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1. Cross-Dressing in Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

“Hi! My name is Pauline, but most of my friends just call me Paul”: Divine on stage1

Jean DU VERGER

Résumés

Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead), la célèbre vedette des films alternatifs de John Waters, est devenue au cours des années 1970 et 1980 l’icône d’une génération. Son apparence grotesque ainsi que son talent d’acteur contribuèrent à brouiller l’identité genrée dans un monde où la révolution sexuelle de la fin des années 1960 avait déjà ouvert de nouvelles frontières et contribué à la libération homosexuelle. Comme le remarque Bernard Jay, l’attrait qu’exerçait Divine reposait sur la parodie colorée des rôles genrés et des conventions morales. Tout en nous référant à ses rôles dans les films de John Waters, notre propos consiste à examiner l’un des aspects de la carrière de Divine peu étudiés par la critique : son expérience théâtrale à Broadway. La présente étude se propose ainsi d’analyser ses rôles dans deux pièces de Tom Eyen, Women Behind Bars (1974) et The Neon Woman (1978), avant d’examiner les enjeux culturels et genrés qui sous-tendent chacune de ces pièces. Puis, nous tenterons de prendre la mesure de l’effet produit par Divine sur le public en termes de stéréotypes genrés et perception du genre. La présente étude cherchera à démontrer comment les différents personnages des films de John Waters trouvent un écho dans les personnages incarnés par Divine dans les pièces de Tom Eyen. Ces rôles illustrent ce que Marjorie Garber décrit comme la nature déconstructionniste du travestissement, dans la mesure où ils mettent à mal la notion même d’identité genrée imposée par la société. La performance théâtrale permet ainsi de déconstruire le genre en révélant sa nature artificielle.

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  • 1 I am extremely grateful to Professor Georges-Claude Guilbert for his kind help and advice. My paper (...)

“He was the Drag Queen of the Century. He called himself Divine and he was proud of his creation: a unique and hilarious high-camp cartoon, a Miss Piggy for the blissfully depraved.”
People
, 21 March 1988

Introduction

  • 2 Wendell C. Stone observes that the “performances offered to the general public during operating hou (...)

1In the late 1950s, a money-dominated Broadway narrowed down its productions to musicals and mainstream plays. Meanwhile, Off Broadway had started going commercial. Thus, while traditional theatre was becoming, as Michael Smith claims, a “narrow sub-world” (Smith, vii), there was very little if any place at all for experimental and original drama. In December 1958, Joseph Cino opened Caffe Cino on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. This storefront, clustered with tables and chairs, was about to herald a new era in drama that would offer the audience a new kind of stage language that grappled with realistic topics of gender and sexuality, thus raising a complex array of issues calling into question the audiences’ gender assumptions.2 Deemed the birthplace of Off-Off Broadway, Caffe Cino gave birth to other coffee shops—La Mama Cafe Experimental Theatre Club founded by Ellen Stewart—and theatres—The Open Theatre, the Playhouse of The Ridiculous—that sprung up in New York City and roared with artistic energy through the troubled context of the 1960s and 1970s. These places housed drag shows and overtly provocative sexual performances. They provided young avant-garde artists with a space to express new forms of art and drama and were, as Robert Patrick notes, “arenas of liberation” (Smith vii) that ushered on stage new gendered identities into being.

2The Off-Off Broadway stage thus represented the ideal site of transgression, where a young generation of extremely talented playwrights (Edward Albee, Tom Eyen, Harry Koutoukas, Charles Ludlam, Leonard Melfi, Robert Patrick, and Landford Wilson) addressed issues of sexuality and gender with a singularity of voice. The stage “redefined performances of the sexual, gendered self” (Stone 7), thus casting light on the aspects of sex and gender that destabilized the heterosexual social order as sexuality took on new political hues. The theatre became a site of cultural anxiety as it revealed issues that had been repressed through social regulation and control of sexuality. Most of the Off-Off Broadway playwrights and practitioners were gays or lesbians whose works explored unchartered territories. The stage enabled them to voice their differences and establish their own identities. Thus, places like the legendary Caffe Cino “gave body to the [hitherto] invisible and a voice to the silent” (Stone 62).

3Gender roles and sex were daunting and controversial subjects to challenge in the 1960s and 1970s. This article will explore what Marjorie Garber terms a “category crisis” (Garber 16) by examining two of Tom Eyen’s most popular gender-bending productions: Women Behind Bars (1974) and The Neon Woman (1978). Both plays starred the most popular female impersonator of the time, “the queen of sleaze” (Waters 2), “the most beautiful woman alive, almost”: Divine. Divine’s outrageous drag performances in John Waters’ early films continuously transgressed gender boundaries and contributed to the success of Eyen’s stage productions. Through repetition, Divine’s silver screen’s constructed identity had become what Judith Butler terms “an object of belief” (Performative 520) and, as such, it disrupted the distinction between appearance and reality while challenging the concept of gender itself.

4Drag is, as Judith Butler deftly argues, “an example that is meant to establish that ̔reality̕ is not as fixed as we generally assume it to be” (Gender Trouble xxv). The ritualistic repetitiveness of Divine’s theatrical performance offered the audience a space in which they could therefore witness the “performative dimension of gender” (xxiii). I shall first examine the controversial and complex figure of Divine, who had become a cult figure as John Waters’ leading actor, before considering in further detail the parts he played in Women Behind Bars and The Neon Woman, which provided the audiences with a truly fascinating theatrical and cultural experience. Divine’s drag performances function in a theatrical way, as they clearly “involve the opposition between construction and essence” (Garber 152). While the theatre highlights the ephemeral nature of the transformation, Divine’s character also pinpoints the threatening nature of women’s bodies due to their ever-changing nature that cannot be confined to a single shape. As Mike Kelley observes, drag is “also a way of exploring and destabilizing female stereotypes” (Kelley 111).

