A brief history of the avian trail

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This winter, Pennsylvania birders were obsessed with a northern cardinal exhibiting bilateral gynandromorphism, a rare phenomenon where individuals exhibit both observable male and female characteristics distributed evenly across their bodies. The beige female coloring dominated the left side of the cardinal, while the bright red male coloring protruded over the right side. Birds with the disease are more commonly referred to as chimeras or “demi-siders”.

Coverage of the sighting quickly sparked conversations about another Cardinal Chimera – possibly the same bird – which was filmed two years ago in the same region in the winter of 2019. Queer Twitter took it up. knowledge and quickly. off the bird, seeing it as a trans icon, not a binary one. Pattie Gonia, an environmental activist, even created a Cardinal-inspired look soon after it went viral: She highlighted half of her face in scarlet red while keeping her facial hair, and On the other side, she painted her shaved face a light brown, applied a dramatic lash and finished with lipstick and a bold eyebrow.

“We see queerness and gender queerness manifested in birds like the [chimera] cardinal so eagerly, ”said Gonia. “Birds are drag queens in the sky. I say it in a funny way, but I mean it literally because [in most bird species] males are more colorful and decorative than females.

Since its debut in 2018, Gonia has gathered a large audience online as leader in growth Eco-focused environmental and social flirting movement that champions gay rights, equality and responsible conservation. She believes that intersectional environmental activism that welcomes and elevates marginalized voices historically excluded from the outdoors is key to building a new and robust generation of conservationists. For the past year or so, Gonia has dressed up as a Blue Jay, Red Avadavat, Mandarin Duck, and Prairie Beetle, the bird of the state of Nebraska where she was born and raised and developed a liking to birds. “A lot of times when I bird watch, especially in the spring, the birds are these pops of bright color, and I say ‘Hello, drag queen, I see you’,” she laughs.

The way Pattie Gonia shares her message and her designs may be new, but her bird-inspired looks are part of a rich drag tradition. While men dressing as women in performance date back at least to ancient Greece, the bird-influenced drag niche can date back to the 20th century alongside the evolution of modern dragging as we know it. Many of these bird tributes remain among the best moments in cult cinema and reality TV.

Frank DeCaro, author of Drag: combing through the big wigs of show business, considers vaudeville artist Julien Eltinge to be one of the founding figures of modern art. Unlike many early male performers who imitated women in comedic styles, Eltinge’s performances were so compelling that he frightened audiences at the end of his shows when he ripped off his wig and revealed his male identity. Many of Eltinge’s shows in the early 1900s featured the actor, one of the highest paid in Hollywood at the time, wearing ridiculous amounts of feathers, serving more fluff than a real birb.

Many modern-day queens like Pattie Gonia now pursue this art form more ethically, a practice queens of the early 1900s certainly did not respect. Instead, they relied heavily on the use of real feathers, mimicking fashions worn by cisgender female performers in popular vaudeville shows.

Other 1920s drag performers included American aerialist Vander Clyde, better known as Barbette, who decked out in 50-pound white ostrich feather clothing that he threw in an alluring striptease before walking along a wire in a scintillating spectacle. In 1923, the French poet and novelist Jean Cocteau wrote to his close friends about the voltigeur: “The god of friendship punished you for never having been in Paris … Your great loss for 1923 was Barbette, a formidable act at the Casino de Paris.” . Ten unforgettable minutes. A theatrical masterpiece. An angel, a flower, a bird.

Other early American imitators took bird dragging even more literally. Frederick Kovert (stage name Kogreen) was well known for his elaborate peacock dance which appeared in the 1921 film The queen of sheba. “He had a huge peacock costume which he said had over a thousand feathers and weighed over 150 pounds,” says Lillian Faderman, co-author of Gay LA: A Story of Sex Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. Faderman speculates that the early drag artists adorned themselves with feathers not only because it mimicked women’s fashion, but because it allowed them freedom and self-expression at a time when they were ashamed to be themselves. For this reason, “the drag has always been extreme,” says Faderman.

