Last week, Dundonian drag queen and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK star Ellie Diamond had her handmade, Beano-themed costume bought by The McManus Galleries for display.
A positive, progressive move from the Dundee institution with its finger on the pulse of contemporary culture. An all-round Nice Thing. So predictably, the bigots kicked off.
Not 24 hours after the news of the acquisition broke, the museum was forced to issue a statement standing against the abuse that had been hurled at 22-year-old Ellie (Elliot Glen).
The decision to acquire this costume is ours, we stand by that process and thank Ellie Diamond for working with us to promote it. We are proud to represent everyone in our amazing city and we will continue to tell the rich and diverse story of its people. [2/2]
— The McManus (@McManusDundee) July 16, 2021
It was a woeful state of affairs, made worse by the fact it was entirely unsurprising.
They say that hate stems from fear. It’s why so many hate crimes end in “phobic”. But given that it’s not Halloween, it’s hard to imagine what there is to be afraid of in a Dennis the Menace costume.
“Since when did a man dressing up as a woman become museum-worthy?” one incredibly original keyboard warrior posited. Now I don’t have exact dates, but the short answer is: A very long time ago.
Shakespeare’s plays have a fair amount of gender bending, and he’s got more than his share of museums up and down the isle.
Ancient Egyptians, whose mummified remains every wee schoolie dreams of seeing on boring museum trips, practically invented make-up on men. (Those lads knew how to rock a kohl wing.)
So “men dressing up as women” has never really been a barrier to exhibition.
Dundee loves an underdog – it is one!”
Now, as to the question of what is and isn’t “museum-worthy”, that’s a niggly philosophical dilemma I don’t claim to have the answer to.
But what I will say is that Dundee is the city whose major artistic export is comic books – a cultural medium we hold dear, but which has been scoffed at by snooty literary types who would deem them “not proper art”.
Dundee is also the city which built a full museum dedicated to Scottish design, with entire exhibitions on clothing and costumes.
We have the words of William McGonagall, the universally-acknowledged “worst poet who ever lived” lining our beloved Silvery Tay. Dundee loves an underdog – it is one!
And as a Unesco City of Culture, we know better than anyone that expanding doesn’t diminish what’s already there.
Because that’s not the fear at all, is it?
Hatred and bigotry can ‘sashay away’
Let’s be real. This is about drag, and the fear is the queer. “Just keep it away from kids, thanks,” another person commented. And there it is: The war cry of the homophobe.
And it would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Because a costume can’t hurt your child. It can’t “turn” your child queer (nothing can), and even if it could, that wouldn’t hurt them either.
It would be a luxury to say the abuse towards Ellie’s news stemmed from something as innocuous as snobbery. But that’s just not true.
The real fear here is of queer people taking up space; on Dundee’s streets, in Dundee’s museums, and in Dundee’s homes.
To reject Ellie’s costume in The McManus is to reject queerness as part of Dundee’s culture.
But it is part of it, and that’s why it is vital that organisations like The McManus continue to stand up for LGBTQ+ people by giving them space in their own towns.
LGBT Helpline Scotland can be contacted on 0300 123 2523 or at email@example.com