MOTHER CAMP: Female Impersonators in America by Esther Newton

MOTHER CAMP: Female Impersonators in America

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Newton's cruise through the demi-monde of female impersonators had its unlikely origins in a doctoral dissertation -- she's currently an anthropology professor at the State Univ. of New York. But with the advent of gay and women's lib she discarded her academic conclusions on ""sociological deviance theory"" and here the ""nellies"" and ""street fairies"" and ""aunties"" and ""drag queens"" are mostly allowed to speak for and about themselves in caviling, backbiting, self-deprecating falsetto. What they talk about is the constant jostling for status and one-upmanship within their stigmatized subculture. The basic division is between the ""stage impersonators"" who consider themselves professionals doing a job (they doll up only for performances) and the ""street fairies"" who are jobless, poor and declasse -- ""the pariahs of homosexual subculture'. Either way it's a precarious, outside-the-law existence and it's fearfully easy to slip from professional to amateur status and end up hustling your ass on the street. The queens tend to judge each other by the degree of their overtness and whether they play the ""masculine"" or ""feminine"" role. Some of those you'll meet -- Wanda (that Dirty Old Lady), Skip Arnold, Tiger and Tris -- are quite articulate and thoughtful about their life-styles and what it means to be employed masquerading as a woman in a society where masculinity is often equated with job sucess. Newton's interests are sociocultural rather than psychological and her tone is conversational. Here and there, on stage and off, Mother Camp does manage to convey some disturbing caricatures of the mores of straight America. Like Selby and Rechy who have treated this scene in fictionalized accounts, Newton manages to capture the tawdry ambiance with sympathy and fidelity.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1972
ISBN: 0226577600
Publisher: Prentice-Hall