Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Life's a drag

Farewell then to Danny LaRue, who died yesterday after over 60 years as a 'comic in a frock'. Those were his words, by the way, since he didn't like the descriptions 'transvestite' or 'drag queen'. Presumably because one referred to men who feel compelled to dress as women, and the other applies more specifically to gay men who present a caricature of femininity.

And that's the problem with Danny LaRue. Although he dominated the stage in a series of cabaret performances for six decades, it was only very late in life that he finally admitted that he was gay (officially the world's worst-kept secret). Having said that, he spent much of his life denying it, arguing that “I’m a dame during the show but always a fella when it’s all over.” Weirdly, the press remained complicit in this deception, attempting to maintain the ludicrous perception that LaRue might actually be heterosexual. Although he opened up in his later years, in 2001 he said that he'd been celibate so long that it no longer mattered.

But it did matter. Without ever having to publicly admit his sexuality, Danny gave his unwitting audience an identifiable set of behaviours that could be readily transposed to anyone who identified as gay. Hence several generations were subjected to lazy conjecture that they dressed in women's clothes simply because they happened to like men. And even if they were confident enough to come out of the closet, who did they have to identify with? Danny LaRue, Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd, all of whom denied their true nature for most of their lives.

Danny LaRue was, in many ways, the last of this generation of much-loved entertainers, who hid their true nature in an effort to achieve mainstream success. They played with archetypes and satirised the life they led, whilst desexualising themselves in order to be palatable for mainstream viewers. Sudddenly, Julian Clary's comment about fisting Norman Lamont becomes an act of heroic self-sacrifice worthy of a Victoria Cross (and some sterilising hand-wash).

Danny maintained a larger-than-life persona throughout his career. Unfortunately, when a tough question was asked, he'd dodge it with a song or a saucy quip. Sadly, I guess it takes a real man to admit the truth.

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