Lessons from Priscilla: Queen of the Desert

Described on the poster as the best feel-good musical since “mamma mia”, “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” certainly deserves that title. With disco ball visual effects and musical numbers like “It’s Raining Men”, “I Will Survive” and “True Colours”, it isn’t difficult to see why it is popular. Disco might be thought to be dead as a dodo, but Priscilla proves it is not. The colourful costumes seemed a mix of disco fashion, Lady Gaga, and haute couture.

Admittedly, I am eternally sceptical of writing about musicals – I am a fan of many, but I do recognise that the story line is not always the most important thing in a musical, and stretching it can cause it to fall apart very quickly. With the particular musical, I was concerned at first that it would be the “hey, let’s laugh at the men in dresses” show, but it became obvious very quickly that this was not the case. While the drag queens were funny, no one was laughing at them, but with them. They were supported throughout the show by the audience, and all the way.

Everyone in the crowd cheered when Felicia (the youngest and most thrill-seeking of the drag queens) was saved from a fight by Bernadette (transsexual woman) who barged into the bar scene and kicked the chief-instigator-cum-idiot in the nuts. It was a “you go girl!” moment, although we all knew Bernadette was a post-op, transsexual woman played by a man.

I don’t think anyone in the production or the audience condones violence, but it was a moment of rallying against injustice – an injustice that many people actually still go through today. Bern (as she was affectionately known) then went on to fall for Bob, a mechanic who saw her perform many years ago. The feelings were requited, and celebrated with champagne.

As a trans*man, I am often asked if my parents know, and what will happen if and when they find out. I suppose sometimes it is best not to think about it. Having seen Priscilla, I can say I am not scared any more (or well, not as much as I was). Priscilla, among other things, was about family.

To put it simply, the plot follows the journey of three drag queens from Sydney to Alice Springs. The entire journey begins from Mitzi – the main drag queen – travelling to Alice Springs to perform and meet his wife and 6 year old son. While the three struggle with their own ego and their past, it is very obvious by the end that they are family. They are there for each other. It reflects a feeling I’ve had with queer people I’ve met in the past few months; we’re family. We stick together.

While I greatly appreciate the opportunities my parents have given me in life, I know that if things go belly up (aka terribly wrong), I do have a family. I have my friends; queer or not, straight, gay, bi, trans*, cis, black, white, […] who cares? We’re friends, and family to an extent. We stick together, and try to help each other in times of trouble In the same way the Houses of the New York Ballroom scene were established in the 70s and 80s, we are family – we just don’t share a name.

Either way, I am pretty sure my reading of Priscilla is not the same as anybody else’s. Maybe to some it was just a good night out – and it was. It also recognised the diversity in the drag scene itself, although only reflected through three characters. It felt as though, if something went down outside the theatre, people would stick up for one another, and protect each other, even though that was probably not the case. Perhaps this is ambitious, but that is one of the purposes of art; to bring us all together. Not in a hippy “let’s hold hands” kind of way, but just as a community of people who understand and care about each other, just as Bob the mechanic understood what drag queens were about.


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