News & Politics

Halloween Drag Queens: What's the Fascination for Straight Men?

For many people, Halloween provides a welcome opportunity to let their hair down. This often means tons of makeup, micro minis and hairy chests a go-go, as the holiday appears to have become amateur drag night for straight men everywhere. It's a sort of taboo-free night for busting out alter egos without the consequences such behavior might normally elicit. The preponderance of fair weather transvestites has made me think about what's behind this fetish for fake tits, dresses and lipstick, besides a lot of testosterone.
My friend Sarah is blond and quiet by nature. For Halloween the year Pulp Fiction came out she dressed as Uma Thurman's character, complete with jet black wig and bloody syringe dangling from her chest. That night she was tough, sexy, and obnoxious, and got more attention than ever before. She had so much fun she wore the same costume again the following year, despite the fact that by then it was as passe as a Monica Lewinsky get up this year.

Like Sarah, for many people Halloween provides a welcome opportunity to let their hair down (or often, put it up). This often means tons of makeup, micro minis and hairy chests a go-go, as the holiday appears to have become amateur drag night for straight men everywhere. It's a sort of taboo-free night for busting out alter egos without the consequences such behavior might normally elicit.

The preponderance of fair weather transvestites -- and I'm talking about stereotypically macho men, the ones who can often be heard making uber macho protestations to make themselves sound so straight they could make a ruler seem swishy -- has made me think about what's behind this fetish for fake tits, dresses and lipstick, besides a lot of testosterone.

While I'm all for walking a mile in another woman's stilettos, I find it hard to believe that the motivation behind all this glam is actually about trying to understand how the other half lives. In some ways these men seem to be making fun of women, but maybe what they're really doing is stretching femininity to the extremes and making a mockery of hyper-feminine depictions of women - the women's magazine ideal taken to mythical, larger-than-life proportions.

Perhaps the more obvious answer to all this gender bending lies in the fact that men are tired of being forced into societal roles that keep them clad in khakis and jeans and force them to keep their emotions in check. You know, to be "masculine." Maybe there's more than a little jealousy over the fact that women have more freedom in their dress and at least the perception of being able to express emotion without repercussion. Maybe straight men's inner divas are pissed at being subjugated for so long. They're scratching the itch on the one night a year when they can get all dolled up without their friends wondering if they've got a few wacky notions tucked into their padded bras.

It's a chance to shake things up, turn social mores upside down, and for men to explore their feminine sides, or at the very least, grab their own fake breasts in public.

My friend Robert, who's gay and a sometimes drag queen himself, says Halloween is liberating because it allows people to adopt identities that are usually off-limits, especially in terms of gender and sexuality. He also says it's the one night when real drag queens take a holiday from pantyhose and coifed 'dos.

While he's all for straight men giving drag a go, he says if they want to use this night to dip their stocking-clad toes into the big ocean of cross-dressing, they better get some help and make sure they look pretty.

"Tragically, what it usually looks like when straight men dress in drag is that they got into Aunt Edna's closet and came out with a floppy hat, an ugly wig, bad makeup and a big floral dress," he says, having saved a number of first timers from such a fate. "And straight men can't walk in high heels. They walk like construction workers in stilettos."

Such fashion faux paus often conspire to help Halloween live up to its frightening reputation, even in the absence of witches and goblins. Six-foot-plus Carmen Mirandas and stubble-faced beauty queens have been known to inspire fear in many. But no matter.

When I checked in with Pippi Lovestocking, a famed drag performer, she told me she thinks the fact that straight men give drag a try is great, no matter how they look

"There's something liberating, risky and fun about becoming a different character."

Whatever the motivation behind some of the not-so-pretty gender bending that occurs every October 31, and regardless of how many six packs it takes to slip into that plus-size evening gown, it's impressive that many men take the risk, because whether it's intentional or not, they're going to learn something.

It may be a better understanding of what it's like to be a woman in our society -- having a man speak to your chest, getting hooted at by passing cars, and having your appearance commented on by any male who deems it his business. Or maybe how uncomfortable and annoying "feminine" fashion can be: think pantyhose, high heels, tight-fitting clothes. At the very least they're bound to gain an understanding of the virtues of MAC versus drugstore brands and having to worry about if your panty lines are showing or your stomach is sticking out. As my straight friend Jeff learned during his two Halloweens in drag, "having to reapply lipstick is a pain."

Dig a little deeper and it's a chance for men to learn about themselves and people who are different from them. Bottom line, they'll find out that being a woman isn't always easy, but it can be fun -- and may even be worth a try on some of the other 364 days of the year.

Come on boys, wear some eyeliner to the office, a bustier to the bar. You just might find you're man enough to carry it off.

****

SIDEBAR: Halloween Drag Tips for Straight Guys

Carmen Miranda?

Over.

Genie?

Done.

Cheerleader, housewife, prom queen, hula dancer?

All tired.

If you're going to dress in drag on Halloween, bust out in style. Following, some tips for first time queens compliments of Pippi Lovestocking, a well-known drag performer, and Robert Bray, a drag veteran.

* Dress in anything '60s or '70s retro (think Felicity Shagwell).

* Get some fashion help. You need it, Bray warns. Ask a female friend or check with your local drag bar for clinics, which they often run around this time of year.

* "Get a copy of Allure and see what the girls are doing," Pippi recommends.

* Learn how to walk in heels. "It's one foot in front of the other, no space between the legs," Bray says.

* Invest in heavy false eyelashes, a staple of a good queen.

* Make sure your foundation is the right shade, "unless you want to look scary," Pippi cautions. And use some powder so you're not all shiny. Don't forget to blend evenly. You don't want a makeup mask.

* Don't buy something that looks great on the rack but is excruciatingly uncomfortable. But remember, you have to suffer a little for beauty.

* Bring some comfy shoes with you. "Those four inch heels might look great," Pippi says, "but you'll be whining later."
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