And I looked something like this. Don’t be scared.
So my friend Joy, admittedly with all the appropriate disclaimers, threw out this zinger, So: I find (straight) men dressing in drag an instant turn off, which I felt was just begging for me to reply.
At first I kind of wanted to debate the meaning of the phrase “in drag” but it turns out it means just what I think Joy meant it to mean, “clothing that is conventionally worn by the opposite sex.” I guess when I think of dressing in drag, I think of Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, or to borrow from Joy’s example, Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot. We could also put into that category the whole mantle of gay men dressing in drag as performance art. But my dressing “in drag” has always felt different than that.
What I see in those examples are men appropriating some of the stereotypical aspects of female culture and applying it in grotesque, almost hamfisted proportions. This is probably for a number of reasons, either they wish to entirely obscure their underlying sex, perhaps they don’t well understand the elements of female dress and make-up, or in many cases they may wish to queer the accepted standards of gender identity through exaggeration. None of this I have any issues with, but none of this is what I see myself doing.
My approach has been to use Halloween as a chance to appropriate some of traditional dress and makeup of the opposite sex in such a way that it might actually look good on me. Or at least interesting. I’d prefer hot. I don’t want to be a woman, I don’t like prothestics (fake boobs), I’m not interested in shaving my chin. I’m certainly not interested in revealing any aspect of my body that would be unsettling for others to see. In some sense I think that’s very much a part of being an American or Western heterosexual female: displaying the parts of your body you find particularly attractive and obscuring others.
I think what’s at stake here is the notion of a mask, in particular a physical one, and what freedoms it offers from various social pressures and expectations. For example, I never felt comfortable dancing. Part of that’s just me, but part of that I believe is what it means to be growing up male in America. I was extremely self-conscious of how I moved my body if I was doing something that wasn’t strictly utilitarian.
One Halloween a few years ago I dressed in my unique interpretation of drag, and I went with some friends to a dance party at a local bar. I was wearing a dress, wearing eye makeup and lipstick, so not much of a mask, I had a few drinks, nothing out of the ordinary, and I started to feel totally free to just move however I wanted to. Granted I was in some ways emulating what I thought were particularly feminine movements, but at that point I would have avoided any dance-related movements for being too effeminate.
Since then it’s something I’ve felt much less self-conscious about. Whether I’m wearing a skirt or not.