In thinking about this word I realized that it is something that I have many times been accused of when acting my most “queenly” and uninhibited. I do though think that exaggeration may be an innate queer quality that has certainly in the past and continues today to serve us well. I am not sure that what is really happening in my more exaggerated moments, and this would be true for the queer world at large, would not more accurately be described as exuberance.
If I might take the liberty to use an example I see often around this table it would be Michael’s earrings. One could easily view these wonderful adornments as certainly exaggerated and quite over the top. I choose to view them as an example of his exuberance for life.
Early on especially for young gay men and women it is often exaggerated tones of voice, hand gestures, clothing choices and body English that seem to almost be expressed unconsciously that attracts the attention of the straight world. It is viewed as something quite queer by our hetero parents, siblings etc. but for us most often it is something arising from our very souls and seems to us to be quite a natural expression. Something not contemplated or premeditated but simply expressed spontaneously.
What is “reparative therapy” for example in part but the attempt to squash our innate sense of exaggeration or our true sense of exuberance for life? Usually it is men who fall into these programs and are encouraged to be aware of speech and hand movements to tone it down and present themselves in more manly and subdued fashion.
A personal example of my own “exaggeration” I suppose could be the gardens I have planted over the years, often over the top and full of color. If you knew what you were looking for you could simply walk down the block and spot the queer house many feet away. I wasn’t trying to exaggerate but merely was expressing my exuberance for brightly colored plants and lots of them. Oh, and I have an extensive collection of purses that I hope I still carry most often in a very fey manner.
How else but through exaggeration do you breakthrough the soul-crushing curtain of heterosexuality that smothers us all from cradle to grave? Particularly, the exaggeration of difference becomes vital in forming our queer identities. Subtly does not get one very far.
A perfect example of productive exaggeration to refer to this month is our annual celebration of the Stonewall Riots. This momentous event of course occurred at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village NYC in the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969. This action was started and sustained for three days by the most exuberant members of our community, drag queens. Wikipedia defines a drag queen as: “ …males who dress and act in a female gender role, often exaggerating certain characteristics (such as make-up and eyelashes) for comic, dramatic or satirical effect”. (Emphasis mine)
One of the most poignant descriptions of that event is in Larry Mitchell’s iconic tome from 1977 The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions.
Action Fierce Against the Men
One warm and rainy night, the faggots and their friends were gathered in one of their favorite cellars dancing and stroking each other gently.
Suddenly, the men, armed with categories in their minds and guns in their hands, appeared at the door. The faggots, true to their training for survival, scrammed out the back windows, up into the alley and out into the anonymous night. The queens, unable to scram in their gold lame and tired of just surviving, stayed. They waited until boldness and fear made them resourceful. Then, armed with their handbags and their high heels, let out a collective shriek heard round the world and charged the men. The sound, one never heard before, unnerved the men long enough for the queens to get into the streets. And once on the streets, their turf, mayhem broke out. The word went out and from all over the devastated city, queens moved onto the streets, armed, to shout and fight. The faggots seeing smoke, cautiously came out of hiding and joyously could hardly believe what they saw. Elegant, fiery, exuberant queens were tearing up the street, building barricades, delivering insults, daring the men.
So they joined the queens and for three days and three nights the queens and their friends told the men, in every way they knew how, to fuck off.
Larry Mitchell, The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions. 1977.
Long out of print but a few used copies can be found and there is a PDF version available on line.
Lets not forget this Pride 2013 as Larry Mitchell so eloquently states in his book; “it’s been a long time since the last revolutions and the faggots and their friends are still not free.”