First Impressions

A documentary about the performers at a Denver drag bar, consisting largely of interviews conducted backstage as the performers apply their makeup.

00:35Copy video clip URL Title card: First Impressions, a tape by Pat Lehman, 1977. Featuring: Christy, Doug, Nina, & Tammy. Stills by Don Eastburn. 

01:04Copy video clip URL A series of drag performances, juxtaposed with still images of the performers before they apply their makeup, when they are masculine-presenting. 

03:00Copy video clip URL A performer backstage puts on a wig and poses for the camera. 

03:22Copy video clip URL The performer, now wearing an evening gown and fully made-up, explains their clothing: “I have to cover the male organs or mascularity or whatever. We have to use… it’s called a gaft. We put it between our legs and put strings on each side and … we use safety pins. Sometimes it’s very uncomfortable and sometimes it isn’t. It all depends. Sometimes you wonder why we smile on stage a lot, well that’s the reason why. This thing we wear to cover our privates. And then we wear nylons, a couple pair of nylons. Some entertainers do not shave and some do, which I don’t so I wear what you call tights and then a couple of nylons over the tights. And then a pair of panties and that’s it.”

04:15Copy video clip URL The performer discusses the padding they wear to create a shapelier figure. They then help another performer secure their padding underneath their clothes. 

05:38Copy video clip URL A performer discusses their start as a drag performer. They distinguish between a performance in drag and the other reasons when “transvestites” and “transsexuals” would wear women’s clothes. “Basically I’ve been in the business of entertaining – of entertaining not impersonation – for about 13 years.” 

06:35Copy video clip URL Describing and demonstrating the application makeup and other products used to cover beards and to make masculine faces appear more feminine. 

08:30Copy video clip URL Acceptance from police and from local institutions because the establishment is much safer then it had been before it became a gay bar. Needing to sue for their rights.

09:08Copy video clip URL Resistance from the gay community to drag performance: “They felt that impersonation gave a bad name to the gay community. They figured that all freaks ran around wearing dresses and swished, which is not true. And so the gay kids were the first ones to rebel and get nasty with the kids who did impersonation. And since it’s been those kids that changed the laws they’ve had nothing to do but listen because we were the ones that changed everything for them and gave them more rights too. There are no laws against any gay practices in Colorado, which is much more than many other states.” 

09:55Copy video clip URL The appeal of the gay bar in which they perform, which is quieter and more relaxing than many other clubs or bars for gay men. 

10:32Copy video clip URL Makeup application taking about 45 minutes, or 30 minutes if they rush. 

10:50Copy video clip URL Going out to breakfast while dressed up and “having to put up with all the straight people”: “It’s not that we look like men walking in wearing dresses. The problem is they don’t see that many women in evening gowns that when you walk in with your hair done and wearing a nice evening gown to a restaurant they all turn around and stare and start to pick you apart. And most of the jealousy comes from the women. We have very few  bad reactions from men at all. Most of it comes from the women who are sitting there in their little pantsuits and they feel like the last frowsy housewife.” 

11:55Copy video clip URL A performer named Nina describes shopping for dresses. Discussion of finding shops that are welcoming.

12:35Copy video clip URL Straight people who wander in to the bar mistakenly thinking that it’s a strip club.

13:20Copy video clip URL Coming out to parents: “I guess I’d come home from doing a play – I was in a play in high school – and my father said something to my mother, ‘Well do you think he’s gay?’ and my mother said, ‘Well I dunno but he’s one of the nicest people that I know.’ And that was all that was ever said around my house…. One thing led to another and I ended being gay but the prevailing attitude in our home was  ‘A person must be themselves.'” A performer named Tammy tells a similar story about their very supportive mother, who came to their first drag show.

14:50Copy video clip URL Story of a performer who was sent airplane tickets in female name, so he had to fly dressed as a woman at a time when it was against the law to enter Denver in drag. As soon as he landed, he had to run into a restroom to change into men’s clothing before he was arrested. 

15:18Copy video clip URL The process for doing their hair every night. 

15:57Copy video clip URL Jobs held before becoming a performer. 

16:30Copy video clip URL Having been married to a woman before. Their wife being “a very sweet person” and being understanding about them being gay. 

17:44Copy video clip URL Drag performance as an artistic outlet. 

18:02Copy video clip URL How lesbians react to drag: “They adore us, without a doubt.” A story about their father attending a show and being aggressive and potentially violent, in which the women at the show formed a protective line around the front of the stage. 

19:18Copy video clip URL Discussion of making a new dress and false eyelashes. 

21:55Copy video clip URL A question about whether the performers get “a sexual gratification” out of their performance. None of the performers do, instead describing the thrill of performing as being consistent with other kinds of performance. 

22:53Copy video clip URL The strain that performing every night places on romantic relationships. 

24:40Copy video clip URL Drag performers often being very “masculine” offstage – needing to protect themselves from hostile strangers, they’ve learned how to do so. 

25:25Copy video clip URL End of video.  



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