Dr. Seuss in Drag

Cat in the HatWhat a kerfuffle! A few days ago a story twittered through Blogville, most notably via HuffPost Gay Voices, about Philadelphia drag artist Martha Graham Cracker. She’d been invited by someone at a nearby New Jersey after-school program to delight the kids with stories by Dr. Seuss on his birthday, in celebration of Read Across America. But in a blink of the Grinch’s eye, the invitation was ever so rudely rescinded. Day-care officials deemed Miss Graham Cracker “inappropriate” to read for their children.

It should be obvious to anyone that most drag queens’ extravagant fashion sense alone is qualification enough to make them perfect candidates for such a task – and you don’t need to know about Dr. Seuss’s own penchant for outrageous headgear. (His hat collection was recently on display at the New York Public Library.) Even the dim-witted Sneetches would see this as a clear case of trans/homophobic discrimination.

Martha Graham Cracker

Martha Graham Cracker

Don’t be alarmed, citizens of Whoville. The story has a happy ending, as sure as Horton heard your collective “Who!” A church in Philadelphia extended open arms to Martha Graham Cracker, asking her to read Dr. Seuss to their children this sunny Sunday. Perhaps she’s serving a breakfast of green eggs and ham from Sam I Am as I sit, at this exact minute, so many miles away, typing as fast as I can. It brings a smile to my face because, in a way, were it not for drag queens I might not be here at all.

Tulips for Bloolips

Precious Pearl

Precious Pearl, Bloolips

In 1985 a friend in an East Village bar yelled out, “Does anyone want to sublet an apartment in Amsterdam?” Within three weeks I was on my way. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I hoped to find a British comedic drag troupe called The Bloolips who I knew had appeared there during the annual Festival of Fools. Maybe I could work for them, I thought, kind of like running away with the circus.

Five years earlier I was selling tickets for their gender-bending hit show Lust in Space at the Orpheum Theater. I watched them almost every night as they sang and tap-danced their way into everyone’s heart. Their slapstick music-hall style never failed to make me laugh. But most extraordinary were their costumes, which they each designed themselves (and won them an Obie Award!) They were like Dr. Seuss characters come to life. I wished I could be one of them.Bloolips in Amsterdam

When I arrived in Amsterdam, I discovered the Festival of Fools no longer existed. But I found my way back to a life in the theater anyway. A year and a half later the Bloolips did come to town with their show Slung Back and Strapless. I surprised them with a visit at their hotel and explained I couldn’t see their performance. I was in a play myself that night. (The first play about AIDS to be done in Amsterdam – another story for another time.) I gave them a big bunch of tulips to say thank you. For what, they asked? Just for being their fantastical inspiring selves.

Bette Bourne

Bette Bourne (in Seussical hat)

BTW: The 27th BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival will host the premiere of the documentary Bette Bourne: It Goes With the Shoes on March 21. Bette started The Bloolips and the film, directed by Jeremy Jeffs, tells her remarkable life story. It makes use of some footage from YouTube link below to 1983 film by Michael Kasino.

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