Monday, July 12, 2010

Butch Queens and Motorcycle Dykes

She looks like a petite K.D. Lang disciple, from the subtle pompadour of her D.A. hairstyle to her sturdy biker boots. Her classic black leather motorcycle jacket tops her practical and faded jeans, in the recognizable, retro look. Two platinum blond streaks arc over her boyish cut, like racing stripes.

She could be a short, cute boy with a skinny build. So, how do I know she's a woman? It's the helmet she clutches, as she wanders among the tall shelves of Borders bookstore: her motorcycle helmet is bright pink, metallic, and glittery.

Still, this is Hollywood, and even a young man would proudly protect his skull with such flamboyant headgear in this town. On the rare occasions when I venture away from my office, I get a front row seat to the way people in Los Angeles create and express their gender.

I'll never forget my Bestest Gurlfren' Eddie commenting (in the 80's) about all the "butch queens who ride bikes," such as the tall, blond dancer at the Orange Coast Repertory Ballet Company. He rode his classic and expensive-looking motorcycle with the same masculine grace and balance that he displayed while rehearsing his leading man roles in the studio.

And there was Evan, one of the parade dancers at Disneyland who always got good parts because he was so tall and talented. He also rode a motorcycle, which seemed to both clash with and complement the effeminate personality we came to know and love backstage.

And then there was me, with my small, used Vespa scooter. Eddie was forever rescuing me when my scooter broke down, coming to save the day with his construction worker father's huge pickup truck ("I feel so butch!" Eddie exclaimed when he got behind the wheel, sitting five feet above the pavement).

As a kid who never felt butch or like a "typical boy" while growing up - and who also felt inferior about it - I thought that riding a Vespa scooter would help me create a more masculine image, or at least be a good start. Maybe that's why Evan and the Orange Coast ballet dancer also rode motorcycles, to overcompensate, even, for their graceful dancing skills.

And more than twenty years later, it seems to be a deliberate and wonderful construction of masculinity for the motorcycle rider with the pink, glittery helmet that I get to see in Hollywood.

Like Disneyland, Hollywood often has its own street parade of costume get-ups and costumed characters. I work on Sunset Boulevard, a few minutes' walk away from the Mann's Chinese movie theater. Sometimes the superheroes and cartoon characters busking in front of the theater take a coffee break in the Borders book store next to my office building.

Did you know that Spiderman is really African American?

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