Female Impersonators in America
By (author) Esther Newton
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Mother Camp by Esther Newton
Book DescriptionFor two years Ester Newton did field research in the world of drag queens homosexual men who make a living impersonating women. Newton spent time in the noisy bars, the chaotic dressing rooms, and the cheap apartments and hotels that make up the lives of drag queens, interviewing informants whose trust she had earned and compiling a lively, first-hand ethnographic account of the culture of female impersonators. "Mother Camp" explores the distinctions that drag queens make among themselves as performers, the various kinds of night clubs and acts they depend on for a living, and the social organization of their work. A major part of the book deals with the symbolic geography of male and female styles, as enacted in the homosexual concept of "drag" (sex role transformation) and "camp," an important humor system cultivated by the drag queens themselves. "Newton's fascinating book shows how study of the extraordinary can brilliantly illuminate the ordinary that social-sexual division of personality, appearance, and activity we usually take for granted." Jonathan Katz, author of "Gay American History" "A trenchant statement of the social force and arbitrary nature of gender roles." Martin S. Weinberg, "Contemporary Sociology""
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Book DetailsISBN: 9780226577609
(250mm x 200mm x 10mm)
Imprint: University of Chicago Press
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
Publish Date: 1-May-1979
Country of Publication: United States
US Kirkus Review » 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. (Kirkus Reviews)
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