An exciting new history of drag told through the life of the remarkable, flawed, and singular Doris Fish
In the 1970s, gay men and lesbians were openly despised and drag queens scared the public. Yet that was the era when Doris Fish (born Philip Mills in 1952) painted and padded his way to stardom. He was a leader of the generation that prepared the world not just for drag queens on TV but for a society that welcomes and even celebrates queer people. How did we get from there to here? In Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Craig Seligman looks at Doris’s short but overstuffed life as a way to provide some answers.
There were effectively three Dorises—the quiet visual artist, the glorious drag queen, and the hunky male prostitute who supported the other two. He started performing in Sydney in 1972 as a member of Sylvia and the Synthetics, a psycho troupe that represented the first anarchic flowering of queer creative energy in the post-Stonewall era. After moving to San Francisco in the mid-’70s, he became the driving force behind years of sidesplitting drag shows that were loved as much as you can love throwaway trash—which is what everybody thought they were. No one, Doris included, perceived them as political theater, when in fact they were accomplishing satire’s deepest dream: not just to rail against society, but to change it.
Seligman recounts this dynamic period in queer history — from Stonewall to AIDS — giving insight into how our ideas about gender have broadened to make drag the phenomenon we know it as today. In a book filled with interviews and letters about a life that ricocheted between hilarity and tragedy, he revisits the places and people Doris knew in order to shed light on the multihued era that his remarkable life encapsulated.