I discovered RuPaul’s Drag Race in the eighth grade.
Mesmerized by this glamourous sub-culture and the motherly nature of the queen herself, RuPaul, I was instantly sucked into this world of glitter, glamour, and strong feminine characters.
For those unfortunate souls who are unfamiliar with this television show, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a reality competition series. The show documents RuPaul, the show’s host, mentor, and main judge, in search for ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar’.
Three years later, it remains significant in my life due to the important lessons it has taught me. Let me explain.
In corsets and six-inch heels, the contestants on Drag Race are the most talented people on television. They are their own makeup artists and seamstresses. Not only do they constantly have to stay in their drag personas, but RuPaul also makes them jump through all kinds of hurdles in order to win the crown. Challenges include performing stand up comedy, acting in TV show parodies, singing, dancing, and lip sync battles.
Anyone who has seen the show understands the extent to which these men are true illusionists and artists. I have learned not only to respect Drag Queens but to respect those who put their heart and soul into what they love to do.
Drag Revolution/LGBTQ Community
Drag has played a massive role in the LGBTQ community. In fact, the first true advocate of the gay rights movement is widely believed to have been drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, who was the first to cast a stone in defense at the Stonewall Riots.
In 2009, when RuPaul’s Drag Race was premiered on the LGBTQ television network Logo, the show was not picked up due to its boundary-pushing nature. It wasn’t until the third and fourth season when suddenly it began to break into the mainstream. It is now one of the most popular shows on television, boasting a diverse and loyal audience of followers — from a wide array of races, ethnic groups, and sexualities — who tune in religiously.
Drag culture has seeped into our modern world including things like music, GIFs, and lingo. Phrases like “slay”, “yasss queen”, “werk”, and “throwing shade” began in the Drag community. Still, LGBTQ people represent only 4% of regular characters on broadcast television, an unfortunate statistic.
The non-direct (yet clearly evident) advocacy of the show taught me about the modern ‘gay culture revolution’. RuPaul’s Drag Race has not only helped me gain knowledge but has also played a vital role in the acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the 21st century.
The queens often discuss their personal experiences with body image, prior prison convictions, family intolerance, suicidal thoughts, homelessness and even HIV diagnoses.
As RuPaul put it in an interview with Vulture, “drag actually didn’t save my life, it gave me a life.” In a reality TV format, this show discusses important issues that make these poignant moments ring true in a refreshingly direct way.
In celebrity photographer Magnus Hastings’s book Why Drag, Lady Bunny says drag is “my armor, my mask, or whatever you want to call it that gives me confidence.”
The drag personality Pearl, from season seven, explaines that “Pearl was this character that I would draw just ’cause it distracted me from, like, the horrible things that I felt were going on around me. And one day I just painted her on me.”
Drag provides a creative outlet for those who have struggled or are struggling in their life. These tear-jerking moments on the show have taught me how to be resilient and to have grit. On the other hand, it has also reminded me the therapeutic power that the arts have on people.
Finally, the art of self-love could not be more evident throughout RuPaul’s Drag Race. No matter what ethnicity, background, size or shape, a queen is still a queen.
And as RuPaul herself declares at the end of each episode:
“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
Manuel Betancourt from The Atlantic explained: “The simplicity and earnestness of the declaration may strike those unfamiliar with the Logo show as hollow, more like a catchphrase than a mantra, but this rhetoric of self-love as a form of self-care has always been essential in the world of drag.” In following the lives of these real-life characters, I learned that it is ok to be different, daring, and that being confident in myself goes a long way.
Drag has come a very long way in the 21st century. Singapore is even the home of its own drag star, Kumar, which wouldn’t have been as widely appreciated ten years ago. In the United States, RuPaul became a champion when the Drag community needed one.
This sometimes-cheesy, sometimes-provocative, but always-fabulous TV show has given me more than just an entertaining program to watch on the weekends. Oh, no. RuPaul’s Drag Race has given me this: An understanding of the LGBTQ community, respect to those who work hard, perseverance through tough times, and the art of self-love.
Dear RuPaul: Shantay, you stay.
You can and should catch season three of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars, coming to you at the top of 2018