In my second year of uni, a friend of mine suggested I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. Having now watched almost every season of Drag Race and Drag Race All Stars a year and a half later, it’s safe to say I’m hooked. But the show hasn’t always has the best response from the public, mainly due to the show’s namesake, RuPaul Charles.
Everybody say LOVE!
*(But only when it’s on my terms and in alignment with my ideas and how I want my show and when it’s about me, me, me, me!!!!
Now buy my album and shut the hell up!)*
— Carmen Carrera (@Carmen_Carrera) January 25, 2020
In 2018, RuPaul’s comments about the casting of transgender drag queens resulted in backlash from the drag community, fans of the show, and past contestants. RuPaul then further confirmed their statements, tweeting “you can take performance enhancing drugs and still be an athlete, just not in the Olympics”.
This kind of shows that RuPaul believes that trans drag queens can exist, but not in his sphere. RuPaul has since apologised for their comments, but many are still hurt. The show has had many gender fluid and non-binary folk, but only a few from the show have identified as transgender.
And there’s a tonne of hurt from past contestants that such a successful public platform, that promotes equality and acceptance, is also a platform that contributes to the erasure of trans drag queens. In a now deleted post, Drag Race season 3 alum, Carmen Carrera had tweeted:
“For someone to consciously block the truth of trans performers and the progression of our movement all because the public at large doesn’t know any better is just a cruel and evil use of power. RuPaul is the Hitler, false prophet, anti-Christ of the LGBTQ community.”
Carrera, who made the decision to transition after competing on the show, wasn’t the only past contestant to express their criticism of the show’s lack of trans representation, particularly in the newest season. After tweeting a welcome to the new Season 12 cast to the Drag Race family, Season 5 contestant, Detox, called on the show to stop their “feigned inclusivity” and to “put [their] money where [their] mouth is”.
Aja from Season 3 similarly also expressed her disappointment in a series of tweets, saying:
In the name of capitalism and emmys. Most of the queens on RPDR come from the legacy and inspiration of trans drag performers. That shouldn’t be erased. It should be celebrated. Drag has never just been a “guy dressed as a girl”. It’s always been so much more.
— AJA 👑💛🍯 (@ajaqueen) January 26, 2020
Members of the LGBTQIA community have also expressed frustration over the lack of diversity shown in the British version of the show, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, with some calling it a whitewash.
Everybody Say Love??
When I spoke to some of my friends within the LGBTQIA community, they told me that RuPaul is “kind of ancient” in his beliefs about the trans community and their involvement in drag. But that we also shouldn’t completely disown RuPaul and the strides he has made for gay men and the drag community.
RuPaul was the first openly gay national television host in 1996; was the first drag queen to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; and has had a hand in launching the careers of so many drag queens. “They have done amazing work” my friend told me, “we shouldn’t discredit the work that has been done”.
The representation of race, sexuality and size have been instrumental, I believe, in the popularity of Drag Race. Drag breaks down patriarchal ideas about gender and masculinity, and Drag Race has helped to highlight that fact within mainstream media. RuPaul’s own song Born Naked also shows how we’re all the same as one another with lyrics like “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag”.
It’s tough though when someone who seems to be well respected, and acts as a voice for minority groups, turns out to be a whole different person. I enjoy Drag Race, and RuPaul is an entertaining host who has done a lot for the community in terms of pushing for a change in attitudes towards drag queens and the LGBTQIA community. But this is also a person who contributes to negative ideas about gender, and who is allowed to participate in particular spheres. Arguably RuPaul, via publicly shared opinions, has erased the hard work and suffering of the trans community and of transgender drag queens, and that is unacceptable.
Image Source: Facebook (RuPaul’s Drag Race) and Instagram RuPaul Charles (@rupaulofficial)