the rise and importance of rupaul's drag race
Whether you death drop and tongue pop your way through life like Alyssa Edwards, consider yourself a Russian hooker like Katya, sit viewing life from under a table like Laganja or even just act like the local queen your city adores, there’s a drag queen hiding within us all.
Not so long ago, drag queens were almost unmentionable alongside actually being gay - but just like everything else, we won that battle. Look at us now, drag is more influential than ever and our community’s values are no longer pushed aside to the extent that they once were. We still have a long way to go, but we should also take a moment to appreciate how far we have come so far.
Way back when women weren’t allowed to perform, Shakespeare used the term, ‘drag’ as an acronym for ‘dressed as a girl’, allowing men to play the role of female characters and becoming a highly celebrated and encouraged aspect of society. With London’s core fuelled by Shakespeare’s legendary shows, drag became an ordinary and accepted societal ‘norm’ that carried no stigma or hate - who knew a man in a wig would be so entertaining?
Fast forward 400 years to 2nd February 2009 and onto our Television screens comes, ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’.
“What is this mess?” mainstream society asks.
Why, It’s only a show that involves men competing against one another in an attempt to win $20,000 and the title of ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar’, whilst wearing a wig and 6-inch heels. What’s not to like? If Tammie Brown herself didn’t sell the show to you I suggest you stop reading this and go watch ‘Homes under the hammer’. Being the superstar he was, RuPaul Charles already had his career and now it was time for him to share the empire he had built with other talented drag monsters. What began as a small-scale American TV reality show eventually spiralled out into something much more recognised. Ru had created the gay Frankenstein of television, ready to wreak havoc on what society accepted – he just didn’t know it.
Year after year another season of the show flew onto our screens, with eager fans all over world were falling in love with the super-talented divas that were daring enough to compete for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar. These legendary icons stomped their way to fame, gaining the adoration, respect and publicity of many. Raja showed us just what fashion was, Sharon opened up doors for the ‘freaks’ within the LGBTQ community, Adore Delano proved that being yourself was always the way forward, whilst Willam taught us that being self-centred could actually reel in success.
Upon their arrival to the show, contestants are given a checklist of required qualities in order to succeed on the show. “What are these qualities?” Charisma, uniqueness, nerve, talent – C.U.N.T.
Mama Ru looks for these four features in these aspiring drag artists, expecting to rise to every given challenge whilst consistently being ‘cunty’. The point of this is to determine how individual, skilled, daring and creative these incredible beings can be, pushing them until they become a drag superstar like Ru herself – After all, she’s a pusher, she pushes people.
These individuals made their mark on the world, pushing gender, sexuality and body image ‘norms’ – Sorry Jiggly. British drag event organisers began to book these magical beings to entertain the gay scenes across the UK, inflating both their fan bases and bank balances. But for the majority of them, money wasn’t the priority. Just like some other celebrities, their main goal was to entertain and ensure the happiness of their fans. Drag Race’s fourth reigning queen, Sharon Needles, focused her entire drag aesthetic on being the ‘spooky weirdo’ – you know, like the kid in high school who everyone used to think was a serial killer? Yeah, that’s Sharon. Her impact emitted a frequency which resonated through the hearts and souls of thousands of ‘freaks’ and ‘weirdos’ across the globe, providing them with an idol to worship and cherish for being so uniquely herself. This, was the revolution we’d been looking for.
Now, in the present day, Drag Race is one of the most popular and loved shows across our TVs, giving both young and old members of the LGBTQ community hundreds of magical glamazons to adore, relate to and support. Fandoms are tighter than ever, with Twitter users stopping at nothing to defend their favourite queen, no matter the cost – kinda dark, right? Drag fans are amongst the most devoted supporters on earth. Who can blame them? If I’d have grown up in a world where I was ridiculed daily for being the feminine and gay icon that I am then I’d probably support the work of someone else who has lived the same experiences.
Let’s be honest, growing up gay is never an easy task for anyone. With thoughts about what schools, friends, parents and even strangers might think circling around your head, how is it supposed to be easy? The refreshing thing about ‘Rupaul’s Drag Race’ is how it provides creative members of our community with the chance to tell the world their story and their struggle, inspiring young, LGBTQ minds everywhere.
Each contestant on the show has lived their own personal struggle of growing up as a member of our community, whether that be a mental illness, discrimination, an unaccepting family or even being forced to hide their sexuality. A moving example would be Peppermint’s story of how she was beaten and bullied for having a crush on a popular boy at her school, then having her tormentors removed from the school in front of everyone else. It is these types of heart-warming and emotive experiences which fuel my love for this show as it really does help the young come to terms and be happy with who they are.
Drag Race has also broadened the British drag culture, with RuGirls often paying visits to eager fans and performing at shows alongside UK queer talents. This year marked the first ‘DragWorld UK’, which I, myself, was luckily enough to attend. This weekend celebrated nothing but love and pure individuality. To see both American and British drag queens unite with thousands of authentic British individuals was the experience of a lifetime. If that doesn’t send a large ‘fuck you’ to homophobic morons then I don’t know what does.
The truth is, this show has given our once-neglected community a platform to showcase just how talented the queer world is. Expressionism and creativity has rocketed. Skill pours out of every single member of our now-thriving community, all thanks to that one man, Mr RuPaul Charles – or Miss, depends who you ask.