"Looking at a drag queen," Holly Brubach remarks, "we instantly grasp the distinction between male (a biological category) and masculine (a cultural category), between female and feminine; they are obviously not one and the same." Brubach, the former style editor of the New York Times Magazine
, has traveled to the drag capitals of the world--New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bangkok, Tokyo, and Rio--to observe people who deconstruct traditional notions of gender every time they get dressed. Whereas a less sensitive author might present this material as a revue of freaks, her combination of fashion savvy and sympathetic objectivity makes Girlfriend
a captivating travelogue filled with interesting people we want to know better, including J. Alexander, an six-foot-three African American expatriate in Paris who gives femininity lessons to runway models; and Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who recounts fleeing from the Nazi police in wartime Berlin. Some of her subjects choose to live as women; others merely want to perform the feminine on special occasions. Brubach is to be especially commended for getting the pronouns right, i.e., referring to each of her subjects with the gender that he or she
has selected. The text is accompanied by 79 photographs by Michael James O'Brien--one only wishes that there were some pictures from Brubach's own excursion into transvestitism, a "drag king" seminar where she became "a self-styled downtown kind of guy, in an Armani suit on loan from a friend and a dark silk shirt buttoned at the collar; no tie." --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
DragAone gender dressing as the otherAcrops up everywhere from English pantomime to Japanese kabuki, to New York's now-famous Wigstock Festival. In this illustrated study, Brubach, the style editor for the New York Times, and noted photo-journalist O'Brien troll Bangkok, Tokyo, Berlin, Rio, New York, Paris and London for cultural insights into the drag phenomenon. Writing with nuance and verve, Brubach synthesizes cultural perspectives on sex and gender from the likes of Colette, Lou Reed, Quentin Crisp and Hubert Selby, and casually displays a comprehensive knowledge of such related matters as Marlene Dietrich's career and gender in Buddhist philosophy. Brubach is interested in the "why" as well as the "how" of drag, and draws upon postmodern and queer theory to discuss how gender is socially constructed. Ultimately, she pulls back from the broader, radical implications of this line of thought and views the politics of male-to-female drag as similar to those involved when whites wear blackface. Although she discusses the phenomenon of women dressing as men ("drag-kings") and examines the role of drag in gay male culture, in the end Brubach is more concerned with looking in a fairly traditional way at the roles and position of women in a culture in which concepts of "femininity" and "masculinity" are in constant flux. Photos not seen by PW.
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