Friday Fun: Gender Play
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?