The Drag Divide

Long before RuPaul’s Drag Race drew the ire of feminists for (arguably) promoting a misogynistic parody of women, the gay and lesbian community struggled with the political correctness of men dressing in drag, especially at its annual gay pride parades.

Ivy Bottini works the women's booth at the Christopher Street West pride festival in Los Angeles, 1977. Photo: ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.
Ivy Bottini works the women’s booth at the Christopher Street West pride festival in Los Angeles, 1977. Photo: ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.

In Los Angeles in the early 1980s, lesbian feminist Ivy Bottini, who penned a regular column in the LGBT newsmagazine Frontiers, decried the large contingent of drag queens in the Christopher Street West (CSW) parade.

In a live interview on the gay and lesbian radio program IMRU at radio station KPFK in the summer of 1983, Bottini called drag offensive and insulting to women. Although a complete recording of the program may not exist, parts of the interview have been preserved by the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.

In the first part of the interview, Bottini talks with producers Andrew Ross Exler (whose legal name is now Crusader) and Josy Catoggio about why she decided to continue writing her column for Frontiers despite the mass resignation of the newspaper’s female staff members. It’s not clear from the interview whether allegations of misogyny drove the resignations, and the incident does not seem to be documented in other histories of the era.

Later in the interview, Bottini describes her feelings of anger as she watched drag queens marching in the Southern California pride parade.

A week before the program aired, I helped the program’s producers record interviews of men in drag at the CSW parade in West Hollywood. The taped interviews were played during the live portion of the program to provide additional viewpoints and to spark debate.

Bottini, an elder in the LGBT community, came out publicly in 1968 when she was an activist with the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women. An artist and graphic designer, she designed NOW’s logo, which is still used by the organization.

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