LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 2002
The Best Little Drag Show in Outer Mongolia
- Richard Smith, RPCV, Mongolia 1995-96
As the best dressedyoung women in EasternMongolia got ready fortheir debut, the Stalin-erapower plant cut off theelectricity and cancelledthe show. The femalesquickly changed back into males. They didn’teven wait for a photo-graph.
When my two Mongolian languagetrainers play-acted a Buddhistwedding in drag, I realized that inPeace Corps you’d never know whatto expect. Tsetsgee, a woman, playeda Buddhist monk - like her real lifebrother, and Monkherdene, a man,played the bride. As an out gay malein the United States who had beentold that gender bending didn’thappen in Mongolia, watching andlearning about some Mongolian campmade me feel at home.Monkherdene had been inspiredby a real life transgendered personliving in his hometown near the Gobidesert who lives his life as a woman.He wears make up, a Mongolianwoman’s silk gown, and dances withmen at parties - all without anynegative repercussions. In theMongolian Buddhist world view, atransgendered person is simply onewho had been another gender in aprevious life and has had troubleadjusting to the new gender in hiscurrent incarnation. The Mongolianword for such a person is
,which can also be used to describethe intersex, transgendered, gay orlesbian.
Not just for city folks
Peace Corps assigned me to aneducation college in Choibalsan in theeastern steppe. The area is flatgrassland and the last refuge of theAsian gazelle. At first I thought thatmy pre-service training drag showwas going to be an isolated incident:something instigated by city Mongo-lians used to American culture and itswacky ideas about gender. I waswrong. At my site I met another crossdresser, but he only did it for money.Buyan was a mult-talented youngman who played all the traditionalMongolian instruments: the horseviolin, dulcimer and casino keyboard.He played music at parties and alsodressed as a clown or a woman,whichever the crowd thought funnier.I never saw him play dress up, but hedid show me the pictures. He worelots of make up and looked like across between a Geisha girl and Bozothe Clown.His hero was Elton John, not onlyfor hits like “Sacrifice,” but also forthe elaborate costumes he madefamous in the 70s. Buyan wasshocked when I told him that EltonJohn was gay. It took him awhile tounderstand what I was talking about,but he knew the Russian word. Iasked him if he knew anyone like thatin Choibalsan. At first he said no, buthe thought about for a few days andtold me that his high school foreignlanguage teacher had been gay. Thepolice found out, took him out in themiddle of the night and shot him.
My college, like all schools, put onmany dances. Every week, girls wouldwear white lacy dresses and black pumps and the guys wore theirpolyester Soviet era suits. During fastpop songs, each class danced in acircle. During slow dances, theyperformed the traditional Mongolianwaltz. I tried explaining to my stu-dents that the waltz was Europeanand received looks of horror.Towards the end of my service, mycollege co-sponsored a dance withsome of the other schools in the city.I expected to see some unfamiliarfaces, but some of the young women Isaw looked familiar but I couldn’tquite place them. For some reasonthey all had short hair and lots of make-up. One had a mustache. Whenthe tallest one started blowing kissesat me, I recognized him as Ganzorig,one of the male first-year students. Infact, all the first-year men werewearing dresses. They were gettingready for my college’s first drag show.It made sense in a twisted sort of way. My college had 350 studentsand only about 20 were young men.The young women - who were usedto dancing with each other - appar-ently found some way to blackmail allthe freshmen men into being womenfor the evening. The men were soexcited they wanted me to take theirpicture, except a few shy ones. One,however, chickened out and changedback into his manly clothing. Buyantook the others backstage and taughtthem how to walk in heels and sashay.I stood in the audience waiting forthe show to begin. For a warm up,students from the agricultural schoolsat on each others laps and mademock marriage proposals. As the bestdressed young women in EasternMongolia got ready for their debut,the Stalin-era power plant cut off theelectricity and cancelled the show.The females quickly changed back into males. They didn’t even wait fora photograph.
New professional opportunities inMongolia
Today, Ganbush, a gay choreogra-pher, has become rich by doingprofessional “Super Erotic Show” atthe capital city’s nightclubs. Inaddition to choreographing striptease and erotic dance, he does anoccasional female impersonation.
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