Wigstock: The Movie – A Documentary of an Interesting Drag Festival!

Many people who are fascinated by drag come to Wigstock every year. People from all over the world come to visit this spectacular event. Some of these people are performers and others just enjoy being members of the audience. Professional, working drag queens attend as well as people who only dress up once a year. Anyone can go to the festival and put on a wig and just have a good time.

Every year since 1984, the drag festival Wigstock has been held in Tompkins Square Park in New York. It was The “Lady” Bunny who started this first outdoors drag festival. The first Wigstock movie was released in 1987 and was made back when the festival was very small. In the beginning of the 1995 version of Wigstock: The Movie, black and white footage is shown of older festivals. This documentary is mainly interested in the 1993 and 1994 Wigstock festivals.

The performers of Wigstock are each unique. However, they are almost all men dressed up as women. “Their towering, Day-Glo hair stretches toward the heavens. Their high-heel sizes range in the doubledigits. They ooze glamour even as they’re lampooning it.” The opening act is that of Misstress Formika singing “Aquarius” from Hair. I thought that Misstress Formika looked more like a woman than any of the other drag queens. In her tight purple dress, showing every curve on her body, plus a great wig it would have been hard to tell she were a man if seen on the streets. In contrast with Misstress Formika’s performance, the performer Tabboo! wore her hair spiked and performed a song about it being natural to dress up in drag. Deee-Lite was one of the few female performers. She said that it was the drag queens that had taught her glamour. Deee-Lite looked about the same in her interview as she did in her actual performance because she had incorporated a lot of the glamour into her everyday style of dress. However, Lypsinka looked like a model performing, yet very strange in the footage of him practicing with a skirt on but his shirt off. Seeing him dressed as a man for the interview was kind of weird because he looked just like any ordinary guy, but before he appeared to be a model. Another thing that really stood out was the level of dedication of these performers. The case of Wendy Wild really stands out. She came to watch part of the festival the day she got out of the hospital after a bone marrow transplant and then the next day was performing on stage still hooked up to an IV. A few of the performances were also quite bizarre. “Perhaps most bizarre of all is a large fellow in Kabuki makeup who climaxes his act by ‘giving birth’ to a red-stained nude woman, complete with umbilical cord.” Another shocking performance was that of Flloyd performing “What Makes a Man a Man?” After taking off his wig to reveal his purple hair underneath, he takes off all of his clothes until he is completely naked. I thought all of the performances were very interesting in their own ways.

This film has an important significance for the LGBT community. “Gay pride is on display in his film, pride that is celebrated with raucous exuberance.” One of the performances by Misstress Formika celebrates the coming out experience. His song tells of coming out, being sent to a shrink, and his dad getting mad at him for dressing in drag. The chorus of the song is, “You’ve gotta fight, for your right, to be queer!” Another important part of this festival is the performers lost to AIDS. ”

Issues pertaining to drag are also going to have significance for issues of gender. In this film, Misstress Formika discusses social stereotypes. He believes that men who wish to wear a frock should be able to wear a frock. There was no good reason according to him, that a man was forced to a certain dress code. However, he said some women’s clothing articles would not be necessary for most men, such as a bra. The Wigstock dancers also felt that it should be more accepted for men to dress as women in today’s society. While many do not understand the need for males to dress as females, The “Lady” Bunny says, “[i]t’s a tribute to women, they like the way women talk and they like the way women talk.” While in most of the performances drag queens go over the top and do not really portray women, in one of the performances, traditional gender roles are portrayed. A bride and groom show a traditional marriage ceremony. Then, the groom spins the bride around, unraveling her dress. Suddenly, the bride is a housewife and is dancing around with eggs in a frying pan. I thought that performance was an interesting play on gender roles.

Another important aspect of this documentary is that which deals with identity. One of the professional, working drag queens describes his experience in high school of wearing a gown at graduation and feeling like a woman. Now it is a high for him to dress up. He says, “we’re all a family” referring to transsexuals, transgendered persons, and transvestites. He is now going through a sex change operation. RuPaul had a story about being unaccepted at first in the drag world for being black. Later, he became identified as a supermodel. He also spoke about his amazement that in the 90s it was actually “in” to be gay. The “Lady” Bunny says about the festival that, “This is not necessarily a drag thing or a gay thing or a straight thing. It’s proof that we can all get together and have a great time.” This festival may have helped strengthen the drag community’s identity, since they were finally able to be out in the open.

Many performers in this movie had either had a sex change operation or were going through a sex change. Misstress Formika as a kid “was dressed in male drag because [he] had male genitals” and society had taught his parents to dress him that way. Others described society not being understanding of those who were transgendered. In Sex Change and the Popular Press, sex change surgeries also seemed to be looked down upon by society, far more so than today. In the past, if someone were not intersexed, the doctors would not have seen a need to operate. Both the article and the movie describe a request for the surgery and then major lifestyle changes. The article and the movie acknowledge that nature can mess up. However, based on what is said of the procedures in the article, the procedures had greatly advanced as far as being more realistic and safer, by the 1990s.

Bodies in Motion: Lesbian and Transsexual Histories also brings up a few points that are significant in the movie. This chapter talks about cross-dressing in women often being a sign of lesbian sexuality rather than a sign of being transgendered. In Wigstock: The Movie there was only one cross-dressing woman portrayed. Crystal Waters performed in a suit and tie, with a group of similarly dressed men as her backup. However, the movie did not say if she were lesbian or transgendered. However, in the chapter it is made into a political fight as to who was lesbian and who was transgendered. Transgendered individuals were kicked out of certain lesbian events and were not always welcome in the lesbian community. In the movie however, all performers were accepted and it did not matter if they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or even straight.

There were a few similarities in the movie to the chapter on Creating Good-Looking Genitals in the Service of Gender. In the movie, some of the drag queens described what it was like to be “butch drag queens” in that they could never really look like a woman. Others described feeling more feminine and said there was more to being a man than just having a penis. In the chapter, doctors who perform sex changes on intersexed infants seem to base their decision of whether the baby should be male or female on the size of their penis. However, an infant born with a large clitoris is described as being too difficult for feminine cosmetic results and basically looked down upon as being defective. It was interesting that doctors and parents could just pick the sex of their child. However, in the movie no intersexed performers were interviewed. Although many performers did express that their parents would not allow them to wear dresses as children simply because they had a penis.

This was a very interesting documentary. Overall, I thought it was well done. There were a few performances that I might have left out, if I were making a documentary of Wigstock. There may have been other performances that should have made it into this documentary. It may have also been beneficial to take out a few performances and include more interviews. I would have liked to see what the professional drag queens thought of people just going to Wigstock and dressing up one day a year. It would have also been interesting if a female in male drag were interviewed. However, it was interesting to see many members of the public interviewed about what they thought of this festival. It was a lot of fun to watch and I think anyone interested in drag but unable to go to New York to see Wigstock in person should see this movie.