Gloria Brame, Ph.D.

The Great Impersonators: New YouTube Video

Filed By Gloria Brame, Ph.D. | October 08, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Gay Icons and History
Tags: drag queens, female impersonator, history of drag, LGBTQ history, transgender history

New in my erotic history collection on YouTube is The Great Impersonators: Vintage Drag Divas, a compilation video of vintage images of famous female impersonators from the 1890s to the 1970s. (Coming soon is part 2, an homage to vintage male impersonators!)

Via Erotographica on YouTube

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Om Kalthoum | October 8, 2011 3:21 PM

Can anyone explain why men want to pretend to be women? I honestly don't get it.

Perhaps for some of the same reasons women want to pretend to be men?

Om Kalthoum | October 8, 2011 5:29 PM

But, in general, women don't want to pretend to be men. The glaring exception (and it's especially relevant here due to the "vintage" nature of many of those photos) is when women have wanted to access professions and privileges or even just less restrictive clothing unavailable to them in the culture as females.

Were any of Gloria's "Great Impersonators" women pretending to be men? Why not?

You havent seen drag kings? That would surprise me. I admit, they aren't as wide-spread as drag queens, but there are a lot of lesbians who like to do drag, too.

I have to say, I am not fond of drag queens, though, esp when str8 men do it, and most esp str8 Republican men like Rudy Giuliani. I am sure I am being over-simplistic, but the gay guys seem to do it b/c they like to be pretty, and to express something in themselves, but the str8s, esp those Repubs, seem to do it to demean women or to express something base without getting called on it.

Rachel Bellum | October 9, 2011 7:58 AM

Randomly, I just watched three singers perform a song together on Hulu (it was actually quite good). All three were in a suit and tie. Two were male and one was female. And while it can difficult to tell the difference sometimes now, she was clearly wearing a "male" suit.

Women often wear "men's" styles and actual clothing. And not just as performance, drag, or to express a transgender identity. Men do not have clothing styles referred to "girl's shorts" or "girlfriend shirts." Women have boy's shorts and boyfriend shirts.

While historically there may be many explanations for apparent differences in the rate of men and women crossdressing, it is readily apparent that one of the current contributing factors is simply that women have a much wider range of clothing to choose from already, including consciously picking across the gender lines, without necessarily encountering social prohibitions.

As far as drag kings go, my understanding is that the performances are gaining greatly in popularity and becoming increasingly included in more traditional drag shows.

Om Kalthoum | October 9, 2011 2:00 PM

Did that woman singer in the suit have pasted-on or drawn-on facial hair? Did she have her breasts bound flat? Did she have something stuffed down the front of her pants to make an obvious bulge? No? Then she probably wasn't pretending to be a man, or, shall we say, performing masculinity along with that song. Just as no one thought Diane Keaton's fashion sense in Annie Hall or in real life indicated an attempt to pass as a man.

Are those women who wear ties to work with their blouses also wearing men's boxers or briefs, do you suppose? Do the clothes that most women choose to wear that you might call "men's" clothes have the potential to self-injure, like high heels or (in past years) corsets? I can't even think of any male equivalents. What normal man would wear clothes that damage his body?

When straight suburbanites make a trip into the city to see a drag king review, as they will do for many drag queens, then I'll know that "phenomenon" is anything more than a curiosity. But there surely isn't any correlation between women in Western cultures wearing comfortable zip-front pants and drag kings, is there?

Rachel Bellum | October 10, 2011 3:12 AM

The correlation is rather simple and straight forward:

The current circumstances surrounding crossing gender lines in clothing is different for men and women which in some ways makes the act itself different.

While discussing the limited category of current rules regarding dress, women have a much greater flexibility, including in many ways the choice to cross gender lines. For people who crossdress this greater flexibility not only allows them the opportunity in some circumstances, but likely relieves some of the related pressure and stigma. For performers, in many circumstances, the transgression of crossdressing is reduced which is an aspect of drag shows.

The point of the singer was that a male singer couldn't show up in a dress without it being a noticeable if not important part of the act (in many/most circumstances people would view it as some kind of drag act), regardless of how comfortable it was.

I never said she was attempting to pass. If I had thought SHE was, I wouldn't have referred to her as "she." Just to be clear, I never even said she was making any attempt to perform masculinity. She made a good example for this point because she wasn't wearing a women's suit styled similarly to a man's but a man's suit matching the two other performers, and it would seem that most people either didn't/don't notice or quickly forgot/forget.

I prefer not to get into who's "normal." :)

Personally, I am just pleased she didn't call men playing around in women's attire trans women for a change.

(a little opening there for you, Om...)

dharmapupil | October 9, 2011 3:29 AM

I will now bring up an old chestnut...

Q. What do you call a woman aspiring to be just like a man?

A. An underachiever.

I was delighted to see a "shout out:" to the Jewel Box in Kansas City! Spent many a fun evening there in the 70's and 80's

I'm out of my league here, and I'm probably re-inventing the wheel, so I hope you plural will forgive me, but it's funny that commenters should mention men who dress up like women, and women who dress up like men, but not women who dress up like women. I mean, women who enjoy adopting an exaggerated or very sexualized version of femaleness as a stage persona. Maybe I would call them "female drag queens". People like Lady Gaga (whom I love & respect), the Pussycat Dolls (whom I also like), etc., come to mind.

I would guess that male and female drag queens are not so different, in their motivations, their outlook on life--essentially the same person--but we insist on assigning them to wholly separate categories based on their anatomical sex.

I can't help but like all of them. In my mind, they stand for glamor and beauty and possibility. They have some kind of spirit or zest for life that's so lacking in a lot of people. In particular, dry, humorless, fatalistic me.

Not a sermon, as my fundamentalist Christian pastor used to say, just a thought!

I can't watch the video in the very conservative country in which I live, but I think that's William Dalton (Julian Eltinge?) at the very beginning(?) My grandmother was a university student in New York in the 1920s, and by the gods, I believe she mentioned him (to my parents' horror) in a conversation to my parents and I in the 1980s (not that she had met him, mind you, only that she had been aware of him, and that his gender nonconforming life had made an impression on her).

Thanks for the video... lots of great images. And yes, it's great to see pix from Kansas City which was one of the female impersonation centers of the US.