About cross-dressing for entertainment

by Rob Tiller

We’ve been on a documentary kick recently, and saw a good one from Netflicks on demand last week. Pageant is behind-the-scenes view of  the Miss Gay America pageant, a contest for female impersonators. We meet and follow the paths of five or so contenders for the throne.

At first blush, the subject matter sounded a bit off putting.  Why would a male want to dress as a female?  Of those who would, who would want to go as public as possible with it?  I’d never given much thought to the subject of cross-dressing, but vaguely thought of it as a somewhat bizarre subculture. Plainly, cross-dressing violates a fairly powerful taboo. Again, without thinking much about it, I’d considered it as a little sad.

Pageant made me think in a completely new way. The contestants vary considerably in their looks, smarts, and manners, but they’re all completely sane and highly sociable. They’re all nice. And they’re all incredibly gifted in a particular way: transforming their appearance from male to female. The transformations are truly uncanny. Watching the various stages – choosing clothes, practicing movements, applying makeup (lots!) — it’s impossible not to respect their craft. These are very creative people with great eyes and imaginations. Artists, in an unusual form.

The Miss Gay America pageant followed the traditional Miss America format, with separate contests for evening ware, judges’ questions, and talent (lip synching, dancing, ventriloquism, etc.). The top contenders were professional drag show entertainers, and they were very polished, elegant, and funny.

The more surprising thing was how passionate they were about their art. In the behind-the-scenes interviews, we learned that most had spent years working on their personas and acts.  Some had spent many thousands of dollars on their wardrobes, and it didn’t look like any of them were getting rich. One noted that cross dressing is not a good way to get a date with a gay guy, who generally prefer guys who look like guys. From what we could see, these people just love what they do. And, although the film made little of this, they plainly have a lot of courage. The mainstream society isn’t about to get comfortable with what they do. Some people are violently opposed.

In the end, I found the stories in Pageant inspiring.  It’s a good reminder that some people who are really unusual like being unusual.  There are a lot of different ideas of fun and of beauty.  It makes the world interesting.