“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag”.
RuPaul famously published those words in his 1995 autobiography, Lettin It All Hang Out. But, in a recent interview with The Guardian, the Supermodel of the World seems to have completely forgotten that sentiment; or at least no longer fully believes in it.
Before I launch into this article properly let me just start off by saying that I have been a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race since season one hit our screens in 2009. I am currently watching All Stars 3 and believed that Drag Race was a force for good and a powerful symbol of queer representation in the media. That was, of course, until I began to read what trans people had been saying about the show and the damage that RuPaul himself is doing to the LGBT+ community. In his interview with The Guardian, RuPaul claims that “Drag is a big f-you to male dominated culture.”
This would be a radical and welcome notion if 99% of Drag Race contestants weren’t cisgender men (assigned male at birth and currently identifying as such). Drag, in RuPaul’s own gate-kept perspective, is a male-dominated culture. We have seen RuPaul’s Drag Race launch the careers of one hundred and twenty six contestants with varying degrees of success and exposure. The vast majority of them have been cisgender men who dress as women, with a number of self-identifying trans women competing as well. Queens such as Sonique, Monica Bervely Hillz, Kenya Michaels, Carmen Carrera and, the most recent and highest placing trans contestant, Peppermint all taking part over the years. But Ru’s latest comment that Peppermint was only allowed to compete because “she hadn’t really transitioned“ is insulting and hurtful. Quite frankly it’s not up to RuPaul or anyone else to decide when someone is male (or female) enough to be considered a drag queen or to fit inside their narrow definition of gender identity.
Drag is more than what RuPaul defines it as. He doesn’t own what being drag is, nor is it within his right (or anyone else’s) to diminish or invalidate someone else’s drag. Bioqueens (biological cisgender women who are drag queens) are just as valid and impressive as the likes of Sharon Needles, or Bendelacreme. Just take a look at the work of Rosie Faux or Creme Fatale. Stunning Drag Queens that can perform at the same level as the contestants of All Stars. In fact, check out this article from Bustle on a few bioqueens to follow on social media to get a sense of what I’m talking about. For Ru to diminish the drag performances of biological women or trans/non-binary people is gatekeeping at its worst and highlights the Queer-friendly aspect of Drag Race as nothing more than performative activism at best.
I want to see Drag Race embrace all the facets of drag and what it represents. For our community to grow and become stronger we need to stop excluding the hundreds of thousands of voices of lesbian women, trans women and non-binary people who contribute to the artistic expressionism that has allowed the likes of RuPaul to stand on a stage on VH1 with an audience of adoring fans. Drag is not what RuPaul says it is, it is so much more.