Performance artist and pioneer in female-to-male cross dressing

Born: November 10 1948;

Died: May 31 2017

THE artist and male impersonator Diane Torr, who has died in Glasgow aged 68, was a pioneer in furthering the understanding of female-to-male cross dressing. Although she was well known in New York Ms Torr latterly lived in Glasgow and was a visiting lecturer at Glasgow School of Art.

Her work was widely seen in Scotland and Ms Torr received research funding not only from the Scottish Arts Council but institutions on the continent and in America.

In 1990 she initiated a Drag King workshop in New York – it was a term she coined – and was a teacher at dance and theatre colleges. She also became a counter-culture icon in New York, with her performances gaining a wide following. On stage she combined various disciplines – dance, installation, and soundtrack with Ms Torr bringing them together to create a vibrant and radical art form.

Neil Butler of Uz Arts who worked with Ms Torr for over 30 years told The Herald: “Diane was an amazing enthusiast – generous with her time and offering constructive and helpful advice. Even when she was ill she mentored young dancers at SWG3 in Glasgow’s Eastvale Place.

“Diane loved Burns and this was evidenced when I presented Roofless, a show about the poet in 2002. In New York she held Burns Suppers which were always exuberant. Diane was a total one-off and had a wonderful joy for life.”

Ms Torr was born in Canada but grew up in Aberdeen where her father was a former petty officer in the Royal Navy. When she was 15 the family moved to Kent and she studied dance at Dartington College of Arts. She also studied Japanese martial art and became a 3rd degree blackbelt.

In 1976 Ms Torr graduated, ran away from an oppressive father, and moved to New York where she participated in the thriving fringe theatre scene. She shared a loft in the Bowery with five other artists: the rent was $100 a month and to pay that Ms Torr worked as an artist's model and an office temp before discovering she could make $10 an hour, plus tips, as a go-go dancer.

Ms Torr was keen to further her career in the Big Apple as a performance artiste and her introduction to drag came about by accident.

In the late 1980s she was approached by fellow performer Annie Sprinkle, who was writing an article about transgender men and wanted her to pose for the accompanying “before and after” photographs.

That evening Ms Torr wore male attire to a reception and she made quite an impression. “It was not long before a woman came and started flirting,” she recalled some years later. She hit on the idea of running Drag King workshops.

Her reputation grew and Ms Torr was seen in art houses in America and Canada. She had a subtle and involving way of exploring the ideas of sex, gender and was keen to further a new and more accepted attitude - less stereotypical - to sexuality. She carefully projected the image of a masculine androgynous-looking woman but there was a definite layer of sharp humour that softened her characters.

She created many characters of her own: Jack Spratt, a DM-wearing punk-mod hybrid; Danny King, a blue collar National Rifle Association member and Charles Beresford, a "living requiem" to a gay friend who had died of Aids.

She appeared regularly on US television and latterly her drag king workshops were called Man for a Day. Ms Torr wanted to explore and expose some long-standing prejudices that she saw in society.

“There is a more interesting and subversive story to be told about drag king culture.” she once said. “It has to do with reinventing gender norms. That's what I think drag king culture is really good at, and good for."

Her books included Sex, Drag, and Male Roles: Investigating Gender as Performance (2010) and Man for a Day (2012). Since 2000 she was based in Glasgow and Ms Torr was much in demand as a teacher and lecturer.

In 2002 she co-directed the Festival at Tacheles in Berlin and sat on a steering committee to attract new talent at the Tramway Theatre. The workshops she held in Europe and America proved hugely influential.

Angie Dight set up Mischief La–Bas with her husband Ian Smith in 1992 at the Arches nightclub in Glasgow. She often performed and toured with Ms Torr. “Diane and I met in 1989,” she told The Herald “and we became great friends. She was a loyal and energising friend with a great love of dance. At the evenings to celebrate my late husband in 2015 she danced the Banana Dance which was hilarious and a perfect for a celebration of his life.

“We went to lots of theatres together especially to see experimental work throughout Glasgow. She was wonderful to perform with – giving superb maverick performances – and as a person was very sociable and a brilliant hostess.”

Diane Torr had relationships with men and women and described herself as "an in-between". She and her husband separated in 2001 but remained on good terms.

Ms Torr is survived by their daughter Martina who lives in Brooklyn but nursed her mother through the last months of her illness.