A Hostess with Heart

‘Queens of Heart: Community Therapists in Drag’ delves beyond the makeup and duct tape.

By John Stiles. 

Audiences at the Darcelle XV drag club reach out for some therapy.

I’ve never been a fan of the “Extras” that appear in DVD releases. Deleted scenes were deleted for a reason, interviews with martyr producers and their endless list of woes I can do without. Not so the extra from Queens of Heart: Community Therapists in Drag. This extra had me Googling director and psychology professor Jan Haaken to get more.

Queens of Heart is the story of America’s longest continually running drag club, Darcelle XV, in Portland, Oregon. Seventy-five-year-old Darcelle (Walter Cole), proprietor and hostess, directs the nightly group therapy sessions with wit, insight, and steely determination to validate where necessary and challenge where warranted. We gain a thoughtful inside view of a handful of performers in and out of drag.

The back story of Queens of Heart, glimpsed in the extra“Social Action Research” is of a meticulous combing and cataloguing of 200 hours of raw film footage. We see a sample of the social/psychological work in a snapshot of motivations behind drag performance, from subverting conventional codes of behavior to examining motivations like sexual provocation and arousal.

QueenofHeartThe 45-minute documentary gives nearly equal time to Darcelle, the drag queens, and the audience. With chapter titles like “Hysteria,” “Castration Anxiety,” “Gender Complexes,” “Family Dynamics,” and “The Talking Cure,” Queens of Heart doesn’t skip any aspect of the complex world of drag, from the homophobic audience member to the queen who can‘t be touched to the performer who prefers his Tommy-Boy persona to his Tommy-Girl queen. And hovering over it all, the iconic Darcelle.

2007. Cinema Libre Studio (

John W. Stiles ( writes regularly for OutSmart magazine.


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