The Best Little Drag Show in Outer Mongolia (page 2)
The Best Little Drag Show in Outer Mongolia
page 1, page 2
     Towards the end of my service, my college co-sponsored a dance with some of the other schools in the city. I expected to see some unfamiliar faces, but some of the young women I saw looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place them. For some reason they all had short hair and lots of make-up. One had a mustache. When the tallest one started blowing kisses at me, I recognized him as Ganzorig, one of the male first-year students. In fact, all the first-year men were wearing dresses. They were getting ready for my college’s first drag show.
     It made sense in a twisted sort of way. My college had 350 students and only about 20 were young men. The young women — who were used to dancing with each other — apparently found some way to blackmail all the freshman men into being women for the evening. The men were so excited they wanted me to take their picture, except a few shy ones. One, however, chickened out and changed back into his manly clothing. Buyan took the others backstage and taught them how to walk in heels and sashay.
     I stood in the audience waiting for the show to begin. For a warm up, students from the agricultural school sat on each others laps and made mock marriage proposals. As the best dressed young women in Eastern Mongolia got ready for their debut, the Stalin-era power plant cut off the electricity and cancelled the show. The females quickly changed back into males. They didn’t even wait for a photograph.

New professional opportunities in Mongolia
Today, Ganbush, a gay choreographer, has become rich by doing professional “Super Erotic Shows” at the capital city’s nightclubs. In addition to choreographing strip tease and erotic dance, he does an occasional female impersonation. When I saw him, he danced to Madonna’s “Erotic.,” He is regularly featured in the tabloids as a curiosity, but laughing as he pockets a month’s salary each night he performs.
     Mongolia is the only country in the world where boys drop out of school to work on the herds while the girls stay in school to prepare for professional careers. Women are still expected to defer to their men in the ger (a felt tent or home), but increasingly they are making inroads as leaders in government and industry. Given the stress of an economic, political and social transition, perhaps drag is a fun way for men to kick off their boots and rewrite gender in an ancient land.

Rick Smith served as a teacher trainer in Choibalsain, Mongolia (1995–96) and is currently active with Friends of Mongolia. He recently graduated from the University of Michigan School of Social Work studying Community Organization, Social Policy and Evaluation. Rick also has an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. He has published pieces in Christopher Street, Henry Street, Passage of the Soul: An Anthology of Catholic Poets, Praxis II, Social Work Reflections and Social Work Perspectives.
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