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12 May, 2007

Kinky Boots - A Step Towards Transsexual and Transvestite Acceptance?

You may have noticed the unpronounceable Chiwetel Ejiofor in other things (Serenity, Inside man). He's one of those actors you sometimes don't recognise - they seem so different in their different parts. But you could not have missed him in Kinky Boots playing Lola, a larger-than-life drag queen. I saw this very funny film just a few days ago and was immensely impressed. If you like dry, understated British humour, you'll probably love it too. The film is all about a down at heel shoe factory (sorry) in the English Midlands that saves itself from bankruptcy by producing a line of exotic footwear especially for cross-dressers. Apparently 'inspired by' a true story it is a noteworthy film in several ways.

Firstly, it's good – funny, clever and great fun. Solid entertainment.

Secondly, it is one of a rash of recent films that deal with male cross-dressing. Transvestitism and transsexualism appear to be increasingly in vogue these days. It reminds me of my childhood in the sixties and seventies when films and the media increasingly featured gays, as part of a gradual social change from absolute rejection to (general) acceptance. Maybe something similar is going on for cross-dressers. Seems unlikely but how else do you explain all this media and film activity?

Next there is the way the film was so very sympathetic to Lola the drag-queen-tuned-shoe-designer played by Ejiofor. I haven't seen anything like it since The Crying Game (which would have been a great film except for that silly plot about a terrorist attack it was lumbered with). In Kinky Boots, Lola is a real person, we get to know her and like her. She isn't just a monstrous character or just comic relief (both of which are pretty much what they did to the character of Lady Chablis in the film of Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, despite a generally sympathetic treatment.)

Finally, it was the first film I've seen featuring cross-dressing that actually distinguished between drag queens (what we old folk used to know as 'female impersonators') and ordinary transvestites. Every film I have ever seen that had a cross-dresser in it has featured a drag queen. These are the RuPauls of the world, the mostly transsexual, gay, stage performers who are the tiny, shiny toe of an enormous submerged court shoe of ordinary non-extrovert, non-performing, and almost exclusively heterosexual men who like to dress up as women. Maybe people like that don't make good material for films, or maybe the drag queens are simply the vanguard of a very long process of changing public perception.

Anyway, rent or buy Kinky Boots this weekend. It is highly recommended.

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