1. Divine: from silver screen to Broadway

1.1 From drab to drag

5Before delving any further into Divine’s career as a stage actor, it is necessary to ponder over his early career on the silver screen to help us understand how Divine was perceived by theatrical audiences at the time, giving us therefore a better idea of the fascination he exerted over them. As Greg Norman remarked, there was a “mystique” about the character of Divine that fascinated people: they wanted to know who this strange character really was (Norman in I Am Divine). Carol Wernig, who knew Glenn as a teen, reminisces how much he enjoyed dressing in drag: “He was into the homosexual and drag scene long before, I think, he even knew what it was” (Milstead 35). In the mid-1960s, he became part of Baltimore’s downtown drag scene. The Drag queens “hated [him] at the beginning” (Waters 36). Drag was glamourous, and those who indulged in it were thin and very much into the real girl act. They took the whole thing very seriously. In her seminal study on drag queens entitled Mother Camp, anthropologist Esther Newton provides us with an accurate picture of these events: “Since the central event of most of these balls is a beauty contest, most of the participants make a serious attempt at impersonation through the use of “high drag” that is very formal female attire and all that goes with it” (Newton 34). Those drag queens “wanted to be Miss America” (Waters in I Am Divine) and Glenn, who was overweight, was putting on clothes that no fat person would wear. He was therefore deliberately “breaking the rules of drag” (Waters in Divine Trash) as he took them to “a level of anarchy” which was completely new at the time (Waters in I Am Divine). He ridiculed and subverted their sartorial codes when he dressed in sequin, skin-tight or fishtail dresses with his 65 double D-breast, wearing a beehive hairdo.

1.2 Divine’s early film career

  • 3 As Robert Maier remarks, “John wanted to be an outsider—a dangerous gay artist” (Maier 9).

6In the mid 1960s, independent filmmaker John Waters3 began making films which he defines himself as “an exercise in bad taste” (Waters 2). His films were characterized by “atrocious acting” (Maier 9), out of focus images and distorted soundtracks. This study wishes to show how Waters used Divine’s body as a “site of excess” (Dhairyan 29), which disrupted the audience’s assumptions concerning sex and gender.

7Harris Glenn Milstead, who, by then, had been given the name Divine by Waters, held the leading role in the young director’s first full length movie Mondo Trasho (1969). The film’s comic and absurd vein hinted at gender and sexual issues. Divine’s performance did not go unnoticed and The Los Angeles Free Press review remarked: “[t]he 300-pound sex-symbol Divine [wa]s undoubtedly some sort of a discovery” (Waters 61).

8But it was thanks to his role as Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos (1972) that Divine gained notoriety. The narrative focuses on the character of Babs who is vying for the title of “the filthiest person alive.” The film could be summarized as a succession of revolting scenes of felatio, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and incest. In the film’s closing shot Babs is filmed eating dog feces. Consequently, Divine broke into the silver screen mythology as the press began referring to him as “America’s most outrageous drag queen,” “the Diva of shock cinema.” Certainly one of the most interesting scenes in the film is the one in which a lady flasher (Elizabeth Coffey) exposes her breasts and penis to Raymond Marble (David Lochary). Showing a person undergoing sexual change was not only daring but it was also a way of pinpointing the performative and changing nature of gender as the body became the locus in which the male and the female collided. It was, according to Waters, the scene which provoked “the best audience reaction” (Waters & Egan 34).

9In Female Trouble (1974), Divine played the part of Dawn Davenport who embodied the visual representation of “beauty gone insane” (Waters in Divine: Actor). The character of Dawn is portrayed throughout the film as heterosexual. Yet at the end, when she is in prison, we are made to understand that she is entertaining a relationship with a female inmate. The lesbian motif had already surfaced in Multiple Maniacs and Pink Flamingos. By putting a gay into drag and playing the part of a lesbian, the stability of gender is completely disrupted as we witness a phenomenon of inversion within inversion. The character of Divine is constantly dancing on the complex and dangerous divide between sex and gender, conjuring up the metaphor of the Russian Doll Cuban playwright and critic Severo Sarduy used to explain the complex process of transvestism. We first have a man who dresses as a woman, who in turn exerts a form of attractiveness because of the man in her before finally turning out to be passive in the sexual act (Sarduy 34). As sexual inclinations seem to be ever morphing from heterosexuality, bisexuality to homosexuality, Waters clearly refuses to label people and offers no clear-cut division of gender and sexuality. Thus, in his films drag “carves out a space in which the only stable gender identity is the one that deviates from the norm” (Horowitz 313). After Female Trouble, Divine began eclipsing John Waters and, as Robert Maier notes, he was being “recognized in the underground and gay entertainment world as a greater talent” (Maier 102).

1.3 A star is born

  • 4 Patricia Ann Soul was a Bohemian excentric actress who had a great influence on both Waters and Div (...)

10Divine’s success rested also on his look which was, according to Waters, entirely make-up artist Van Smith’s invention, a creation that Smith himself defined as “in-your-face drag” (Smith in Divine Trash). His countenance was also inspired by Mælcum Soul’s look (“The Woman Female Impersonator” http://www.dreamlandnews.com/​films/​roman-candles.html). Soul was a member of Waters’ unlikely band of thespians, whom the young film director described as “a woman female impersonator”4 (Waters 44). She acted in Waters’ first short films: Roman Candles (1966) and Eat Your Make-Up (1968). In Pink Flamingos, Divine’s hair was shaved back above his forehead to leave space for the eye make-up. Divine’s high hairline imparted a certain resemblance with the faces of Kabuki actors (https://allevents.in/​dallas/​john-waters-multiple-maniacs-new-restoration/​825050830959245#), while also conveying the impression that he was wearing a mask of sorts (http://rebloggy.com/​post/​john-waters-divine-ford-wheeler/​104078922280).

  • 5 Clarabell the Clown was the mute partner of Howdy Doody, who appeared on The Howdy Doody Show (NBC, (...)
  • 6 See Phénoménologie de la perception Part I “Le Corps”, p. 95-241. According to Merleau-Ponty, the b (...)

11According to John Waters, Divine looked like Clarabell the Clown and Jayne Mansfield put together5: “It was like Clarabell on acid” (Dermody in I Am Divine). Alongside his enormous boobs, Divine also wore a strap-on vagina (Maier 29). By revealing and displaying his synthetic vagina, the character of Divine was not only grotesque but was viewed as mocking women. Van Smith’s drag character was definitely unsettling and bizarre, and that was what fascinated people. Bernard Jay wonders: “But was it Divine they wanted to meet? Or Dawn Davenport? Or, most likely, Babs Johnson?” (Jay 91). These characters, which were facets of Divine’s persona, exerted a sort of fascination on the film viewers and served as an illustration of Merleau-Ponty’s view6 that the body is a set of possibilities. Divine would explain his popularity by the fact that people like to be outraged (Waters 151). The unsettling nature of Divine’s body acted like a funhouse mirror of sorts, reverberating, distorting and deconstructing gender as it revealed its grotesque, artificial nature, while clearly challenging the heterosexual norms of ambient culture. Divine’s body was not only the site of erotic imagination, but also destabilized categorical perceptions as it threatened the social order while, at the same time, it stirred up a sort of voyeuristic excitment. His face and body became canvases on which the audience could project their wildest fantasies. As Joseph Roach observes, the actors serve their audiences as effigies of sorts on to which they may project their own anxieties about identity (Roach 44-49).

