Beauty more than skin deep for drag-pageant judge Bernhard

Just back from a performing tour of Britain, the biggest challenge facing Sandra Bernhard is helping her 9-year-old daughter Cicely work out the difference between ee-ther and eye-ther in a homework assignment.

“We did it the old-fashioned way and looked it up in a dictionary,” she says.

No such research will be necessary for her appearance as a celebrity judge at Miss Trannyshack 2007 Saturday at the Giftcenter in San Francisco.

“Honey, I was weaned on drag queens,” she says. “I probably did more breast-feeding from drag queens than I did from my own mother. So it’s safe to say this is very comfortable territory for me.”

To say Bernhard is drag-savvy would be an extreme understatement.

“It’s an homage to the classic women of entertainment — from the Bette Davis-Joan Crawford era of women and on,” she says. “It’s that nether land where the extremes of femininity and masculinity meet. All the lines are blurred and I think it’s a beautiful commentary on what the soul is really about — a real balance of yin and yang that is captured in that kind of performance.”

But is it a beauty pageant?

“It’s not beauty in the classic sense,” she says. “It’s more extreme. But that’s what makes it interesting. Most of the icons of drag were very intense … not the girl next door.”

“I’ve never felt like I’m a part of the American landscape of beauty,” she says. “I feel more like Maria Callas-meets-Streisand-meets-Julie Christie. I tend to draw from many different elements of what I consider beauty that aren’t typical of American beauty. Certainly now, with everyone chipping away at their bodies and faces, it’s hard to know what beauty is anymore.”

Defining Bernhard is equally challenging — the lady’s resume runs the gamut of genres.

“I think ultimately that I’m an entertainer in the old-school sense,” she says. “Vaudevillians used to do it all. They sang, they danced, they did dramatic roles. I encompass all of that and, in a post-modern way, even more because I am also a writer and a social commentator. I draw from all the influences that have affected me and put them under one umbrella.”

Does that make it harder to maintain a career?

“I don’t think so,” she says. “I just get restless. If my palette was only black and white and gray, I’d probably be miserable. So I’m thrilled that I get to choose from all the bright colors or muted colors that inspire me.

“I love my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s. I just always want to have my muses close at hand because ultimately, all we have is our inspirations and our ability to express them.”

IF YOU GO

Miss Trannyshack 2007 Pageant

Where: Giftcenter, 888 Brannan St., San Francisco

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $35 to $45

Contact: www.ticketweb.com  

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