In her book, Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies, bell hooks dedicates a chapter about the controversy of dressing in drag or cross-dressing. This chapter is titled, “Is Paris Burning?” Hooks starts off talking about the stigmatism of cross-dressing, appearing in drag, transvestism, and transsexualism. Oftentimes when one cross-dresses, one is questioned and seen as breaking gender norms. For example, if a man chooses to cross dress, others who have been strongly been influenced by society may feel that this man’s choice of outfit is inappropriate and does not fit his gender.
Hooks questions whether there is a difference of acceptance when a black man dresses in drag compared to when a white man dresses in drag. She provokes the idea that the stereotype of black men (e.g., highly sexual, manly, etc.) allows black males to cross gender more easily than white men. It is okay to accept that he may cross dress, because black men are perceived as ‘rapists’ and being overly sexual with women. However, in order to have black men taken seriously about cross-dressing or dressing in drag, he must oppose the stereotype of being heterosexual.
Another main topic hooks brings up in this chapter is about the film, Paris Is Burning. She comments on how the drag queens in the film have fantasies to act and feel like an upper-class white person. Although the video is about the struggles of how black men in Harlem who participate in drag queen balls, hooks argues that the film celebrates white privilege by glamorizing the white ruling-class. When critiques comment on the film as being “amazing,” “marvelous,” and “incredibly funny”, it shows that they did not see how the black people/people of color self-sacrificing themselves to fulfill their fantasies of being upper-class white people. The director of the film, Jennie Livingston indirectly does not recognize her white privilege in producing this film and hooks goes into explaining how.