12Divine’s campy acting style, camp postures and gestures were characteristic of camp’s “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration” (Sontag 275) and contributed to making his character into something bigger than nature. Camp was used by Waters as an essential strategy to explore new identities. For Susan Sontag, camp is “the most refined sexual attractiveness […] [which] consists in going against the grain of one’s sex” (Sontag 280). This is what Sontag terms the “epicene style,” which higlights the convertibility of man and woman in terms of gender, as we move from one identity to another, blurring the gender boundaries as Divine seemed to progressively efface the borders between male and female. Despite his whorish behaviour and aping of female mannerisms, he mainly came over as an epicene character. As Pat Moran’s son, Brook Yeaton, notes, one would say to oneself in the opening scenes of the films “[t]hat’s a man in a dress,” but after a short while “[h]e always took away from that stereotype, and you watched Divine—you watched a woman on screen” (Milstead 66).

2. Divine and Tom Eyen: the staging of gender in Women Behind Bars (1974) and The Neon Woman (1978)

2.1 Divine’s early stage career

13Divine’s career as a stage actor may be divided into two parts. The roles in spoof comedies and musicals on the one hand and the parts he played in Tom Eyen’s plays on the other. While Divine’s first stage roles may be viewed as campy parodies of transvestism, Eyen’s plays explore the power of “transvestism as theatricality” (Garber 354), as they question the issues of sex and gender confusion.

  • 7 The iconic look adopted by The Cockettes was a subtle combination of beards, lipstick and excess gl (...)

14Before his role in Mondo Trasho (1969), Divine came to San Francisco to perform in spoof shows, in which he was presented as “the most beautiful woman in the world”. He would come out onstage pushing a shopping cart with dead mackerels he would throw into the audience while waving his tongue and breasts at them. During these shows, Divine was very confrontational and the audiences really enjoyed it (Fayette Hauser in I Am Divine), as they became part of the show. In fact, the more abusive, the more sexual he was with the audience, the more they loved it. In the early 1970s, Divine spent a lot of time in San Francisco doing stage productions at the Palace Theater with the notorious theatrical troupe, The Cockettes, which John Waters described as a “screaming pack of bearded drag queens”7 (Waters 72). Interestingly, Divine’s baldness and the Cockettes’ beards clearly emphasized their masculinity as they challenged “the distinction between sex and gender” (Butler, Performative, 527), an approach that may well be read as an incomplete version of drag (Kelley 104). Indeed, during these shows the visibility of the detachable parts, or what Divine referred to as “added parts” (wigs, breasts…), illustrated gender’s artificiality as the cross-dressers showed no real desire to dissimulate their male bodies.

15Sebastian, the Cockettes’ manager, ran the Nocturnal Dream Show at the Palace Theater. He showed midnight movies at the week-ends and psychedelic hippie side-shows, which encouraged the actors and audience to interact. The people in the audience were from all sexual persuasions and the live shows of The Cockettes, which were mainly musicals, were extremely successful: Hollywood Babylon (August, 1970), Les Ghouls (October, 1970). In the latter show, the two brides of Frankenstein, who were played by transvestites, became lovers and the show ended with them performing lesbian acts onstage.

  • 8 The show was a take-off on Edgar Allan Poe’s Mask of the Red Death (1842).

16By 1971, Divine had become a local celebrity in San Francisco’s counter-cultural community, as he became an overnight sensation through his appearance in several of the Cockettes’ stage productions. Divine continued playing in other Cockette productions, such as Divine and her Stimulating Studs or Divine Saves the World in which Divine seduces Fidel Castro, highjacks a plane and finally saves the world by spreading peace in the Middle-East. In Journey to the Center of Uranus, a science fiction spoof, Divine came onstage dressed up as a lobster singing “A Crab on Your Anus Means You’re Loved.” The show was a great success. In 1973, Divine and Mink Stole moved back to San Francisco, where they were involved in several other Cockettes stage productions: Vice Palace (1972)8 and The Heartbreak of Psoriasis (1973). Reminiscing about their roles in Vice Palace, Mink Stole remarked that Divine was “actually acting, playing a character, not just being a flamboyant drag queen, not being a persona but being an actual character, and he was very good” (Stole in Divine: Actor). He then went on to play in the new stage comedy written by Sebastian, The Heartbreak of Psoriasis. The play proposes an obvious critique of consumer society and advertisement. Divine played the part of a suburban housewife whose only goal in life was to consume. The play was a flop. According to Sebastian, the show failed because the audiences expected to see a character akin to the ones Divine had portrayed in Waters’ films. As Greg Norman remarked, “[p]eople were afraid of him. People that knew him from the movies had a completely fixated idea of who Divine was” (Norman in I Am Divine).

2.2 Tom Eyen: from Off-Off Broadway to Broadway

  • 9 Lanford Wilson’s play (The Madness of Lady Bright, 1965) portrays the loneliness of an ageing cross (...)

17In the 1970s, New York too was pulsating with tremendous artistic energy, queer and counter cultural art were on the rise and Off-Off Broadway had been thriving since the mid-sixties with plays by Lanford Wilson, Leonard Melfi and Richard Ludlam,9 to mention only a few.

