On a sunny Saturday afternoon when most New Yorkers are lingering over brunch or Rollerblading in the park, six women are binding their breasts with Ace bandages in a West Village apartment. “Remember to hide the nipples first,” Diane Torr exhorts the group before they move on to stuffing their pants with sock penises and checking their Vandykes and five-o’clock shadows in the mirror.
Since Torr, a performance artist in her mid-forties, started her drag-king workshop in 1989, more than 500 women, from as far away as Istanbul and Denmark, have graduated from her gender-bending academy. Her ten-hour guy-for-a-day tour lets women in on male prerogatives like shaking hands with a firm grip; gulping instead of sipping; sloppy, talking-with-a-full-mouth eating; taking up an entire subway seat – or more – by sitting with their legs wide apart; and speaking from the diaphragm, not the throat, for a deeper voice.
For some, the workshop is nothing more than a novel course in confidence training; for others, it’s a taste of life as an alpha dog without having to be called butch or a tomboy. After a few hours of dick talk and belching, this week’s wolf pack leaves the safety of the apartment and ventures into the world outside with some final advice from its den mother: “Remember, don’t smile, and don’t put your hands on your hips!”
“I already knew how to do the facial hair,” explains Mildred Gerestant, a.k.a. Dréd, a drag performer who has sat in on Torr’s class. “It’s the attitude and the power that Diane helped me with – men are so power-tripping!” Some of the other Toms, Dicks, and Harrys who’ve emerged from the workshops include an 11-year-old schoolgirl, a 68-year-old grandmother, housewives, lawyers, and performers.
The group of six women sitting in a West Village café ordering drinks as their male alter egos – one in a navy Brooks Brothers suit and tie, another in jeans and a tank top – may not have fooled anyone. But their day-as-a-dude was nonetheless an escape into another reality. At least until one of them had to pee but preferred to hold it in – she didn’t have the balls to use the men’s room.