Rennie Ellis, photograph, 'Drag Queens & Security Guard', 1973. Provided courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive.Contributors
Permission to reproduce must be sought from the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive.Copyright
Copyright in the photographic work is with the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive.
Gender confusion was a strategy taken by Gay Liberation activists to challenge assumptions about gender conformity.
Also known as ‘radical drag’, men would wear female clothing and women would wear male clothing with radical intent.
It was not intended to be a full drag persona where the subject in dress tried to convince onlookers they were a particular gender or were parodying a particular gender. Instead the subject through their attire tried to challenge what it meant to be a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ by adopting both male and female traits in their persona.
This photograph was taken by Rennie Ellis outside the Gender Confusion Dance held at the Melburnian Receptions Basement during Gay Pride Week, and it appeared on the cover of Nation Review, vol. 3, no. 48, 14-20 September, 1973.
It features John Langworthy, Julian Desaily and a Security Guard outside the Melbournian Receptions, Block Arcade, Melbourne, 1973.
Ellis explained the circumstances of how he came to take the photo:
“Nation Review asked me to document Gay Pride Week in 1973. It was a time when the Gay Liberation movement was picking up momentum and many homosexuals were going public (coming out) for the first time. I ran foul of the Radical Lesbians with an untimely arrival at the Women's Centre, danced ring-a-ring-a-rosy at a picnic in the Botanical Gardens, was embraced warmly by one or two anonymous men and took this picture outside a gay dance in Elizabeth Street in the city.”
Ellis’ photographs represent an important record of Gay Pride Week in Melbourne in 1973, and were one of the most extensive and visually rich documentation of gay liberation in a national paper of the period. National Review were certainly very supportive of gay liberation, publishing letters and articles, but the placement of Gay Liberation on the cover was a new step, albeit one which Gay Liberation reviewed as being ‘under the guise of small ‘l’ liberalism, “let’s be tolerant, etc.” and some of the most oppressive publicity Gay Liberation has had.’ They instead lauded the coverage of Digger, student newspapers such as La Trobe University’s Rabelais, and TV interviews with Gay Liberationists on Current Affair and This Week.