The description “drama queen” has been and certainly continues to be one used most commonly by gay men to on occasion or perhaps quite frequently describe one another. If we as gay men have not actually been called a drama queen to our face rest assured that there has probably been more than one instance when others thought of us as a queen reacting with over the top drama to some situation or the other.
Common characteristics attributed to the “drama queen” include moody, impulsive, and prone to overreacting, taking things out of context and my personal favorite “flamboyant”. One definition I found from Allwords .com for drama queen was “an effeminate gay man (a queen) who behaves and speaks in an overly dramatic manner so as to garner attention.”
The use of the word effeminate in this definition is interesting and really a bit narrow and unimaginative really. Rather than being “effeminate”, which is defined as having or showing characteristics regarded as typical of a woman or unmanly, I think being a drama queen involves something entirely different. Behaviors perhaps unique on a very fundamental level to how gay men view and respond to the crushing heterosexual culture we come to our true identities engulfed in.
Harry Hay often told a story about how he was criticized by other boys on the playground for throwing a ball like a girl. A female acquaintance of his said Harry you don’t throw like a girl you throw like a sissy”. Which could be something entirely different perhaps if we let ourselves think beyond our binary gender worldview.
Society often chooses to clearly state or subliminally imply that all gay men are really drama queens and this is often reflected on TV and the movies. Think for a minute of Jack on Will and Grace or the great gay classic Pricilla Queen of the Desert or nearly all the gay male contestants on Project Runway. These are certainly roles portraying lots of drama often on the part of the queens involved but I prefer to view these men as folks who often have a very biting and satirical statement to make on some extremely fucked up aspect of our culture and society. The queen to get the point across must on occasion resort to drama.
One gay man frequently accused of being over the top is Larry Kramer a man of many accomplishments with the formation of Act-Up being one of his greatest. Many of the early Act-Up actions were very dramatic. Larry Kramer once threated to show up at the office of the NIH doctor and AIDS expert, Anthony Fauci, and piss on his desk to get his attention. The rallying cry of Act-Up after all was “Silence Equals Death”. Drama queens get accused of many things; silence is not one of them.
Though behavior often labeled as “drama-queenish” can be childish and self-serving it can just as often be a powerful way to emphasize and highlight the absolute absurdity of a situation. Elements of true humor often satirical in nature can often be flippantly dismissed as the ranting of a drama queen when in fact the words and actions might be better interpreted in a broader context.
An interesting and kinder definition of a drama queen I stumbled on in writing this piece is from a gay therapist named Brian Rzepczynski. He defines the D.Q. as a person who is “very passionate about how he feels and communicates this exuberance in a magnified way that can be out-of-proportion to the situation at hand”. I would add “interpreted or viewed” as out-of -proportion.
I would also make a distinction between camp and drama. Though I love camp also I think it often lacks the bite and social significance that can be a part of drama queen behavior. Perhaps a hybrid made in heaven is the campy drama queen.
Which brings me to one of my dearest friends from the late 1960’s. His name was Don Gorman and I met him at the University of Illinois in the spring of 1968. He was living in a dormitory on campus called Newman Hall, a living situation specifically for young Catholic men. It was I guess meant to be supportive of young Christian undergrads thrown into the hedonistic public University life with its many opportunities for sin.
The exact specifics of our first meeting escape me but Don was looking to move off campus into independent housing and I was desperate to get out of the very restricting dormitory I was in. I was tired of frequently trying to get high in my dorm room with friends and all the futile efforts we engaged in to try and keep pot smoke out of the hallways on Friday and Saturday nights. We were budding young hippies and the fact that we were both yet to be confirmed homosexuals, we were still practicing at it I guess, was not part of the initial attraction to each other as friends.
Don was a great influence on me; teaching me in so many ways how to let my freak flag fly all the while subtly cultivating an outrageous queer identity. Our friendship lasted in many different settings and venues including our move to Denver in 1972, up until his death from AIDS on Mother’s Day in 1990.
Don taught me in so many ways that the lives of all good queens should be full of drama. He repeatedly taught me how to put dramatic flamboyance into my own queenly being at least in my head if not always in my actions. I am forever indebted to him and to this day miss him very much.
The photo I passed around is from the summer equinox in 1981 at the Medicine Wheel ruins in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Don is sitting right on the edge of a steep cliff with a strong updraft, which explains his hair. About 7 or 8 of us had gone there to celebrate the summer solstice as the good pagan radical fairies we saw ourselves as at the time. Others I suppose would say we were just a bunch of over the top drama queens.