The right-wing obsession with drag queens baffles me. I know it’s all about owning the libs but even by their standards this makes no sense. Cassandra tried to make sense of that idiotic phenomenon this morning but couldn’t because it’s not meant to make sense.
Perhaps it makes no sense to me because I’ve lived in two cities in which drag artistry is celebrated: San Francisco and New Orleans.
I’ve known my share of drag queens over the years. In my younger days in San Francisco I became acquainted with Don Seymour McLean DBA Lori Shannon. Don was a performer at the legendary North Beach drag club Finocchio’s, which to use the terminology of my current hometown, “ain’t dere no more.”
I met him at Vesuvio Cafe one afternoon. It was where I also met the late great Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
At our first meeting, I asked whether I should call him Don or Lori. He looked down and said, “I’m wearing pants, so call me Don.”
I suspect I made an American Pie joke at this point. If I did, it’s lost to history. Bye, bye.
Don was a tall man. He was 6’5″ in flats and described himself as “a stand-up comedian in a dress.”
He looked familiar to me. Then I realized he had played drag queen Beverly LaSalle on All In The Family. I blurted it out, “You’re the drag queen whose life Archie Bunker saved.”
I was rewarded for my awkwardness with a wink, a laugh, and a joke that’s hiding out with my American Pie wisecrack. Bye, bye.
The character of Beverly LaSalle made three appearances on All In The Family. Norman Lear loved putting Archie Bunker in weird situations and what’s weirder than Archie hanging out with a drag queen? Edith and Beverly became fast friends, which is why she returned.
Beverly’s time as an All In The Family character ended in tragedy:
Beverly visits the family to invite them to her debut show at Carnegie Hall. After leaving the Bunker home, Beverly (dressed as a man) and Mike are attacked and beaten up while walking together to a subway station. Beverly gets the worst of it, suffering mortal injuries. Edith is left to grieve and must come to terms with the violent and senseless death of her friend at Christmastime.
There’s method to my madness in sharing this story beyond my Zelig-like ability to meet famous people at odd places and times. When All In The Family is discussed nowadays it’s usually about how it couldn’t air today because of Archie’s blunt and bigoted language. That language was a way to point out Archie’s ignorance, which on occasion he overcame as he did with Beverly.
Norman Lear deserves major kudos for his willingness to depict LGBTQ characters as human beings in the 1970’s. In the show’s fifth episode, we meet Archie’s drinking buddy Steve who turned out to be the butchest gay man on the planet. Subsequently that became a cliche but it was a bold move for 1971.
It’s now 48 years after Don/Lori/Beverly’s first appearance on All In The Family. Tremendous progress has been made on LGBTQ issues but there’s been a backlash since the Supremes legalized gay marriage in 2015. Hmm, they wear robes. Does that make Sam the Sham Alito a drag queen?
32 red states are trying to drag the law backwards with bans on drag shows:
Tennessee was the first to pass its bill into law last week, barring “adult cabaret performances” on public property or in places where they might be within view of children. The bill bans, among other things, “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers”. Violators may face misdemeanor or even felony charges.
As a New Orleanian, I identify with the folks in Nashville which is a deep blue island in a sea of red. I suspect they’re considered Nashvillains by folks in the rest of the Volunteer state. Holy Scopes monkey trial, Batman.
The homophobic backlash has included scaremongering over drag queen story hours, which are included in the Tennessee bill. I haven’t been but I’ve heard drag queen story hours are delightful. The drag queens I’ve known have all been delightful. It’s a shame to see them shamed by wingnuts across the country. That’s neither delightful nor de-lovely. Frankly, it’s kind of a drag.
The last word goes to The Buckinghams:
2 thoughts on “Kind Of A Drag”
How many prominent New Orleanians went to the My-O-My club on the lakefront in it’s heyday? It was just a thing upstanding people did. And the performers were performers, not lip-synchers.
I have met a few drag queens along the road in life. They all had a great sense of humor and more than a little humanity.