One of the reasons I call drag potentially poisonous is that drag queens often act out the worst qualities of the women they impersonate. We see the vindictive, cruel Bette Davis of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? rather than the strong, but sensitive character she portrayed in The Virgin Queen. To be sure, I think most gay men who do drag recognize that they are portraying a caricature of the feminine rather than probing the real meaning of that quality.
The potential for drag to be poisonous is that we might see these caricatures as embodying the essence of the feminine and lose sight of that quality’s appeal, particularly to men who seek romantic relationships with our own gender.
Nancy Pelosi seems to be providing another opportunity for us to see the worst aspects of the feminine embodied in a real woman. She seems determined to prevent Jane Harman, the only woman in line for a major committee chair, from taking charge of the House Intelligence Committee. (If Pelosi has her way, it seems New York’s Nydia Velazquez will be the only female chair of any House committee when she takes over Small Business.)
It seems with Pelosi that “everything is personal.” Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (whose candidacy Pelosi opposed) “acknowledged yesterday that he was seeking assurances from presumptive Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she would not retaliate against his supporters after he won the No. 2 House leadership post.” (Via Powerline.)
It says a lot that members of her own caucus fear Mrs. Pelosi might retaliate against Democrats who bucked her choice for Majority Leader. It’s striking that not only does she oppose making Harman chair of the Intelligence panel, but that she has also told her California colleague that “she will not be reappointed to the committee.” What incredible and “Petty Vindictiveness.”
Given the way Mrs. Pelosi has behaved since the Democrats won control of Congress, it seems that she is seeking to become a new model for her Castro Street constituents to caricature. Perhaps, like Bette Davis, she has qualities beyond her campy, over-the-top roles. But, in recent days, those more responsible qualities have not been readily apparent.
As long as we see drag merely as caricature and not reality, it does not become particularly poisonous. It shows in exaggerated form the darker aspects of the feminine. It’s important that we also recognize the other aspects of the feminine, qualities that we should strive to integrate inyo our own lives. Perhaps, Mrs. Pelosi will learn from her recent mistakes and provide the type of leadership that will make those qualities more manifest. And so show how a woman can lead and be a role model for men as well as women.
But, given her behavior these past few weeks, I wouldn’t count on it.