What Sorts of People in the Casino?

This article from the Sydney Morning Herald suggests that, even in a casino themed around the Priscilla Queen of the Desert musical, gender “appropriateness” can still be demanded.

Paul “Anne-Marie” Hurst, of Sydney, got away with attending the opening of Priscilla wearing a frock, and managed to drink uninterrupted at the casino bar, “Priscilla’s” afterward. But when she then decided to have a flutter in the casino, was denied entry on the basis of being inappropriately attired for ‘his’ gender. (Notably, the news article seems committed to keeping Hurst in the gendered place alloted at birth, referring to her constantly as Mr Hurst)

The theming of the bar, and the success of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, are interesting phenomena in Australia to begin with. In a country profoundly committed to archetypes of masculinity, there is a tradition of dressing “real men”, of unimpeachable masculinity, up as women. The Footy Show is Australia’s contemporary bastion of masculinity, which makes liberal use of cross-dressing, but for the dual purposes of degrading particular women (such as sports commentator Caroline Wilson) and reinforcing homosocial bonds between the show’s hosts.

The film, Priscilla, trod a fairly similar path; and was criticised in Australia by feminists who felt it represented a kind of hyper-masculinity coupled with misogyny, rather than a genuine bending of gender norms. Or, perhaps more to the point, it plays off one against the other: gender bending being tolerated by the Australian mainstream only on condition that elsewhere in the narrative women are deprecated, thus reinstating the conventional gender hierarchy.

Or, perhaps transvesticism can only be tolerated when we ‘know’ that it’s only a performance, and that there’s ‘really’ an actor under there—an actor whose sexuality and gender identity are beyond reproach. Perhaps a burley bloke like Guy Pearce or Hugo Weaving. It all gets a bit serious when a chap wants to dress like a woman because she feels more herself that way – like Paul Hurst (or is it Anne-Marie) of this story.

3 thoughts on “What Sorts of People in the Casino?

  1. I completely agree that barring a drag queen/transvetite or transexual of any kind, regardless of attire, from a casino “themed around” the Priscilla musical is worthy of mockery, but please leave the original film out of your rant. I’m a card-carrying feminist and I’ve loved the film since its 1994 debut, and am tired of the period too-PC-for-their-own-good sneers it occasionally garners (generally in academic circles rather than among the “marginalized” people allegedly being misrepresented in the film). One of my best friends is a FTM transexual who adores the film and quoting lines from it always becomes a running gag for us. Most of my pals in the gay/lesbian community also love the film.

    Your implication that heterosexual actors should never play gay roles misunderstands acting in a very essential way…by your definition, Ian McKellen shouldn’t be allowed to portray straight characters. I had no idea whether or not Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce were straight when I saw the film because it it featured the first internationally famous roles for both actors. All I cared about were the characters, whom I completely believed in and loved…I never condescended to viewing the film in an arch, “it’s all pretend anyway” manner. I loved it on its own terms. Drag artists should be accorded the same respect…no one’s gender identity is as fixed or “beyond reproach” as they’d like to think.

  2. Dear crowjane,

    I understand your point, but with all due respect, I think you missed mine (which is understandable, as I didn’t make it very well). I’ll address your last point first: I was not saying that straight men should not play queer parts — or anything about the sexuality, fixed or otherwise, of those actors. The comment was addressed at mainstream Australia’s perceptions of these actors. It’s pretty common folklore in mainstream acting circles that if you play a queer part you need to establish with the viewing public that it’s only acting, so that no one feels uncomfortable (“no one” referring to those who do not like gender to be too bent). My comment was aimed at the question of why the film did so well with mainstream audiences, not with the queer community, whom I understand would love the film. For the big audience, the one from which they get the greatest wad of cash at the box-office, there does, unfortunately, need to be a perception that the actor beneath the performance has a fixed, straight, gender identity.

    Likewise, my comment about the mockery of women in the film. I did not mean here that the drag queens mock women by dressing in drag. This is an offensive suggestion by some feminists, and I do not share it. Rather, my point was aimed towards the depiction of the Thai (?) prostitute in the film: an unambiguous and ridiculous (i.e. worthy of ridicule) representation of a woman. This is the jibe against women that balanced out the gender bending for the mainstream audience, in my opinion.

    The Footy Show reference might have furthered this misunderstanding. —and it didn’t help that the link didn’t work (and I can’t edit it now, not being a moderator). None of Sam Newman et al’s drag acts are very convincing, it must be said, and they don’t transgress anything here. The video link would have shown Sam Newman “dressing” a manequin of Caroline Wilson, a colleague of his who apparently has no place speaking authoritatively about football. Sam’s “joke” is that he’s dressing her very badly— and thus essentially putting Her in drag, or saying: Caroline Wilson doesn’t know how to do her gender.

  3. Re: my comment, where I wrote “my point was aimed towards the depiction of the Thai (?) prostitute in the film: an unambiguous and ridiculous (i.e. worthy of ridicule) representation of a woman”, Rob’s pointed out for me that I meant Bill Hunter’s mail order bride. It’s a long time since I saw the film, but that character really struck a bad note for me.

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