February 25, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Diane Torr Saw the Power of Drag Before Anyone Else Did

When artist Diane Torr donned her first mustache in public, at an art opening at the Whitney in 1989, she didn’t know what to expect. Some people put on drag as a disguise, to better blend in with the outside world. Others do it as a performance. Torr used drag as an experiment: A way to see another side of life. And see it she did: It took people no time at all to start treating her differently as a man. Friends she’d had didn’t recognize her. Women tried to hit on her. Men paid her respect.

For Torr, who died last month at the age of 68, this work was the beginning of a lifelong experiment. She wanted to pin down the ways in which life was lived differently across gender barriers, and her research was never finished.

Canadian-born, Scotland-bred Torr always had a hard time fitting neatly into the labels the art world gives out. Was her work performance art? Pure drag? Multimedia? Was it dance? And what about her ‘90s workshops, “Man for a Day,” in which she would teach the art of drag to aspiring drag kings? Was that art, too?

Torr paved the way for a kind of thinking about gender that was not yet fully in vogue yet. As a contemporary of Judith Butler and Jack Halberstam, Torr was slightly ahead of the curve in her performative, critical work on gender, in which she took Butler’s  nascent academic theories to the street to play them out in real life. She developed characters, mixed secondary sex characteristics in public, and eventually compiled her lifelong research in two books, “Sex, Drag, and Male Roles: Investigating Gender as Performance” (2010) and “Man for a Day” (2012.) In later life, Torr enjoyed a visiting professorship at Glasgow School of Art.

As a curious, intrepid gender activist, Torr was never done exploring the topic of gender crossover. Until the end, she was doing shows and workshops and compiling her observations in writing. And until the end, she never stopped asking questions. In a TEDx talk given in Hamburg in 2016, Torr spoke about her early life. “In those early days performing in New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was not aware of the revolutionary possibilities of the work [of drag.] Of its ability to create something new.” For a whole new generation of artists, scholars, and curious thinkers, she made us aware.

Related Posts

Hal Holbrook, Actor Who Played Mark Twain, Dies At 95

February 3, 2021

February 3, 2021

Hal Holbrook, the actor best known for his accurate portrayal of Samuel Clemens — better known as Mark Twain —...

Trailblazing Actress Cicely Tyson Dies At 96

January 28, 2021

January 28, 2021

Iconic actress, former model and civil rights activist Cicely Tyson has died at the age of 96.  Tyson’s manager Larry...

Award Decorated Actress, Cloris Leachman, Dead At 94

January 27, 2021

January 27, 2021

Cloris Leachman, Oscar and Emmy winning actress, has died at the age of 94 from natural causes at her home...

Honoring Timothy Dean One Year Later

January 8, 2020

January 8, 2020

An intimate gathering was held Tuesday, Jan. 7 at West Hollywood Park to honor the 1-year anniversary of 55-year-old fashion...

Cases Linked to Deaths in Ed Buck’s Apartment Still Hot, LASD Announces

March 5, 2019

March 5, 2019

The deaths of Timothy Dean and Gemmel Moore incite calls for justice within community.  By Jorge Paniagua When one of...

Memorial Night for WeHo Bartender Charles Kinsley

February 26, 2019

February 26, 2019

As the West Hollywood night scene mourns the loss of long-time bartender Charles Kinsley, the Mother Lode will be holding...

Long Beach LGBTQ Center’s Trans Day of Remembrance

November 15, 2018

November 15, 2018

Joining with over 100 cities around the world, The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach will be hosting an International Transgender...

Mourning Transgender Lives Lost so Far This Year

November 15, 2018

November 15, 2018

The transgender community is still one of the most targeted minorities in the United States. Not only are gender-nonconforming individuals...

When Nino Fortson Died, So Did His Name

June 5, 2018

June 5, 2018

Another trans life lost, and misinterpreted in death.

Remembering Stephen Hawking, LGBTQ+ Ally

March 26, 2018

March 26, 2018 14

The late Stephen Hawking was a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.

The Trans Lives We Lost in 2017

January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018 68

Lost, never forgotten.

Drag Innovator Flawless Sabrina Bows Out of This Life

December 14, 2017

December 14, 2017 68

Adieu to the godmother of drag

J.D. Disalvatore, Artist and Activist, Gave Queer Filmmakers a Voice

September 12, 2017

September 12, 2017 781

The LGBT+ advocate, producer, and animal rights activist lost her life to cancer last week. She was 51.

Sheila Michaels Gave Women a Better Option

July 25, 2017

July 25, 2017 134

Sheila Michaels wanted an honorific for women who “didn’t belong to men.”

Jonathan Demme’s Queer Cinema

April 27, 2017

April 27, 2017 187

Yesterday, we lost one of great American filmmakers of the past 30 years in Jonathan Demme, who died in his...