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Dads In Drag

by Mark Stephenson

What is it about men dressed up as women? Everybody loves it.

The ‘Dads in Drag’ festival in Porirua City’s North City Plaza, was held, appropriately enough, for Fathers Day last year. A band of brave men strutted their stuff in front of a big, happy crowd.

Old women stared, dumbfounded. Young women laughed behind their hands and chattered to their mates – really getting a kick out of it. Children looked on in awe, not sure whether to laugh or hide.

Some men like doing it. Not just transvestites who do it as part of their lifestyle, but ‘ordinary’ blokes.

There is a certain feeling of risk at an event like this. Nobody is quite so sure of themselves any more. The contestants definitely took risks. Parading around in public in women’s clothes, leaving the safety of their usual weekend strides and singlets.

The compares, Chris and James from More FM, were compromised by kisses from the contestants when they least expected it. They kept their good humour but it was hard to say just how much they enjoyed it.

Even the crowd was taking a risk. It requires a leap of faith to ogle at men like this. The young, the old, male, female: they couldn’t take their eyes off them. You have to ask yourself – what are they looking at, and why? What makes it so fascinating?

Does it force us to ponder our own role and behaviour? To reflect on our own identity? Can the rules of society be so tenuous? Or is it just bloody funny?

So what makes a man want to don skirt and bra for a change, to trade loafers and track pants for make up and tiara?

I approached a group of the guys waiting their turn on the catwalk. ‘Why are you doing this?’ I asked.

A well muscled person in fish net stockings and purple satin bodice leaned over and said, ‘Who wants to know?’ His chin jutted out at me, threateningly. He was six foot six (in his heels). And big with it.

He said he was a chef. He certainly didn’t grow muscles like that whipping up soufflé but I wasn’t about to argue. When I explained my interest in their experience as fathers they loosened up and were more forthcoming.

Richard, of Porirua, AKA ‘Miss Frank Converted’, did it for the prizes. He is a change analyst by profession. Yes, that’s right. It is something to do with IT, apparently. He has two kids. His eight-year-old daughter lives with her mother and his son, Corey, 11, lives with him full time.

Mark, from Plimmerton, AKA ‘Lydia Lunchbox’, is a fulltime dad and part time chef. He won third prize, which was a playstation, so he is going to be primo in his household, for the kids, anyway.

Graham, AKA ‘Candy’, has five kids aged 11 to 20. He works mornings in data base administration so he can be available for parenting in the afternoons. He did it because ‘it was a crazy fun thing to do and breaks stereotypes’, and no, he told me, it doesn’t affect your masculinity.

There were many other colourful characters – ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Sports Café’, the silky smooth ‘Alotta’ – ‘a lot a’ shaving went on, you better believe me’, and the charmingly named ‘Miss Demeanour’ who won second prize, a home entertainment centre.

First prize, however, went to ‘Monika’. In a sensational silver sequinned dress, split to the hip and long wavy dark hair, he was always a contender. The women I spoke to said it was the way he moved that did it.

Did what? I wanted to ask, but didn’t dare.

Wayne is a 46-year-old truck driver from Porirua. His 30-year-old daughter, unbeknownst to him, entered him in the competition. What a great sport the man is! And yes, he must have been a father at 16. Now he parents his three grandchildren, aged 5, 8 and 9, who live permanently with him and his wife. He won a complete computer package for his family. Good on him! He deserved it.

After the event, all the dads in drag were up on the stage with their children and their partners. There was a general party atmosphere. It was a family event and everyone was involved, either with costume, make-up, or just support person.

It was all about taking a risk, something that fathers do best. This one involved the whole family as well as the wider community, but Dad was centre stage.

As it drew to a close, and the excitement and glitter started to fade, you could see some of the costume getting a bit ragged, the false appendages starting to migrate in an unnatural manner. As the make up melted or was wiped away, the dads emerged, back to their old selves.

Back to what is expected of them. The kids knew who was underneath all along. But just for a while they might have begun to wonder.

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