18Playwright Tom Eyen was born in Cairo, Egypt to Syrian parents from Omaha, Nebraska. Eyen’s plays disrupted the deeply embedded cultural convictions of the audiences. His first play, which was presented at La Mama Cafe on May 7, 1964, was entitled Frustata, The Dirty Little Girl with a Paper Rose Stuck in her Head, Is Demented! Eyen’s theatre is extremely cinematic, as Michael Feingold notes: it is “a theater of visual images—near lights and nude bodies, glamorous costumes and fast cuts from scene to scene that turn the stage into a three-dimensional movie” (Eyen, Ten Plays, 1). Structuring his plays in film sequences provided them with a great sense of rhythm. Moreover, they tackled a wide range of controversial issues as they explored gay and lesbian identity in relation to the heterosexual world. His first major success was the blatantly titled play The Dirtiest Show in Town (1970). The show was filled with scenes of nudity, homosexuality, lesbianism and orgies, as it aimed at titillating the audiences, and was peppered with outbursts of opinions on the world. Like Waters’s films, Eyen’s plays express “no sex preference. [They’re] homo, hetero and bisexual. [They are] not sticking up for any of the three” (Eyen in Klemesrud). Consequently, they appealed to all sexual persuasions. In the first play of Eyen’s Three Sisters trilogy, Why Hanna’s Skirt Won’t Stay Down Or: Admission 10 (1965), the male narcissistic character, Arizona, recalls his birth at an intersection where he “was delivered right there admist the cream-filled cupcakes by an intersection cop” (Eyen, Ten Plays, 13). The word’s Latin etymon—inter (between) and secare (to cut) —plays on the metaphor of the body as a junction site where ambivalent desires and roles intersect. Language itself seems to be sexually performative, notably when Hanna tells Arizona why his love affair was a failure: “Your words were obviously too big for her” (Eyen, Ten Plays, 22). The dialogues of the trilogy’s second play: Who Killed My Bald Sister Sophie? Or: Thank God for Small Favors! (1968) are suffused with verbal expletives on sexual persuasions and bawdy double entendres. The swear words are used profusely and focus on the body parts—Hanna refers to her sister Sophie as “That bald cunt” (Eyen, Ten Plays, 43)—or as address terms: notably when Hanna refers to Sophie’s social pretensions: “the last British cuntess” (Eyen, Ten Plays, 39). In the last play of his trilogy: What Is Making Gilda So Gray? Or: It Just Depends on Who You Get (1970), the stage directions evoke the topic of gender-bending as both characters, Gilda and Franco, cross-dress on stage:

BOTH go to opposite sides. SHE puts on a man’s robe. HE puts on a woman’s. THEY come back together to a small table with two chairs. THEY meet in front of it, kiss without emotion. Soap opera music begins (Eyen, Ten Plays, 80)

19These few examples clearly stress the gender-bending themes and sexually related issues which inform Eyen’s plays. The two plays I shall be examining now are part of Tom Eyen’s fifty-year epic film series entitled: Bad Women: Where America Went Wrong. Both plays focus respectively on the 1950s and the early 1960s.

2.3 Women Behind Bars: the 1976 staging

20By the time Divine played in Eyen’s play Women Behind Bars (1974), Off-Off Broadway had begun operating “in a wider territory” (Olson 31) and by the mid-seventies it had “nearly supplanted Off Broadway in Lower Manhattan” (Olson 34). Tom Eyen was “[t]he only writer [Divine] knew and trusted” (Jay 85). Off-Off Broadway stage director Ron Link reminisces that stage acting truly appealed to Divine, and dwells on the fact that Divine also enjoyed “the form of a play, like your lens it framed in him, and gave him permission to be crazy in a shape, in a form” (Link in Divine: Actor).

21Women Behind Bars was scripted in 1974 and premiered the same year. The play is a black comedy spoof and a campy satire of women’s exploitation films of the 1950s, notably John Cromwell’s film noir: Caged (1950). The play’s action unfolds over a seven-year period. It is presented as “a film for the stage” (Eyen, Women, 3), while the characters are take-offs of familiar figures from the stage corresponding to a raft of female inmate stereotypes: the butch lesbian (Gloria), the Puerto Rican (Guadalupe), the tough Black (Jo-Jo), the Southern belle (Blanche) and the basket case (Ada). The play is interspersed with violent scenes: two rapes, lobotomies and verbal and physical abuse. Beverly Bonner recalls that the explicit sexual scenes made it “a hot show” (Bonner in I Am Divine). The play purports to parody issues which were at stake at the time, and which contributed to the bitter and cynical aspect of the play. In Cromwell’s film, superintendant Ruth Benton (Agnes Morehead) says: “No prison is a normal place”, and the message encrypted in Eyen’s play is that society is not a normal place either. The character of the sadistic matron, Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson), probably inspired Eyen’s character of Pauline. Emerson’s brusque voice and stern demeanour typed her for villainous roles. This may explain why Eyen wanted Divine to play the part of Pauline in the 1976 production of his play in which the character is portrayed as a sadist sexed-up lesbian.

22If the play pictures the tragic lives of women inmates, it may also be seen as a critique of the outside world, and the way in which modern societies cripple individuals:

Ada: I was born in a prison. There have always been walls around my life and prison bars around my dreams […] (Eyen, Women, 26).

23The crushing power of society is embodied by the matron. Her character, who goes around terrorizing the inmates, stands for “the evil that men are” (Eyen, Women, 4). She plots and acts her evil doings in her office and is helped by her sidekick Louise (Sweet William Edgar). Pauline has converted her boudoir into a brothel bedroom where she will rape the new inmate Mary in a scene I will revert to later. The stage (“A prison cell dominates the entire stage with bars crossing Upstage. A sliding door of bars is part of this bar section” Eyen, Women, 5) conveys the impression that the audience is locked in with the inmates (https://www.pinterest.fr/​pin/​2744449750793341/​).

24Pauline struts around the stage wearing a winged hairdo, a starched white cap and a tight white nurse’s outfit with gigantic boobs. She terrorizes the inmates while verbally and physically abusing them. Divine’s character doesn’t hesitate to grope the pubic areas of the female inmates, contributing to the play’s atmosphere of sultry lust (https://www.pinterest.fr/​pin/​2744449748788439/​?lp=true).

25As soon as she appears onstage, Pauline clearly underlines her ambivalent and ambiguous nature thus giving clues to the audience as to how they should view her: “The name’s Pauline, but the girls around here just call me Paul” (Eyen, Women, 18).

26The indeterminate gender of the character (Pauline/Paul) is made obvious in a rather humoristic way. However, the play soon morphs into something bleak and threatening. If the first rape scene—in which Mary-Eleanor (Fiona Richmond) is raped by her female inmates—is a perfect illustration of carceral violence (Eyen, Women, 14), the second rape scene suggests gender confusion. Having invited Mary-Eleanor into her boudoir, the matron sedates the young girl:

Mary: (Faking sickness.) I—I—I have a headache.

Matron: There on the table are some aspirin. Have one. (MARY takes one.)

Mary: They don’t taste like aspirins.

Matron: They’re a new kind I got called—gualudes!

