Friday Fun: Gender Play


by C. Margery Kempe

I recently took in the “David Bowie is” exhibit at the V&A in London. One of the most fun aspects of Bowie of course is his gender play. From early on, the audience confusion — “Is he a girl? Is she a boy?” — was part of the provocation. I remember the label on this video saying it was banned in the US, but I know I saw it at the time, so perhaps it was only banned from certain mainstream avenues.

There’s a drag tradition in Britain that’s different from what it is in the States: from the days of Shakespeare, where the theatre was far too scandalous to allow women on it, right up to the relatively modern public (i.e. private) school tradition that segregated genders and made it necessary that school plays include boys dressed as ingenues, it has been largely accepted as okay for straight men to dress up.

By Bowie’s time in the midst of glam rock the fluidity of gender had much more playful aspects to it that many found confusing; it wasn’t the easy identification of an old comedian dressed as a ‘battle axe’ or ‘pepperpot’ but very attractive (and overtly masculine) men in eyeliner and glitter — as well as more slippery characters like Bowie who didn’t necessarily make it clear where their gender identity lay.

Tilda Swinton is the perfect foil for Bowie, isn’t she?

I wrote a medieval story with the ‘heroine’ really being a boy, whose mother had raised him as a girl. How do you like to play with gender?

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7 Comments

  • madelineiva
    May 17, 2013 at 10:13 am

    There’s something extremely sexy to me about the man confident to come over to the girl side of things because he’s comfortable with who he is and he’s interested and accepting of girl things.

    For instance any guy who says “I grew up with a single mother and five sisters” is instantly attractive to me.

    Then there’s the boy who’s MADE to dress up like a girl — and that’s something else again. There was that very sexy scene in that Spanish movie Belle Epoch where the guy was dressed up in a maid’s uniform and the woman dressed as a soldier ravished him. An excellent scene.

    • cmkempe
      May 17, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      I’d agree with that totally. Very sexy!

  • LizEverly
    May 17, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Remember “The Crying Game” ? I loved that movie. But one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen about gender-shifting was Orlando. I think about that movie a lot.

    • cmkempe
      May 17, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      Where I first fell for Tilda Swinton. She’s so amazing!

      • madelineiva
        May 17, 2013 at 9:20 pm

        Orlando — yes! That was an amazing movie. (Sigh.)

  • LizEverly
    May 18, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Tilda–fabulous…;-)

  • cmkempe
    May 20, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Reblogged this on C. Margery Kempe and commented:

    Bowie-inspired!

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