Jun 28, 2006

CAPE TOWN, South Africa –  Continuing the black-and-white color theme, I meet Sister Mary, a drag queen in a chiffon nun costume.

"You have such a cute accent," she declares. "Are you Canadian?"

"Hell, no!" I say. "That's really offensive. Those northerners are all thugs."

Mary pauses, then hoots. "You're funny. Can I hug you?"

We've traded wisecracks, why not share the love?

She crushes me to her habit's bosom. My nose hits well below the white bib. The good sister is quite a substantial Bride of Christ.

I wish we had more time to chat. How does one become a drag nun? Might the sexless penguin suit negate the glamor of the genre?

Later I discover a grand tradition of convent cross-dressing, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco.

Controversial scholar Camille Paglia explains they are a metaphor for our sexually dyspeptic culture: "Perhaps today, when divas of the thunderous dimensions of Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis aren't available for parody, nuns are a vestige of the Bitch Goddess Triumphant," she suggests in a Salon column.

"I mean, just how many laughs can you wring out of a Mariah Carey or a Celine Dion, once you get past their Oscars fashion howlers? Drag queens aping nuns may be obscurely miming a myth of the Bad Mother, the sour or impacted mammary whose plumbing has gone dry."

Well then. See how much South Africa has to teach me?

The tour operator promised diversity and here it is, complete with a ruffled petticoat and Oedipal overtones.

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