[…]

Matron: Tell me Mary, have you ever made love to a woman? […] I said, have you ever made love to a woman? (Eyen, Women, 20)

27She then proceeds with her ploy:

Matron: Now Mary, I’m going to come out and stand before you semi-naked. (Mary goes into shock. Man comes out semi-naked, and mouths words of Matron)—And make love to you (Eyen, Women, 20-21)

28The stage directions underpin the gap between the matron’s physical appearance and her voice, not to mention the way in which the audience-manipulating lighting effects contribute to the blurring of the audience’s perception of what is actually taking place onstage. Toying with the gender-based perception of the character’s voice and the audience’s aural and visual perception of the scene, the playwright creates a sharp contrast between what is actually seen or heard. The play reveals the character’s split gender with his/her male genitalia and his/her vocal apparatus. While reproducing femininity the character of Pauline unveils, in a theatrical fashion, the social mechanism at the core of gender perception. There is a radical rupture in the female continuum of the matron’s character which opens up a contradiction between the threatening male body and the soft female voice, inducing a sense of disembodiment between voice and body. Voice is both a gender-constitutive and a gender-expressive act, the splitting process between the physiological features (the male body) and voice (the feminine body), while destroying the theatrical illusion, expresses the contradictory and ambivalent discourse on gender which reveals its paradoxical nature as it highlights gender as a socially constructed role.

29The matron’s sartorial appearance clearly hints at the campy aspect of the play, as the stage directions attest:

([…] the MATRON appears in an outrageous 40’s outfit with foxes around shoulders and a large white straw bag and veiled hat.) (Eyen, Women, 27)

30The freaky aspect of Pauline is highlighted by Cheri: “If that’s the way dames are looking on the outside, I’m glad I’m in here” (Eyen, Women, 27). The sexual innuendos which intersperse the play seem to indicate that the matron is a lesbian. In the present scene, however, she is depicted as a woman who is anticipating her forthcoming sexual encounter with her male-lover. This scene contributes once more to blurring the perception we may have of the matron:

Matron: I’m going out on a date with a man. A real man.

Gloria: I wonder what her name is.

Matron: I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, Gloria (Eyen, Women, 27)

31Gloria’s crude wisecrack, which plays on the contrast between “real man” and the possessive pronoun “her,” clearly suggests the matron is a lesbian or possibly a man in drag. Gloria, who is described as a “real camel girl” (Eyen, Women, 4), is challenging Pauline’s authority as she questions her gender. Cross-dressing is constructed as deviant and marginal. It underlines the multifaced play of gender as we briefly explore the body’s landscape that seems to be constantly morphing before our eyes. The mutiple identities, which straddle the lines of gender and sexuality, are destabilized as they collide into the territory of stage performance challenging the audience to accept gender and sexual diversity. While playing upon Divine’s anatomy and the epicene nature of the matron, Eyen deploys a complex and intricate map which reveals a great diversity of sexualized and gendered body landscapes. The play ends with the murder of Pauline whose crime lies not only in her constant humiliation and brutalisation of the inmates, but also in her transgression of gender roles:

Gloria: NO MORE PROMISES, THIS IS IT, BIG THIGHS! THERE ARE NO PARDONS IN THE HOUSE OF THE DAMNED! YOU LIVED LIKE A MAN, NOW DIE LIKE ONE. (Eyen, Women, 56)

2.4 Back to “Sin City”10: The Neon Woman (1978)

  • 10 Rachel Shteir writes that “‘The Block’, [with] its fourteen strip joints gave Baltimore the name of (...)
  • 11 Rachel Shteir notes that the famous stripper and busty icon Tempest Storm, who “stripped and did hi (...)

32The experience was such a success that Divine co-wrote The Neon Woman with Tom Eyen. The play was produced in 1978. The Neon Woman is an outrageous combination of burlesque and murder mystery inspired by Gypsy Rose Lee’s classic burlesque thriller The G-Strings Murders (1941). The plot, which is peppered with barbed social comments, moves from one crazy event to another, while a series of black-stocking strangulation murders occur. Flash Storm11 is the owner of Baltimore’s club Neon Woman, a strip joint threatened with closing by the city’s vice squad. The director, Ron Link, encouraged the audience to take part and interact with actors during and after the show making it close to alternative cabaret performance.

  • 12 In H. M. Koutoukas’s play, Tidy Passions, or Kill, Kaleidoscopic, Kill. An Epic Camp, Dove remarks: (...)

33The play ran for eighty-four performances at the Hurrah discotheque in New York. John Epperson recalls: “when the show was over we all jumped and turned it into a disco” (Epperson in I Am Divine). My study of the play’s staging relies on the only available film of the show, the programme and various accounts of the staging. Despite the poor quality of the film, one can see that the stage was extremely close to the audience. Discussing the Italian innovation of the front curtain, Garber notes that it “is a veil that marks off the ‘not real’ from the ‘real’.”12 (Garber 126). The curtain’s erasure and the closeness of the stage was meant to enhance the impression that the boundaries between fiction and reality were blurred, much in a same way the play toys with the concept of cross-dressing. By transgressing gender boundaries, the play questions the seeds of gender identity and sex-role orientation. The play received overall good critical reviews except from Mel Gussow for whom “[t]his [play] seem[ed] to have been typed with a sledgehammer” (Gussow). Yet, the people were eager to see the show regardless of what words were scripted: as Miss Bradley recalls, the audience focused on “the way that they were delivered and the mannerism[s]” (Bradley in Divine: Actor) of Divine, which clearly contributed to the play’s success. One catches glimpses of the side-show atmosphere on the aforementioned video. The interactive aspect of the staging was an essential part of the show’s success, and the actors delivered “dialogue abruptly or repetitively and move[d] to musical cadences through space” (Olson 157).

34The play opens in a tawdry, sleazy and lurid strip-joint atmosphere. The stage comes over as a site of cultural angst displaying sexual promiscuity, prostitution and the prevalence of drugs. The décor, which represents the strippers’ dressing room, takes the audience into the backstage reality of the strip joint. The police raid throws light on social repression and the authorities’desire to impose and enforce religious and moral norms on society. The religious motif will surface in the play when the Senator (William Duff-Griffin) pleads with Flash to repent as he reads her a passage from Jeremiah. Flash retorts “Honey, I’ve got two fabulous words for you: fuck you”. Eyen shifts to the New Testament with the character of the young D.A. (Lee Corbet) who introduces himself as follows: “I’m Matthew, Mark, Luke, John”. The D.A. clearly embodies middle America’s nosh small-minded and conservative attitude that is determined to ferret out vice and crime.

