Drag Queen as Angel Notes (Ella)

Hammond, Joyce. “Drag queen as angel.” Journal of Popular Film & Television. Fall96, Vol. 24 Issue 3, p106. 9p. 5 Black and White Photographs. (1996). DOI:10.1080/01956051.1996.9943720. Electronic.

  • “I don’t think of you as a man and I don’t think of you as a woman. I think of you as an angel. –Carol Ann to Vida Boheme in To Wong Foo” (Hammond 1)
  • “Additionally, many heterosexuals–as well as some homosexuals–are uncomfortable with the deviant appearance and demeanor of those gay men and lesbians who do not conform to societal norms of gender-appropriate behavior and image.” (Hammond 1)
  • “Allusions to angels are observable in the depiction of the drag queens in many scenes. In the beginning of the film, the reigning queen of the New York scene (played by the famous, real-life drag queen RuPaul) descends on a swing from the high, vaulted ceiling of the theater. In other scenes, the drag queens’ clothes and accessories mimic traditional depictions of angels.” (Hammond 2)
  • “The self-transformative properties of angels themselves are suggested: Is it the drag queen who is angelic or the angel who appears in the guise of drag queen?” (Hammond 3)
  • “In creating a feminine persona that is very stylized, flamboyant, exaggerated, and highly visible, drag queens are regarded by many heterosexuals and homosexuals alike as exceptionally perverse. The drag queen highlights and parodies sex and gender differences by using “her” male body as the framework on which exaggerated symbols of femininity are constructed and played out. The sexual identity of the drag queen as gay male further extends the inversionary elements that challenge American society’s dominant paradigm of sexuality and gender in which heterosexual identity is linked with masculine and feminine attributes.” (Hammond 3)
  • “The figure of the drag queen as a spiritual being is analogous to the recognition of the spiritual characteristics of certain people in a number of other societies that have recognized and sanctioned alternative gender roles. The hijra of India (see Nanda); the “two-spirit” people of native American groups (Williams); the yirka-la ul of the Chukchee people of Siberia (Bogoras), and the mahu of Hawaii (Williams) have all been associated with supernatural and mediatory powers as a consequence of their “in-between” gender status.” (Hammond 4)
  • “It is unlikely that the general public, represented by the film’s townspeople, are cognizant of the connections. However, the Christian religiosity of many middle-class white Americans, combined with a widespread interest in angels, suggests that To Wong Foo’s comparison of the drag queens’ traits and actions with angels’ characteristics and functions can be easily made.” (Hammond 4)
  • “Traits commonly ascribed to angels are extraordinarily beautiful faces, majestic and powerful wings, and a wondrous and mysterious radiance–an unearthly beauty matched by superior strength, purity of spirit, and incredible deeds. As extraordinary beings in the film, drag queens augment their larger-than-life look through exaggerated make-up, outrageously showy wigs, extravagantly theatrical clothing, and fantastic accessories. In the final scene of the film, the drag queen contest in Los Angeles, the three protagonists and the other contestants parade in spectacular costumes based on a floral theme. A voice-over informs us that the fourth precept of being a drag queen is, “Larger than life is just the right size.” Complemented by the exaggerated mannerisms of consummate “femininity,” drag queens’ performances are “splendiferous.”” (Hammond 5)
  • “As individuals who do not conform to the gender norms and sexual expectations of their biological sex, drag queens are, by the accepted norms of society’s predominantly bipolar structures, neither man nor woman. Their attraction to other men and their feminine appearance and demeanor seem to position them in the realm of the feminine, outside that of the masculine; yet their biological constitution, by the standards of dominant society, places them in the realm of the masculine.” (Hammond 6)
  • “Through their possession of traits associated with both sexes and in their capacity to bridge the physical and spiritual realms, drag queens occupy an ambiguous position between the recognized categories associated with the status quo. This strengthens their association with the realms of the mysterious, the sacred, and the taboo (see Leach; Douglas) and places them in the position of eliciting the transformative properties associated with the liminal (see Turner).” (Hammond 6)
  • “A common act is for the performer to pull out a false breast to show the audience, strip to a bare chest, disrobe to reveal men’s underwear, remove a wig or make-up, and so on. Another technique is to lower the voice or to refer to male genitalia. Those ploys serve to remind the audience of the performer’s sex and to highlight the construction of gender cues. Such acts are frequently performed to lyrics that have pointed messages about gender roles. Another common revelatory drag act involves the performer appearing as half-man and half-woman. The “couple” are made to dance or to embrace one another–suggestive of a reconciliation of masculine and feminine elements within one person.” (Hammond 7)
  • “The magical, transformative abilities of the drag queens are also likened to those of fairies, and the analogy between fairies and angels subtly suggests that gay men, sometimes maliciously called fairies, should be seen in light of their characteristics. Like the fairy godmother of the Cinderella story or the fairies who aid the poor shoemaker in the well-known European folktale, the “fairy” drag queens of To Wong Foo make it possible for ordinary people to attain their full potential. Seeing the happy scene of Snydersville’s residents dancing in the streets in a celebration of life and love, Vida tells her companions, “You know, pumpkins, sometimes it just takes a fairy.”” (Hammond 8)

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