There was an earlier incarnation of what you will read below. It appeared here. But in the last few days I have been looking over the negatives of Kimberly. I wrote three blogs about her, here and here. There are more of her that I would like to run (tomorrow) and they involve a distinctly masculine look. So the purpose of today’s blog is to expand on the theme of the idea of men dressed as women, women dressed as men and some of the in-betweens.
My discovery of the sexes really began in kindergarten where I had the unusual situation of having the then famous Argentine Diligenti as classmates. They were quintuplets, two men and three women. I distinctly remember hiking up the skirts of the cutest of the girls whose name was María Fernanda. At a young age I was attracted to the opposite sex. I might have been in the first grade when confusion set in. I was in a colectivo (a Buenos Aires bus). A woman with a child got on. She had a big stomach. I had noticed this before and wondered what kind of a disease it might be. This “sick” woman had a strange creature in tow. She seemed to be a girl as the proof was in that she was wearing a dress. But her hair had been shaved off. Was this some boy dressed as a woman in some sort of punishment?
Further confusion happened when my mother took me to see films with Katherine Hepburn, a woman with a male voice who wore pants. I was 9 when during the Buenos Aires pre-Lent carnival my parents had taken me to the movies. We were in the subte, (the BA metro) and there were many people all dressed up in costumes. In the other car, I could see someone leaning against the back window. It was woman as she was wearing a dress that was all bare in the back. But something was wrong. The back was different. Instinctively I knew it was the back of a man. I was confused but too embarrassed to ask my parents.
While in Mexico in the 50s I could not figure out why women would not shave their legs. Some had lots of it. It was explained to me that Mexican aboriginals had no facial or body hair. Women who did not shave and men who wore prominent moustaches were out to show that they had Spanish blood and were “better” than the common natives. I did get used to seeing body hair in women and I must admit here that I am particularly attracted to women with dark hairy armpits!
In those years in Mexico my contact with the gay population was almost nonexistent. It was only during the carnival season in the port city of Veracruz, where my mother lived in the mid 60s that I noticed that gay men would dress up or dress in drag without any fear of retaliation from the mostly macho population.
In the late 70s when I was working for Ron Langen’s (read below) gay/bi-sexual publication Bi-line that I had my first real jolt in confronting sexuality in a way that was completely alien to me. I was assigned to photograph a lesbian queen (above). She was a queen in that she was much like a queen bee. She had all kinds of women cooking for her, washing for her and catering to all her needs. I was told to photograph her focusing on the fact that she was a karate instructor. Being a completely ignorant photographer I sprayed her face with water to make it look like sweat. Was I wrong! And I was much too inexperienced to crop the picture correctly and allow her hand to show. But the most unnerving feeling (but only at first) was sitting with her (I have forgotten her name) and knowing that no matter how I boasted about this or that she was not in the least interested in me because I was a man. Then I began to feel comfortable in not having to posture. If I did not attempt to “pick her up” I would not bee deemed to be un-macho. It was most liberating.
In the years that I photographed Art Bergmann I noticed he went through a gay period in the way he wore makeup and in his body movements. It was at this time that I discovered that I had a feminine side, something that I have assumed most men have but keep hidden. I could see how women were attracted to Bergmann. I could see that my feminine side was attracted to the man that he was. And much for the better my pictures of Bergmann got better.
In the last 10 years I have been taking pictures of women wearing my now a bit too small Puerto de Liverpool (a very good Mexico City department store) pin striped suit and my Sears Roebuck (the Mexican Sears) black brogue shoes which I purchased in 1972 and I still wear with the one suit that I now own that fits me. I have been having lots of fun.
In late October 1979, stopped at a light on Lougheed Highway and Willingdon Avenue, I could feel the stares from other cars. The reason was my passenger, Daisy Duck. Vancouver’s 9th Empress was applying lipstick on his lips. The idea of two men with moustaches holding hands on Davie Street (pretty common then) was completely alien to we who lived in Burnaby, so the sight of an orange-wigged drag queen was even more startling.
Yet the burgeoning gay scene of Vancouver had been kind to my photographic career. Earlier that month, I had come to the realization that I needed a studio flash system. So I went to my local Bank of Montreal, on Willingdon and Hastings, and explained to the dour, gray-haired, Scottish loan officer that I wanted $2000. “What do you propose to offer as collateral?” she asked. I placed on her desk a thick pile of Bi-Lines , a gay tabloid published by Ron Langen in Vancouver between 1978 and 1979. She eyed the centrefolds. With a barely perceptible smile she said: “I see you sometimes used a fine Scottish name as a nom de plume.” In the earlier issues of Bi-Line, my photos had been credited to Strut McPherson. My first use of the new flash system was to photograph Daisy Duck and the Halloween show at BJ’s, the gay basement club at 339 West Pender (the building, a heritage site was purchased years later by Mark James) that operated between Dec. 4, 1970 to Oct. 17, 1982. For some years my pre-teen daughter, Ale, would show the pictures, such as the one here, to her friends with the challenge to guess which one was the only woman.
During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, before the AIDS plague changed it all, it was fashionable for straights to go on gay club/pub crawls. These included the Shaggy Horse, the Luv-a-Fair and the Gandy Dancer. The more daring (and I dared!) would attend the mid-afternoon tea parties at the venerable Faces on the corner of Seymour and Robson. But for real fun, the reviews at BJ’s couldn’t be topped. My faves were the elaborately staged and lip-synced versions of Blondie songs like Heart of Glass.
Until BJ’s closed, I would often go to co-owner Brian to borrow costumes for my shoots. In 1982, I photographed Art Bergmann and his band Poisoned at BJ’s. Art was going through a gay/glam period. I remember Sam Feldman (Art’s music agent in Vancouver at the time.) being shocked at my pictures. “They look like fags,” he said. I last saw Brian at a photography course I taught for Emily Carr’s outreach program in B.C.’s interior in 1989. Brian was one of my students. He winked at me and in a whisper told me: “This is a quiet community, so I would appreciate your discretion.” Sometime in 1999 showing my pictures to Jim the former DJ at BJ’s he informed me that Daisy was no longer with us as we looked back on what to both of us were far rosier times. And when Ale’s friends would give up, she would say, “The woman is at the bottom row, right.”
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.