To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

As I had heard really good things about this film, when it came on TV the other night, I made a point of watching it. On the surface, it seems a very PC movie – 3 drag queens get stranded in Middle America and work their magic on a small town, so by the end, they have changed lives and the whole town adores them.

There were a few elements in the film that really disturbed me from a feminist viewpoint

Apart from being insanely unrealistic, there were a few elements in the film that really disturbed me from a feminist viewpoint. One was the gang rape that almost took place when one of the drag queens, mistaken for a woman (also unrealistc) gets surrounded in the middle of nowhere by a group of testosterone-driven, hostile young men whose intentions are all too clear. She only gets saved in the nick of time. After an encounter with another of the drag queens, in which one of the young men is grabbed by the balls and forced to apologize for his uncouthness to a group of the town’s women, the whole group of men becomes docile and respectful of women and even start wearing nice clothes! This completely ignores the reality of rape that many women in this world have to live through. There is no way a group of men who are about to gang rape someone and only stop when they are thwarted, would become nice, respectful young men just because a woman (or so they think) takes one of them down a peg or two (in real life, this would make them hate women even more!) I think this treatment of such a situation is insulting to anyone who has been raped, or in fact to all women, who have the potential of being raped. It is not going to help any woman in that situation to think – “Oh, if only I had a nice strong drag queen here to change these rapists into nice young men before they rape me!” This makes a joke of a very serious issue.

And this is the same thing that happens with the domestic violence situation in the film. The Stockard Channing character is being abused mentally and physically by her husband, but after Vera (the drag queen played by Patrick Swayze) goes to her aid and beats up the husband, and then Stockard (sorryforgot character’s name) stands up to him just once, he becomes nice and leaves her alone. This would never happen!! In real life, he would be stalking her for years and she’d have to get a police restraint order on him. So apparently, if you are being abused by your husband, all you need is to have a drag queen beat him up once and then if you say a few firm words to him, he will be sweet as pie and never hurt you again! Which is fine and well if it were true, but even if it were, what if you’re unlucky enough not to have your fairy godmother drag queen around and you’re all alone with your dangerous husband? The film doesn’t even pretend to address any potential real-life situation and this is worrying.

It glosses over domestic violence and rape and treats these real-life issues as if they are trivial

I think this kind of film-making is extremely irresponsible and dangerous; it glosses over domestic violence and rape and treats these real-life issues as if they are trivial – or even worse – as the butt of a joke. I think it’s very difficult to treat issues such as rape and domestic violence in a comedy. If such issues are not treated seriously, then there is the danger that people will take them less seriously (including rapists and abusers). And of course, there is no kind of practical advice whatsoever to anyone who’s actually a victim of these crimes.

Now I haven’t even begun to describe how homophobia is glossed over in the film, but let’s just say that there is no small town in the United States (in the world?) that would be anywhere near as accepting, when they found out that the 3 nice ladies who’d been their guests were in fact 3 nice men in ladies’ clothing. So for all you drag kings and queens out there, apparently it’s great fun to travel around Middle America in your gear as no one will try to beat you up, or for that matter, even blink an eye. In fact they’ll probably just comment on your great sense of style and ask you where you got your hat.

Katherine Lubar is an artist in London.