In ‘Femme,’ A Drag Queen Seeks Revenge on Her Closeted Attacker

It starts with a series of micro-smiles: One after Jules narrowly escapes the scrutiny of Preston’s friends, code-switching to pretend they know each other from prison. Another after Preston asks Jules on a date, texting him to “dress normal not faggy,” followed by a photo of his hard-on visible through sweatpants. Even more sly grins emerge as their twisted connection winds progressively tighter. Behind Jules’ flickers of emotion lies a swirl of ambiguities, and more carnal impulses than is possible to reconcile with logic. (Stewart-Jarrett is especially brilliant in close-up.) There is the satisfaction of getting away with multiple deceptions, like fooling the straight friends whose rejection Preston himself desperately fears, or duping Preston into thinking they’ve just met.

There is also the anticipation of vindication: Early in their affair, the possibility of outing Preston, hidden-camera style, seems to be Jules’ primary motive. In addition to the toll that a public exposure would enact on Preston, the video would also serve as a reflection of Jules’ own agency. Posting revenge porn in real life is inexcusable, but there is a seductive appeal for Jules to the idea of leveling up from defeated victim to fierce aggressor. (Jules is an expert at Street Fighter; Chun-Li is his character of choice.)

Of course, there is also an undeniable erotic charge to the push and pull of dominance and submission — to ceding control by choice rather than by force. “This is what you’re after, yeah?” Preston hisses at Jules, shoving him against a tree before taking him from behind. Jules consents, at every step, to a sexual arrangement that’s predicated on his willingness to play the part.

Preston, too, is playing a role he says he’s happy to perform for Jules’ benefit. “Is that what you’re into?” he asks, pointing to Jules’ assumption that Preston is a drug-dealing thug. “You want a big man to treat you like a little bitch?” And Jules does, at least for a while. Jules was attracted to Preston even before the assault, and that magnetism doesn’t evaporate in its traumatic aftermath. It’s even possible that their relationship provides Jules with some sort of psychosexual repair, considering that its escalation ultimately breathes Aphrodite back to life.

Getting Preston to trust him, and even teaching him how to be a reciprocal lover, reveals their power exchange to be a kind of dialectic. Preston is vulnerable in his longing for Jules, if mostly because he is mired in self-loathing. That’s why he pounced on Aphrodite in the first place: She had noticed him checking her out and said so in front of his friends after they cornered her.