D.A.: You’re all under arrest for indecent exposure, prostitution and watering down drinks […]. The new Senator Horace Bradley just passed a new law against pornography, sodomy and strip bars in Maryland.

35The D.A. addresses the club’s employees as “degenerate people,” “sinful lowlife trash” as he warns them that the autorities are “going to wipe this place clean.” His berate abuse is interrupted by Flash Storm’s theatrical entrance: “I am Flash Storm. The original Neon Woman, the original flasher”.

  • 13 For a picture of this hairdress, see https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/2744449751390623/.
  • 14 Interestingly, while interviewed on the TV show Late Night in 1982, Waters noted that women in Balt (...)
  • 15 During the play, Flash has sexual intercourse on stage with Speed Gonzalez (George Peterson) before (...)

36As soon as Flash emerges from the wing onstage, dressed in a huge caftan and turban, her demeanour silences the D.A. Flash Storm’s coned-shaped hairdress13 could well be viewed as a phallic symbol betraying the character’s masculinity.14 Divine runs his hands over the strange artificial curves of his body staring at the audience, suggesting carnal knowledge. As Stheir writes, striptease presented the threatening figure of a woman who commanded her own sexuality (Shteir 113). Strippers symbolized in popular culture the idea of aggressive female desire and were as such a source of male anxiety.15 The bold, brassy indomitable character of Flash clearly stands for the “hard woman” (Senelick 387). Moreover, like strip-tease, transvestism provokes the desire for revelation. Thus, as the play unfolds it will progressively turn into Flash’s own self exposure. There is even, as Jay Bennett remarks, an autobiographical aspect to the play when Flash describes the abuse she suffered in her childhood and teens which “could almost have come from Glenn himself” (Milstead 94):

Flash Storm: I lost my faith in mankind. That made me hate. That’s why I became the overblown cartoon for protection. No one is ever going to see the real me ever again—the thin, vulnerable little angel instead of this big, flashy, fabulous exterior!

  • 16 As she leaves for Washington to contact the politicians, who profited from her favours, in order to (...)

37The play’s dialogue is fraught with double entendres, gay and sexual innuendos, as well as dirty jokes and outrageous cues. It also reveals the blatant hypocritical stance of a heteronormative society, when the Senator reminds Flash of her past as a prostitute and dwells on her body (“You sold your body to anybody with a dollar”). The Senator’s bigotry attempts to obliterate his own evil-doings, having been himself one of Flash’s clients.16 The bodily dimension is crucial in the representation of prostitution. The body is viewed here as a mere commodity which is consumed and exchanged. Flash is expropriated, estranged from her own body. Consequently, she is denied any form of social identity or existence as her body just becomes any body. As a consequence of which her body is engulfed into invisibility. Yet, Divine’s curvaceous and fleshy body stands as a symbol of rebellion which refuses to be erased from the audience’s sight, despite society’s repeated attempts to erase the bodies of female prostitutes and social misfits. Like Houdini, Divine’s body mesmerized the audience to the point of hypnosis.

38The play offers a sombre vision of the world. But, despite the blight reality, “the show must go on.” Paradoxically, the play also voices a critique of modern society. Remembering her job as an ecdysiast, Flash waxes nostalgic when she says: “Stripping took time in the old days. Now, men want to get everything fast.” As Rachel Shteir notes, “Americans were too impatient to sit in a dark theater and wait while strippers teased them” (Shteir 5). The magic of the old days seems to have vanished (Flash: “we had magic”).

  • 17 The character of Kitty La Rue was probably inspired by the drag headliner Skippy La Rue. Skippy pai (...)
  • 18 A similar situation was alluded to in Charles Ludlam’s play Secret Lives of the Sexists. The Farce (...)

39The last aspect of the play I wish to examine concerns the character of Kitty La Rue (Holly Woodlawn/Sweet William Edgar).17 At the beginning of the play, Kitty declares to the audience “I am a lesbian.” A little later she tells Flash “Men like you have made me the lesbian I am,” before adding “I’m the only one who loves you. Lesbian love is the only real love.” This statement intones that Flash is a man or at least stands for what Marjorie Garber terms the “mannish lesbian” (Garber 137). Kitty’s palpable desire for Flash will resurface at the end of the play when, coming out of the closet, she confesses her desire for Flash as he pleads with her: “Kiss me, I’ve always wanted to kiss you on the mouth.” Flash’s reaction is one of terse dismissal as she glares disdainfully at Kitty. While Flash nears Kitty she suddenly questions her: “What is that string tied up your arse?” Kitty has obviously stretched his penis backward between his legs binding it with a string to hide it, a common practice among transvestites. Having unveiled Kitty’s secret, Flash tells him bluntly: “You know I hate drag queens.” Although the audience’s knowledge of the actors’ gender may have underplayed the theatrical effect of the revelation concerning Kitty’s gender, the playwright nevertheless questions the complexity of the issue. We have here a man (Kitty) dressed as a woman, who is in love with a woman (Flash) he acknowledges to be a man. By claiming she is a lesbian Kitty confesses his homosexuality not as a male but as a female. The sight of a person with male genitalia reproducing femininity reveals to the audience the social mechanism of gender oppression. This scene clearly plays upon “the distinctions between the anatomy and the gender that is being performed” (Berkowitz & Belgrave 177). Male drag seems to emphasize the illusionistic qualities of impersonation in that the actor attempts to simulate, thus stressing the fact that he is not in reality the “Other.” Tom Eyen highlights the complexity of the issue: as Judith Halberstam articulates, “[w]anting to be a man with a vagina or wanting to be a woman transformed into a man having sex with other men are fairly precise and readable desires—precise and yet not all represented by the categories for sexual identity we settled for”18 (Halberstam 213). While blurring the readability of desire, Eyen’s characters demand that the audience read them as a combination of presumably incompatible terms. The play itself works as a striptease act as it reveals the characters’ inner-selves while in turn unveiling their bodies. By subverting the paradigm in which heterosexuality becomes deviant while drag becomes the norm, Eyen and Waters clearly purport to highlight the complexity of the issues of sex and gender. Thus, when Flash tells Kitty “We are all imitations of the movie” the metatheatrical aspect of the play clearly appears and the audience are made to reflect on the notion of role playing, whether it concerns social, sexual or gender roles. The world we live in is mainly one of appearances and illusions as the D.A.’s final quip reveal: “She was a real Neon Woman. All flash and no soul.”

