Ladies and Gentlemen, Ernesto Tomasini
Guest of our Makeup Room today is an authentic Queer Icon: “Italian Excellence” Ernesto Tomasini.
His biography is a contemporary masterpiece: Born in Palermo, Sicily, he’s been living and working in Britain for over 20 years. From there he launched a scintillating international career as actor, singer and writer, in both the mainstream and in underground circuits.
Malesoulmakeup met him and asked him a few questions.
Red Riding Hood
Model: Ernesto Tomasini
Photographer: Francesco Paolo Catalano
Queer Editor: Patty Owens
Assistant: Claudia Borgia
Locations: Teatro Garibaldi Aperto (TGA), San Basilio (c.s. ex-carcere), Palermo, Italy
Thanks to Giorgia Li Greci for vintage accessories
Malesoulmakeup: Away from Italy a man who wears makeup is just a man who wears makeup. What happens in Italy?
Ernesto Tomasini: Well… not exactly: Out of Italy a man wearing make-up can also be a dead man! And you don’t need to venture into Iran or Uganda to find hatred and ignorance. Even in Amsterdam homophobic attacks are frequent! Among the more conservative sections of Western society, a man in makeup constitutes a threat to the established order. And to think that there was a time in which men used to dress as women in order to communicate with their gods!
Malesoulmakeup: If you could go back in time for a while, what’s the first cross-dressing related memory of your life?
Ernesto Tomasini: Baloo the bear who, in Disney’s The Jungle Book, dresses up as a lady orangutan to distract the king of the monkeys and save Mowgli, the man cub, kidnapped by the simians. It would be an innocent romp were it not for the horny reaction that the dragged up bear arouses in the ape. As a child I used to enjoy the tranny porn innuendo: Baloo (in wig and skirt made out of palm leaves) growling phrases like: “Take me home, daddy!”, while the dirty old mandrill literally drools over “her”.
Malesoulmakeup: … and what’s left inside of the kid/adolescent who used to play (if so) with clothes and makeup for girls?
Ernesto Tomasini: Everything was theatre to me: from my mother’s stilettos to my father’s hats. We are the result of our childhood dreams and traumas. As a child I wanted to be lots of different people and I spent the rest of my life making that wish come true!
Malesoulmakeup: Camp and Queer. Cross-dressing in Drag and Queer Cross-dressing. What’s the difference between these two cultural macro-categories?
Ernesto Tomasini: A lot has been written about “camp” and by people who are far more erudite than I am. Broadly speaking (and limiting the discussion to the male sphere) I’ll say that “drag” is subdivided in two main groups, represented by “drag queens” and “female impersonators”. Drag queens are gay men who dress as hyper-women to poke fun at themselves and the audience. They belong to the clown family (makeup, costumes and wigs are often grotesque) but, whereas clowns obliterate sexuality, drag queens exhibit, magnify and deform it. Female impersonators are conjurers. They make their audiences believe that they are actual women, to surprise them, at the end of the act, by revealing their “true” gender. “Queer cross-dressing” is a more political affair, often radical or underground, and aims at subverting stereotypes on gender roles (which “traditional drag” tends to reinforce).
Malesoulmakeup: … and where do you see yourself in relation to this?
Ernesto Tomasini: This is a difficult question because I am part of so many projects and in each one I have such different goals that giving one answer is impossible. I only dress up as a woman in plays where this is required in the script. In some of my own acts I play with various forms of asexuality which take me out of predefined sexual connotations. I create parallel worlds in which gender is not perceived like in our own. But direct discussions on gender are not high on my agenda, these days (been there, done that). They inevitably take care of themselves, if you know what I mean.
Malesoulmakeup: Internet and Queer Culture. What’s going on today? Everyone’s a diva, everyone’s a protagonist, everyone’s exposed or on a stage.
Ernesto Tomasini: Not only – as you point out – “common people” have invaded the territory which was traditionally occupied by performers but their idols communicate from their social networks like “normal people” and hence are exposed as “normal”! Even old-style divas like Cher and Streisand are doing it! Internet killed the superstar! Developed in the span of 400 years, the myth of the aloof and unapproachable gay icon a la Greta Garbo is just not possible any more. In her place we get a crowd of friendly faces who, for a very short term, succeed in persuading a large number of peeps to click on the “like” button! Is this just a fad or will the cast of Glee still be huge in 30 years?
Malesoulmakeup: You and Sicily.
Ernesto Tomasini: I don’t know Sicily well enough to be able to say anything about it. I know Palermo intimately. Even though I was exposed to other realities very early (I studied in the States as a teenager, among other things), I lived through the “Years of Lead” in my home town. I performed in Palermo’s first ever gay club, I was affiliated to the “Anti-Prohibition League” (a 1980s left wing political party that wanted to legalize drugs) and I caused a stir when I performed my “outrageous act” at the party for the election of a conservative politician. Palermo was an exciting place, populated by young dealers with penetrating eyes and wise old trannies who knew how to tell a story. Sharp knives would glisten too often in the torrid nights and love was a feeling so strong as to result in spectacular tragedies that are forever carved on my skin. Today I am what I am and I do what I do, the way I do it, because I grew up in Palermo and because I eventually abandoned it. Action in it and reaction to it!
Malesoulmakeup: Photography accompanies you and keeps telling about you in portraits that – in many cases – remind me of characters from paintings. What has not yet been said about you in photography?
Ernesto Tomasini: It is always the showman that attracts interest and I am happy with that. Once, an offer came from a renowned Italian painter to do a portrait of the real me, at home. The “real” me? I started thinking about it but it proved a tough one. I don’t have routines and I am always travelling so how could I encapsulate this moment of domestic bliss? In the end I decided to organize an idyllic scene, in which I was darning old socks, while cooking pasta (neither of which I am able to do in “real” life!)… basically, I was staging yet another show and the whole thing was so ludicrous that eventually we opted for a more becoming depiction in classic show biz mode.
Malesoulmakeup: … and which are your iconographic references?
Ernesto Tomasini: It comes as a surprise to many when they learn that I begun as a designer. As a child I was a drawing wonder. It eventually became my first job and the reason why I went to the States so young. There the love of theatre took over but, to this day, I think in terms of designing. Each performance of mine is a “physicalization” of signs and drawings but I also, literally, design my shows. I draw ideas for costumes, movements, poses, other performers in the act, their actions, everything. There are painters I am mad for (Jack B. Yates, for example) but, when it comes to my work as performer, the iconographic references are my own sketches and animations.
Italian Version Interview Un Cappuccetto Rosso Queer: Ernesto Tomasini