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The "Horror" of Drag

by: Laura Green
November 1999

Being a drag queen is a horrendous thing.
Let’s gather around and have a good laugh!!!

That’s the message the University of Western Ontario’s daily newspaper seemed to be saying in a caption that ran below a front-page photo on Thursday, October 16.

The Gazette photo showed Perry Monaco, vice president of campus issues for the University Students’ Council, dressed in drag and kneeling over another male lying on the floor. The caption read "OH THE HORROR, THE HORROR. Perry Monaco ... serviced students yesterday in the University Community Centre."

Nowhere in the paper did it mention that this scene took place following a performance by two real drag queens. Or that the event was part of an effort to publicize Coming Out week on campus.

There was no article to accompany the photo. No mention of the element of celebration and pride that is involved in a drag queen’s performance. No commentary on how some members of Western’s community are still subject to homophobic divisions and discrimination. No words of support or resources for those people that Coming Out week was aiming to help.

Instead students were left with the impression that a student representative dressed in drag was an incident to be mocked. An event that should have heightened students’ awareness and understanding in a fun way was reduced to a distorted image of the reality of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

When asked, many UWO students didn’t know why the picture was on the front page. "I have no idea what this picture is about," said first-year student Lindsay Hunter. "The caption should have had some information about what it’s pertaining to ... it doesn’t tell me anything."

When told the picture was taken after a drag queen performance that was part of a series of events for coming out week Hunter didn’t think that it was appropriate.

Other students felt that the caption was outright discrimination towards cross-dressers. "It shows a bias against drag, it’s not accepting it," said second-year student Benjamin Lee.

Monaco was disappointed with the caption. "Nowhere did it mention why I was doing this ... I was hoping that the whole purpose was to draw attention to the week," said Monaco. "Students who picked up the paper would have no idea what’s going on."

"It would have been nice if they could have tied it into coming out week."

Making fun of an individual’s lifestyle choice is not humorous for everyone. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals are frequently the subject of ridicule and hate crimes. Statistics from the 1998 FBI Uniform Crime Reports indicate that gays, lesbians and bisexuals ranked third in reported hate crimes in America. There are no statistics available for Canada.

And even these statistics are controversial because law enforcement experts agree that when compared to other crimes, hate crimes aimed at homosexuals are underreported to the police. In many cases, minority groups have historically strained relationships with law enforcement. They don’t report crimes to the police because they fear being victimized again. Homosexuals also fear "outing" themselves by reporting a hate crime caused by their sexual orientation.

Professor James Miller, director of UWO’s Pride library, praised Monaco’s efforts to heighten awareness. "The use of humour to diffuse tension and potential violence ... is a very brave thing to do. Perry has obviously taken it upon himself as part of his job with campus issues ... he’s getting into the spirit of celebrating sexual diversity."

Miller said that there are still many misunderstandings about homosexuals. "There’s an assumption that gay men are automatically drag queens. That homophobic assumption is deeply rooted in misogyny." Miller also said that there is a common confusion between gender identity and sexual identity. "Some people just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that a drag queen could be straight."

Miller explained that in the queer culture, drag is a celebration. "All gender is a performance, whether you are a homosexual or heterosexual," said Miller.

"Perry is to be praised for setting an example to celebrate sexual diversity ... he’s suggesting that the rigid policing of gender and sexual lines is very harmful," said Miller. "By being so visibly cutting-edge, he was opposing the anti-homophobia regime."

Miller noted that there seemed to be a Gazette tradition of mocking certain groups and officials on campus. "This has the quality of an in-joke and I don’t think it should be on the cover of a paper unless it is explained."


For more information on this subject, please check out the following web links or visit the Pride library located in room 355 of University College.

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