Who Does That Bitch Think She Is?
Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag
A vivid new history of drag told through the life of the pioneering queen Doris Fish
In the 1970s, queer people were openly despised, and drag queens scared the public. Yet this 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 is more tolerant and accepting of LGBTQ+ people. How did we get from there to here? In Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? Craig Seligman looks at Doris’ life to provide some answers.
After moving to San Francisco in the mid-’70s, Doris 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.
From the rise of drag shows to the obsession with camp to the conservative backlash and the onset of AIDS, Seligman adds needed color and insight to this era in LGBTQ+ history, revealing the origins and evolution of drag.
Cultural critic Seligman (Sontag and Kael) delivers an illuminating history of drag performance through the life of drag queen Doris Fish. Born into a middle-class Catholic family in Sydney, Australia, in 1952, Fish (real name: Philip Mills) became a queer legend in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS pandemic. Drawing on candid and often hilarious interviews with Fish's family and friends, Seligman recounts his emergence as a performer in Sylvia and the Synthetics, a "psycho troupe" of drag queens in Sydney, and his move to San Francisco in the 1970s, where he blossomed as a sex worker and performer in the drag shows Sluts a Go-Go and Nightclub of the Living Dead and the sci-fi drag film Vegas in Space. Fish's "enormous libido" and wicked wit—after being diagnosed with AIDS, he held a tribute for himself called "Who Does That Bitch Think She Is?"—are on full display, and Seligman weaves in enlightening histories of the AIDS pandemic, Anita Bryant's Save Our Children campaign, and more, while making a strong case for drag shows as political theater that "accomplish satire's deepest dream: not just to rail against society, but to change it." This smart, funny, and sexy queer history is a smash. Photos.