Where were all the gay activists who are so up in arms about John Travolta’s playing a woman (because he’s not gay enough) when Harvey Fierstein was playing a woman (though he’s clearly not woman enough)? Now that we recognize that gay men aren’t "sissies" or "almost-women," what makes female impersonation a privileged form of gay expression? Which raises the essential question: On what basis are men–gay or straight–entitled to pretend to be women?
And what does Travolta mean when he defends himself by saying his role in Hairspray isn’t a drag role? A man dressed as a woman is in drag, just as a white person made up with cork is in blackface. And if drag hasn’t been condemned universally, as blackface has, perhaps it’s because women are too busy demonstrating that we can take a joke.
I remember a t-shirt from the 70s: across the top, in quotes, "The women’s movement has no sense of humor." Then a list: unequal pay, rape, domestic violence, clitoridectomy . . . and across the bottom the question: Just what is supposed to be so funny?