As vaudeville faded, so did white imitators in traditional arts. Throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, police harassed and arrested many LGBTQIA ++ Americans for “cross-dressing.” But drag didn’t go away – it flourished in the underground ballroom scene, which was started by queer black people in the late 1860s and continues to this day. Avian-inspired clothing could also be found at these events. George Chauncy, historian and author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, notes how a 1930s ball attendee described some of the drag artists: “Some [performers] in a trailing cloud of feathers compete with birds of paradise or peacocks. The viewer also mentioned seeing “beautiful feathered headdresses [that] nods and waves ”as hundreds of performers strutted on stage in a silver costume contest.

He It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that a drag queen took the lead role in another film: John Waters’ cult classic from 1972. Pink flamingos. The film starred the late drag queen Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead) as Babs Johnson, a criminal on a mission to be the dirtiest person in the world. Divine’s subversive character and her stage-stealing presence went on to be one of Ursula’s main inspirations in The little Mermaid. “Pink flamingos was a symbol of taste that upper middle class people looked down on, ”Waters says. “The title was also a way to completely downplay the horror and ridicule of the film.”

While Divine has never specifically dressed like a bird in the film, her angular makeup and shiny ruby ​​tulle dress suggest a large tropical bird. Fan art even made her into a mermaid, half woman, half flamingo, symbolizing the film’s high camp and the flamboyance of the kitsch plastic lawn ornaments that are outside of its trailer in the credits. opening. The film also contained many bird-themed songs, including The Trashmen’s “Surfer bird”. In the script for the proposed sequel to the film, Flamingos forever, Divine literally takes off.

Almost two decades later, more and more films with protagonists of drag artists have hit theaters. Priscilla, queen of the desert (1994), starred Mitzi Del Bra (Hugo Weaving), Bernadette Bassenger (Terrence Stamp) and Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce) on a roadtrip through the Australian Outback to perform a drag show at a casino in Alice Springs. In the film’s climactic lip-sync, the trio perform “Finally” by CeCe Peniston with elaborate costume changes including an incredible tribute to the emu where the performers don towering black helmets accented with sky blue gloves and lips. Director and screenwriter Stephan Elliot began writing the film after seeing a plume of feathers peel off a drag queen’s headdress during the Sydney Mardi Gras parade, which he said bounced off the sidewalk like tumbleweed in a western by Sergio Leone. The independent film became a cult classic and won an Oscar in 1995 for best costume design. And although no bird trails are present in The bird cage (1996) starring the late Robin Williams, the title of the film (and the name of the drag club in the film) implies that everyone who visits and performs in the venue is either caged or bystanders.

Over the next two decades, the drag continued to evolve. RuPaul Charles, actor, singer and host of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” helped bring the art to a wider audience with the popular reality TV competition show after a busy career as a drag performer. Since airing in 2009, RPDR and its international spinoff have bred hundreds of drag queens and brought diverse, queer representation to television. The show also highlighted the avian trail, even dedicating an entire season 10 track to the “Birds of a Feather” theme. Competitors dressed as doves, crows, crows and, of course, peacocks.

Throughout the series’ 13 seasons and spinoffs, other birds have paraded the runway. Highlights include: Courtney Act as a seagull which revealed a 10ft wingspan, Kim Chi as a scarlet macaw, Denali as a resplendent quetzal, Ellie Diamond as a seagull wearing a bikini, and Crystal Methyd as a bird (no identified with certainty) that Nelly Furtado’s lip sync “I’m Like a Bird” in the Season 12 finale. Other queens like Manilla Luzon and Asia O’Hara have brought their own creativity to children’s characters like Big Bird and Tweety Bird, respectively.

Considering the role that birds have played in the modern trail, itIt is worth asking why them and not another animal. What about the birds? “Maybe it all has to do with homophobia,” Waters muses. “Light in the feet… Floating? These are all words about flying, aren’t they?” Other dated phrases like “it’s a rare bird” suggest queer men and women are unusual or sick animals, stripping them of their humanity. Perhaps by literally reclaiming a nefarious perception of queerness and turning it into performance at its most extreme and layered level, these drag artists, like the birds, were finally able to be fabulous and free.



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