Movie Article

All the 'Wong' Moves

Drag experts weigh in

With Swayze, Snipes, and Leguizamo sashaying onto their turf in To Wong Foo, two drag specialists praise and pelt Hollywood's take on gender bending: Actor-playwright Charles Busch, current star of Off Broadway's Swingtime Canteen, was a onetime candidate for Swayze's role in the movie; and disco diva Susanne Bartsch has championed the drag demimonde for more than a decade with her outrageous cross-dressing nightclub bashes.

So, did you like the movie?

Busch: I was impressed. It was the first time I'd seen a movie where the drag queens sounded like drag queens and not like 1930s chorines.
Bartsch: I wasn't bored. Remember that film with Madonna and Sean Penn? I just couldn't watch it. This I could watch.

Did you think these guys rated as professional drag performers?

Busch: Well, I've never really seen drag queens who were pumped up like that. A professional drag queen would be spending six hours a day at Bergdorf's, not the gym.

Did these guys even come close to passing as real women?

Bartsch: As far as realness, they didn't pass at all. They were guys, and they were all along guys to me.

Didn't you find it odd that they're rarely out of drag, even in bed?

Busch: Realistically, it made no sense. Even a woman takes off her girdle eventually. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert seemed more rooted in the real world. This is E.T. with falsies.

How did the costumes and makeup rate?

Bartsch: A man in a twinset and pearls doesn't really turn me on.
Busch: The makeup artist who did the movie also did my To Wong Foo screen test — I looked a bit like Meryl Streep in that movie where the dingo ate her baby. I blame the failure of my getting the role on that.

Hard feelings aside, how did you think they moved?

Busch: John Leguizamo was realistic, and Patrick Swayze, being a dancer, had quite the advantage. Wesley could use a couple more drag lessons. A lot of people in drag start wriggling around in their dresses a bit too much.

Is this movie a big step forward?

Bartsch: It was a typical Hollywood formula film. They could have been bank robbers. Instead they were drag queens.
Busch: We've had enough of downbeat drag queens shooting up and killing themselves. It was nice seeing a family picture about transvestism.

Originally posted Sep 08, 1995 Published in issue #291 Sep 08, 1995 Order article reprints