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Just Like a Woman?

Three professional drag queens size up a trio of TV cross-dressers

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Who wears the pants in Hollywood these days? Practically no one, it seems. Pop culture is swarming with dress-wearing, lipstick-caked, high-heeled men. Not only have they made a home in the movies (look at Ed Wood and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), they’ve also sashayed their way onto the little screen. Heavy doses of gender-bending can be seen in ABC’s new On Our Own, Fox’s Martin, and the syndicated The Dame Edna Experience!

How well do TV cross-dressers pull it off? Are they convincing as women, or should they donate those blouses to the Salvation Army and go back to their Oxfords? We recruited a panel of experts — three working New York City drag queens — to critique the shows: the Baroness, a spokesmodel for a cable home- shopping show; Tabboo!, a performance artist who appeared on Howard Stern’s pay-per-view New Year’s Eve special; and Varla Jean Merman, a cabaret singer and actress who claims to be Ethel’s illegitimate daughter.

*The Show: On Our Own * The Cross-Dresser: Ralph Harris, who pretends to be his aunt so that Children’s Services will think an adult is caring for his orphaned siblings The Experts Say: The Baroness: ”Look. She’s got the motions down nicely — the way she held her dress when she sat down. Well done.”

Tabboo!: ”But she’s still a little frumpy. No glamour.” Varla Jean: ”The kids seem to be adjusting quite well to the fact that he’s wearing their dead mother’s clothes. I like the attention to detail: the glasses, the pearls, the cleavage.”

*The Show: Martin * The Cross-Dresser: Martin Lawrence as Sheneneh, the feisty neighbor * The Experts Say: The Baroness: ”You could feed a buffet of five on that butt, but there’s no waist. Get that girl a corset. And there’s not enough makeup, lipstick, or drama. Look sexy. Strike a pose. Don’t look like you’re coming to clean the toilet bowl.” Varla Jean: ”She definitely needs new clothes. She looks like she shops the off-rack in the Debbie Gibson collection. Put her in a short skirt.” Tabboo!: ”Shlumpy and frumpy — but she does have a little sex, a little spunk.”

* The Show: The Dame Edna Experience! * The Cross-Dresser: Australian Barry Humphries as bon vivant chat-show host Dame Edna * The Experts Say: Varla Jean: ”I love that hair color. It never occurs in nature.” Tabboo!: ”She’s very flirtatious with all her guests. You can tell she used to have real sex appeal.” The Baroness: ”This is true fantasy. True theater. The other stuff is schlock. Dame Edna knows what drag’s about: When you should maybe take one more thing off before leaving the house, what you do is put three more things on.”