Drag Perversion: Revamping the ‘Queer’ Community for the New Age of Drag

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ wants to be the ‘American Idol’ of the LGBTQ community, but it feels more ‘Real Housewives’ than ‘Queer Eye.’

To be fair, Drag Race has always been reality TV. People come for the petty in-fighting, and stay for the “sashay away.”

Nobody watches Say Yes to the Dress to celebrate engagements of beautiful strangers; they watch to see the look on Mom’s face when the bride walks out in an A-line dress when she so CLEARLY belongs in a ball gown.

The competition aspect of the show was never the main draw.  For starters, the competition is clearly rigged.  Nothing gets more buzz than a queen who got “robbed.” Petty fights and popularity contests are always the clear focus. 

Gays love the drama. 

Drama attracts an audience.  Drag, to the outside world, is a sideshow.  Drag Race brought drag artists into the mainstream, and it brought all of the associated cattiness and shade along with it.

There is nothing wrong with drama on reality TV. My issue is that it is really the only show of it’s kind, and there is no wholesome alternative. Queerness exists on television, and Drag Race might have played a big part in making that happen, but to say that RuPaul’s Drag Race is still “normalizing” queerness, gender fluidity, or self-expression… would be a bit of a stretch.

And the show’s reputation seems to get worse every week.

In truth, I adore watching Drag Race.  Despite the show’s problematic past (and somewhat present), I love sitting in a room full of queer people shouting about campy looks and over-the-top makeup.  I love live viewing parties, hosted by local drag queens and kings, cracking jokes about an opportunity they might never have.

Drag is unapologetically queer art that unites our community.

But drag isn’t just dressing as a woman and appropriating black vernacular.  Drag is performance of gender expression and euphoria.

RuPaul, as well as numerous “Ru-girls,” have made some pretty problematic statements regarding who belongs in drag.  Trans queens are rarely on the show, and their transness is usually hidden rather than celebrated. Ru’s comments have made it clear that cis queens and drag kings will never see his main stage.

The Boulet Brother’s show ‘Dragula’ showcased a few kings and nonbinary ‘things’ on their most recent season, but I wish I didn’t have to watch anyone eat spiders or get pissed on just to enjoy nontraditional drag.

Plenty of queer drag artists are not gay men. Queer and trans women, trans men, and nonbinary people have been creating drag art in queer bars for decades without the luxury of camera or a set.  

Trans drag artists are stuck hosting live viewings of a show for which they will never qualify.

When I started doing drag, I didn’t know how AFAB (assigned female at birth) individuals could find their place in drag.  Little did I know, they already had.  Drag Kings and other drag artists have been performing all over the country, and the world, for decades.

I am glad that Drag Race has brought the conversation of gender expression into the mainstream, but I wish that the show focused on deconstructing gender stereotypes rather than enforcing them.

I also wish that every season wasn’t marred by some scandal.

While Sherry Pie’s predatory conduct, or any queen’s bad behavior, is not VH1 or RuPaul or even the show’s fault, it caused a huge portion of the community to start talking about the toxicity that exists in gay, drag, and nightlife culture.

A huge part of drag king culture is dismantling toxic masculinity.  Drag numbers commonly approach difficult topics, opening a conversation and speaking through the performing arts.

The queens show versatility: some are funny, some are great actors or performers, some can construct an amazing outfit with limited time and material. But Drag Race paints a pretty bland picture of what drag can be.  Drag is more than a man dressed as a woman.

Drag is an art form that can highlight the inherent issues with gender roles and stereotypes, and celebrate masculinity and femininity with a fresh perspective.  Drag shows are for queer people to express themselves.

Drag Kings and Things alike should be praised for their work.  At the very least, they should be noticed.

Being on RuPaul’s Drag Race is not the shining light at the end of the tunnel for every drag artist, or even every drag queen.  There are many different facets of drag, and I think that those of us in the queer community should work to expand the ideas of gender expression and drag beyond the limits of reality TV format.

Drag is healing.  Drag is informative.  Drag is provocative.  Drag is real emotion.

Any person, no matter the gender they were assigned at birth, can do drag.  RuPaul’s Drag Race does not define drag for me, or any of the other kings that I know.  My hope is that the longer that the show is on, the more the gayness will spread to other TV shows, as it has already.

Just because it was a groundbreaking show for the LGBTQIA+ community and gender expression, that doesn’t mean the ground is safe. Watch out for us gays; we’re coming for your favorite TV station.

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