-top thing down pat. It’s amusing that somehow modern drag still involves dressing up like a really eccentric hooker from the 80s.
Unexpected was the flipside of their exhibitionism: some very eye-opening accounts of the cruelty that these guys put up with in the Joh Bjelke-Petersen days, when it was illegal to be gay (never mind a cross-dresser and outrageously camp to boot). Cops were routinely violent to drag queens. Even now it seems they are the subject of a lot of hatred, though the feel of the show is quite triumphant. I got the impression that a lot of the showiness of this subculture isn’t just about liking fashion, being feminine or wanting to be noticed: it’s there to make a point. The number of times that these guys said things like ‘I am what I am’ or ‘fuck you, I won’t hide this’ to nobody in particular gave me a sense that it’s also a way of pushing back against the the enormous pressure they must face to repress their showy brand of homosexuality.
I came for entertainment and got that – the dialogue is amusing, the music works well and the recycled-object outfits they contrive are unlike anything I’ve seen before. It kills me that I couldn’t bring a camera into the show, because there are all kinds of visually unique and bizarre things going on in this show. That was all fun but the take-home from this show is a new respect for the courage of drag queens (and I guess anyone that had to come out in the 80s). Next time some bogan shouts ‘faggot!’ out of a car window at one of these guys, I wish they could realise how much bravery it must take to persevere in being really, really gay in a society (and often a family) that hates you for it. This is in some ways the only big tragedy of this show – at most, a quarter of the audience tonight was straight.
Blue Planet will wait, but DragQueensland is only around for a few more days. Check it out at the Judith Wright Centre on Brunswick st if you want to see something really different. Poke your head into one of the cocktail bars nearby on your way out too: Mana Bar has gamers and Xboxes if you want to keep exploring eccentric cultures, and Glass has jazz and funky lightfittings if you’re after somewhere more intimate.