Conclusion

40Through repetition and drag’s imitative nature, Divine’s “body and character […] fused […] in the mind of the spectator[s]” (Senelick 486) as they came to believe that the silver screen character of Divine truly existed. Nevertheless, as a female impersonator, Divine maintained “both the audience’s conscious knowledge of [his] identit[y] as [a man] and the overpowering impression of [his] femaleness” (Garber 14). His body thus became a site of contention rooted in the mismatch between sex role and genital sex, opening up a fascinating area of gender ambiguity that Waters’ underground films and Eyen’s plays harp on. Divine’s body ceased to be passive as it became a surface upon which gender meaning was inscribed. Yet, despite their fear of Divine, the audiences were probably attracted to this weird character because they not only “like[d] to laugh at sex, […] like[d] to laugh at dirty things and […] love[d] to be shocked” (Divine in The Emerald City Tapes) but these provocative performances also gave them the opportunity to discover a new discourse on gender roles, relationships, and sexuality.

  • 19 Divine gave an accurate description of his audience in 1978: “it gets gay people, male and female, (...)

41While Divine, who “loved the stage” (Divine in Emerald), never considered himself to be a drag queen—as director and friend Steve Yeager remarked: “[he] always thought of himself as a character actor, not a drag queen, a transvestite or a “shim” as he called it but as an actor” (Yeager in Divine: Actor)—his drag performances could well be viewed as the expression of political and social protest as they challenged audiences19 to accept gender diversity. Van Smith observes:

Divine was political in a sense, […], because of the exaggerated femininity in the emphasis on the breasts and hips and so forth, along with the character always having this masculine criminal drive. So on one level, Divine really was virtually beyond gender (Milstead 78).

42However, beyond the grotesque drag queen ridiculing female stereotypes, one may also see Divine as the expression of transgressive femininity. By displaying empowered womanhood, Divine’s film or stage characters could well be seen as figures that stood against the patriarchal hegemonic discourse on femininity, not unlike the bitchy, overpowering female characters of Varla or Vixen, who challenged gender roles and represented a threat to masculinity, in Russ Meyer’s films. Beyond his infelicitous appearance, Divine was a true “gender Houdini” (Senelick 497) who took his audience for a Walk on the Wild Side.

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Bibliographie

Berkowitz Dana and Linda Liska Belgrave. “‘She Works Hard for the Money’: Drag Queens and the Management of Their Contradictory Status of Celebrity and Marginality.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 39 (2), 2010, pp. 159-186. SAGE. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4, Dec. 1988, pp. 519-531. JSTOR. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. London & New York, Routledge, 2006. Print.

Dhairyan, Sagri. “Racing the Lesbian, Dodging White Critics.” The Lesbian Postmodern. Edited by Laura Doan, New York, Columbia University Press, 1994, pp. 25-46. Print.

Eyen, Tom. Ten Plays. Edited by Michael Feingold, New York, Samuel French Inc., 1971. Print.

Eyen, Tom. Women Behind Bars. New York-Hollywood, Samuel French, 1975. Print.

Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests. Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety. New York, Harper Perennial, 1993. Print.

Gussow, Mel. “‘The Neon Woman’ by Tom Eyen is Staged.” The New York Times, 17 April, 1978. Web.

Halberstam, Judith. “F2M: The Making of Female Masculinity.” The Lesbian Postmodern. Edited by Laura Doan, New York, Columbia University Press, 1994, pp. 210-228. Print.

Horowitz, Katie R. “The Trouble with “Queerness”: Drag and the Making of Two Cultures.” Signs, Vol. 38, No. 2, Winter 2013, pp. 303-326. JSTOR. Web. 22 Jan. 2017.

Kelley, Mike. “Cross-Gender/Cross-Genre.” Foul Perfection. Essays and Criticism. Edited by John C. Welchman, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003, pp. 100-120. Print.

Klemesrud, Judy. “Tom Eyen in “Dirty is a State of Mind.” The New York Times. Sunday, August 16, 1970. No pagination. Print.

Maier, Robert. Low Budget Hell. Making Underground Movies with John Waters. Davidson, NC, Full Page Publishing, 2011. Print.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phénoménologie de la perception, Tel, Gallimard, Paris, 2017. Print.

Milstead, Frances with Kevin Heffernan and Steve Yeager. My Son Divine. Los Angeles-New York, Alyson Books, 2001. Print.

Newton, Esther. Mother Camp. Female Impersonators in America. Chicago and London, Chicago University Press, 1979. Print.

Olson, Christopher. Off-Off Broadway. The Second Wave: 1968-1980. Forward by Robert Patrick, Milton Keynes, Lighting Source UK Ltd, 2001. Print.

Roach, Joseph R. The Player’s Passion. Studies in the Science of Acting. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1993. Print.

Sarduy, Severo. Written On A Body. Translated by Carol Maier, New York, Lumen Books, 1989. Print.

Senelick, Laurence. The Changing Room. Sex, Drag and Theatre. London & New York, Routledge, 2000. Print.

Shteir, Rachel. Striptease. The Untold Story of the Girlie Show. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.

Smith, Michael, ed. More Plays from Off-Off Broadway. With a Forward by Robert Patrick, Indianapolis-New York, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1972. Print.

Sontag, Susan. “Notes on ‛Camp’.” Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York, Picador, 1990, p. 275-292. Print.

Stone, Wendell C. The Birthplace of Off-Off Broadway. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. Print.

Stone, Wendell C. “The Accidental Theater.” Return to the Caffe Cino. A Collection of Plays and Memoirs. Edited by Steve Susoyev and George Birimisa, San Francisco, Moving Finger Press, 2007, pp. 14-17. Print.

Waters, John. Shock Value. A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste. Philadelphia-London, Running Press, 2005. Print.

Waters, John and James Egan. Interviews. Jackson, University of Mississippi Press, 2011. Print.

Documentaries, videos and links to images

Mælcum Soul, “The Woman Female Impersonator”, Roman Candles, 1966. http://www.dreamlandnews.com/films/roman-candles.html Accessed 10 March 2019.

Multiple Maniacs. Director John Waters, 1970. https://allevents.in/dallas/john-waters-multiple-maniacs-new-restoration/825050830959245#. Accessed 10 March 2019.

John Waters and Divine. 1970. Photo: Ford Wheeler. http://rebloggy.com/post/john-waters-divine-ford-wheeler/104078922280. Accessed 10 March 2019.

