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Normalizing the Abnormal?

"I suggest that we must understand the degree to which the categories “gay� and “Australian� are defined in the film through their opposition to other categories, especially “woman,� “immigrant,� and “native.� …I explore how concepts of home and away intersect with concepts of difference in Priscilla and suggest ways in which identity politics intertwine with how we conceive and remember home." (Robertson 274)

In all the films we’ve watched thus far, the road represents both the taking away from and the returning to “home� (which is often more an idea than a physical place). Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is no different, unfurling the personal and sexual pasts, and following the current plights, of two drag queens and one transsexual en route to an Outback-set drag show. All are based in Sydney, which serves as a sort of Mecca for all things queer and fabulous; the juxtaposition between the two locations is where we lay our scene (and where Robertson swoops in to make her point). “In the course of their journey, in line with the conventions of the road movie, these three main characters, all white, come into contact with a variety of people who provide a range of responses to their queerness and cross-dressing. Once fulfilled, however, Adam’s dream [of climbing to the top of King’s Canyon as a Queen] feels anticlimactic for the three drag queens who in the incongruity of their surroundings become like Dorothy in her Oz: they want to go home.�

Robertson argues in Home and Away that the masculine-liberating aspects of the road in Priscilla rely on various (contrasting, essentialized) racist and sexist representations to shape the film’s gay identity. Her claim is that these stereotypes are set up to “frighten away� those who dare venture from where they’re supposed to belong and down a road that otherwise assumes normativity. I agree with Robertson that Priscilla’s use of the butch bar patron, the Filipino “mail-order� bride and the indigenous desert-dwellers are a bit overblown. This is most obvious when the overtly masculine Bob’s aforementioned Filipino bride (who, the audience is left to assume, is nothing short of completely insane) performs her “act� for a crowd of roughneck drunks. Involving strategically placed leather and ping-pong balls, we are privy to something even the drag queens deem too perverse. Followed up by that, their lip-synching, costume-changing excess is left deflated and, suddenly, so normal. We get bouts of homophobia (Priscilla, their chrome vessel, is spray-painted with hateful obscenities; Adam/Felicia is harassed and nearly beaten up by a group of men who mistake her for a woman), but ultimately, our gals come off as the not-so-odd ones out when plunked beside the film’s other “wackier� elements.

I will say, however, that I did not find the film's ending to be as disappointing as Robertson. There's nothing wrong with discovering that where you came from is where you belong, and I praise the characters for their willingness to endure an experience outside of their comfort zones. The road is a funny place like that: it tends to be as much in your head and heart as it is beneath your tires, and sometimes it's supposed to take you right back to where you started.