The Transformative Power of Dressing in Drag

The excellent and underfunded nonprofit art and politics magazine Guernica has a special issue this month dedicated to exploring the boundaries of gender. In it, novelist Alexander Chee writes about the surprising realizations he had the first time he dressed in drag for a night on the town with the man he loves:

He is really spellbound, though, in a way he hasn’t been before this. I have never had this effect on a man, never transfixed him so thoroughly, and I wonder what I might be able to make him do now that I could not before. “Honey,” he says, his voice full of wonder. He walks closer, slowly, his head hung, looking up at me. I feel my smile rise from somewhere old in me, maybe older than me; I know this scene, I have seen this scene a thousand times and never thought I would be in it; this is the scene where the beautiful girl receives her man’s adoration and I am that girl.

In this moment, the confusion of my whole life has receded. No one will ask me if I am white or Asian. No one will ask me if I am a man or a woman. No one will ask me why I love men. For a moment, I want Fred to stay a man all night. There is nothing brave in this: any man and woman can walk together, in love and unharassed in this country, in this world—and for a moment, I just want to be his overly made-up girlfriend all night.

Photo by Dan Nicoletta.

Photo by Dan Nicoletta.

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