Readers may look at me, a white bisexual female, and wonder, “What does she know about drag?” Well, thanks to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” I actually know quite a lot.
The show, which is an American reality television series produced by World of Wonder for Logo TV, just finished its ninth season and documents the search of RuPaul Charles, an American actor, drag queen, television personality and singer/songwriter, for “America’s next drag superstar.” RuPaul, or “Mother Ru” as many contestants call her, plays the role of host, mentor and head judge for this series, as contestants are given different challenges each week. “Drag Race” then employs a panel of judges, one of whom is RuPaul, as well as a host of guest judges, such as Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande and Raven-Symoné, who critique the contestants’ progress throughout the competition.
The series made its debut in 2009, and over the past eight years, it has played host to nine seasons and two “All Stars” seasons, in which past contestants got one more chance to compete for the crown. In the eight years it’s been on air, the show has born witness to many unforgettable moments, such as when Monica Beverly Hillz revealed that she is a transgender woman on Season 5; catchphrases, such as “What’s the T?” and “Shontay you stay/ Sashay away”; and showdowns, like the one between Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese’s in Season 5.
The show gives a voice to all kinds of members of the LGBT+ community, as contestants of all shapes and sizes, from the “large and in charge” Latrice Royale of Season 4 to the itty bitty Farrah Moan of Season 9, have graced its episodes. Plus, since five out of the nine winners of the show have been people of color, members of the LGBT+ community, and frankly anyone of any skin color, shape or size, is guaranteed to watch the show and see someone like them that they can look up to. I personally identify most with Jinx Monsoon, winner of Season 5, because of her quirky style, cute but awkward personality and her perseverance.
Despite all my knowledge about the series, I am admittedly fairly new to the fandom. I first learned of “Drag Race” about three years ago, but it wasn’t until a year ago that I got into the series when studying for a semester in London. I had the honor of meeting Willam, a former “Drag Race” contestant from Season 4, at a gay club in the city, which solidified my love for the show. Nowadays, I am never not happy when talking about or watching the show, as there is something about drag that fills me with a sense of confidence that I don’t get from any other source. This must be a common phenomenon, since drag queens always seem to be so positive. In fact, I have “Drag Race” to thank for helping me become assured in myself as a bisexual woman and for encouraging me to be myself.
Despite the success of the series, many people, including RuPaul herself, don’t think that it can ever go mainstream. As RuPaul explained in an interview with ABC News, she’s always seen herself, and been treated as, an outsider. Because she and the LGBT+ community are seen as outside the bubble of what’s considered “normal,” she doesn’t see the show, or herself for that matter, ever going mainstream.
It wasn’t until after RuPaul won an Emmy that her opinion only slightly changed. An article on BuzzFeed, titled “How The Success Of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Is A Double-Edged Sword,” written by Scaachi Koul, explains, “Before her Emmy win, RuPaul said that drag would never be mainstream, regardless of how recognizable she’s become. When she won, she admitted that, at the very least, the award made Logo mainstream.” Becoming mainstream, however slow the process may be, isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Since “Drag Race” has grown in popularity after many years of being on air, the show’s fanbase has become a place of danger. Fans were especially violent when the “All Stars 2” season was on air. Jaremi Carey, a contestant on “All Stars 2,” whose drag persona is Phi Phi O’Hara, reportedly received death threats; and Justin Honard, best known by his drag persona Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, the winner of “All Stars 2,” was harassed on Twitter by fans who supported another contestant, Brian McCook (Katya). “’Drag Race’ has always been about building a community, finding a family when your own wouldn’t have you; it’s inevitable that those circles would get bigger and bigger, to the point that they start to turn inwards and fight amongst themselves,” writes Koul.
On the journey to becoming mainstream, fans of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” will have to decide whether they will crumble under the weight of their own arguments, or if they are going to rise above making death threats and cyberbullying. If the fandom continues its pettiness, outsiders will never take it seriously, and it will fail to reach as many people as it could if it were more popularly received, which would be a shame for its creators and the untold number of would-be viewers who would be denied the chance to watch what can be a life-changing show.