The Cockettes in the Palace. Directors Scott Runyan and Syd Dutton. An Evergreen Film. 1970. Videotape.

The Cockettes. 1970. http://www.scrumblymusic.com/pages/bio.html. Accessed 10 March 2019.

Women Behind Bars. The 1976 Staging. https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/2744449750793341/. Accessed 10 March 2019.

Women Behind Bars. The 1976 Staging. https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/2744449748788439/?lp=true. Accessed 10 March 2019.

The Emerald City Tapes (Television Program). Collection no. 1, Tape no. 11, May 8, 1978. Videotape.

The Neon Woman. Tom Eyen and Divine. The original stage show filmed live. Revolver Film. 1979. Videotape.

Divine as Flash Storm in The Neon Woman, 1979. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/2744449751390623/. Accessed 10 March 2019.

David Letterman Late Night. TV show, 1982. https://youtu.be/AIPF8mk1a4Q consulted 7 March 2019.

Divine Waters. Director Vito Zagarrio. Donatella Baglivo & Vito Zagarrio Productions. 1985. Videotape.

Divine Actor/Actress? Director Mark A. Harris. E-True Hollywood Story (28), 1998.

Divine Trash. Director Steve Yeager. Fox Lorber. 2000. DVD.

The Cockettes. Directors David Weissman & Bill Weber. Strand Releasing. 2002. DVD.

I Am Divine. Director Jeffrey Schwartz. Peccadillo Pictures. 2014. DVD.

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Notes

1 I am extremely grateful to Professor Georges-Claude Guilbert for his kind help and advice. My paper owes a lot to the compelling work of Wendell C. Stone.

2 Wendell C. Stone observes that the “performances offered to the general public during operating hours often shocked audiences” (Stone 30).

3 As Robert Maier remarks, “John wanted to be an outsider—a dangerous gay artist” (Maier 9).

4 Patricia Ann Soul was a Bohemian excentric actress who had a great influence on both Waters and Divine. She always wore make-up that acted as a mask of sorts, and had a real visual impact on onlookers. Chan Wilroy notes that “Mælcum was definitely the big cheese for a while. Unlike Glenn, she was outrageous in real life as she was in Waters’s movies. She would wear white face makeup, dress all in black, and generally affect the ‘goth’ look” (Milstead 46).

5 Clarabell the Clown was the mute partner of Howdy Doody, who appeared on The Howdy Doody Show (NBC, 1947-1960). Dressed in a baggy stripped costume he communicated by honking a horn Harpo Marx style.

6 See Phénoménologie de la perception Part I “Le Corps”, p. 95-241. According to Merleau-Ponty, the body becomes the locus of “a perpetual incarnation” (“une incarnation perpétuelle”) when expressing the existential meaning of one’s sexuality, p. 204.

7 The iconic look adopted by The Cockettes was a subtle combination of beards, lipstick and excess glitter with dresses. For pictures of The Cockettes, see http://www.scrumblymusic.com/pages/bio.html.

8 The show was a take-off on Edgar Allan Poe’s Mask of the Red Death (1842).

9 Lanford Wilson’s play (The Madness of Lady Bright, 1965) portrays the loneliness of an ageing cross-dressing homosexual. The play dwells on the theme of “‘oneliness’, the singularity of people” (Stone, Caffe Cino, 109). Leonard Melfi’s play (Porno Stars At Home, 1976) focuses on the characters’s blurred and elusive sexual identities: Uta: “[…] I just think playing all of those token Lesbian scenes is really getting to me lately, that’s all. I’m not a dyke! But that’s the whole trouble, I guess: I’m not anything!”(Melfi 33).

10 Rachel Shteir writes that “‘The Block’, [with] its fourteen strip joints gave Baltimore the name of ‘Sin City’” (Shteir 252).

11 Rachel Shteir notes that the famous stripper and busty icon Tempest Storm, who “stripped and did highly exaggerated bumps and grinds”, had fled an abusive father (Shteir 270). Tempest Storm probably inspired Eyen when he created Flash’s character that was also abused by her father: “My own pa raped me”.

12 In H. M. Koutoukas’s play, Tidy Passions, or Kill, Kaleidoscopic, Kill. An Epic Camp, Dove remarks: “This thing called/Reality is anything that offers resistance/To gossamer and fantasy” (Smith 29).

13 For a picture of this hairdress, see https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/2744449751390623/.

14 Interestingly, while interviewed on the TV show Late Night in 1982, Waters noted that women in Baltimore felt “power from how high their hair [got]” (https://youtu.be/AIPF8mk1a4Q consulted 7 March 2019).

15 During the play, Flash has sexual intercourse on stage with Speed Gonzalez (George Peterson) before rejecting him rather harshly.

16 As she leaves for Washington to contact the politicians, who profited from her favours, in order to prevent the Senator to pass his bill, Flash tells Kitty: “He’s going to pay good for eating me”. This possibly refers to the McClellan Senate Committee Hearings on Racketeering which was convened in Washington in June 1962 and which strove to push striptease off the map.

17 The character of Kitty La Rue was probably inspired by the drag headliner Skippy La Rue. Skippy paid both “homage to and ridiculed femininity” (Shteir 270).

18 A similar situation was alluded to in Charles Ludlam’s play Secret Lives of the Sexists. The Farce of Modern Life (1982), when Fanny tells Lizzy: “I let a lesbian trick me into making it with her by pretending she was a homosexual man in drag who needed to be cured” (Ludlam 667).

19 Divine gave an accurate description of his audience in 1978: “it gets gay people, male and female, and it’s a lot of older, straight people married in their forties and fifties” (Divine in Emerald).

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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Jean DU VERGER, « “Hi! My name is Pauline, but most of my friends just call me Paul”: Divine on stage », E-rea [En ligne], 16.2 | 2019, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2019, consulté le 21 juillet 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/erea/7717 ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.7717

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Auteur

Jean DU VERGER

ENSMM (Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Mécanique et des Microtechniques)
jean.du.verger@ens2m.fr
Jean Du Verger is currently teaching English for Engineering at EN­SMM in Besançon. He was a course lecturer at the Sorbonne. He defended his doctoral thesis on Tom Stoppard at the Sorbonne University under Professor Elisabeth Angel-Perez’s supervision. He has authored articles on Shakespeare’s works and published three articles in Moreana, as well as various articles on TV series and the countercultural movement in the United States.

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