How RuPaul’s Drag Race is changing the lives of my hetero friends

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no internet connection, you’ve probably heard of the phrases “spilling the tea,” “throwing shade,” or my favorite proverb, “sashay away.” Probably juxtaposed alongside reactions memes similar to this one below.

 

The origin of these expressions can be traced back to African-American and Latino communities in the US, specifically rooted in the drag and ball culture of the 1990’s, now popularized by reality TV show, Rupaul’s Drag Race. But make no mistake, Drag Race is more than just memes eleganza and catchphrases. It’s counter-culture and subversive in nature—it’s weave (get it?) of Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model on acid.

“I think the show brings to light a lot of LGBTQ’s unheard stories and their misunderstood culture to a wider audience.”

 

RuPaul started his career in New York city clubs with his gender-bender style performances and later came out with a hit song, catapulting him into becoming the face of drag subculture. With a career spanning three decades, RuPaul is considered the most successful drag queen on the planet.

Far from the fringes of the internet, the show’s steady surge in ratings has hit an all-time high, drawing in nearly one million viewers in the US during its season 9 premiere, touting Lady Gaga as guest judge.

But make no mistake, Drag Race is more than just memes eleganza and catchphrases. It’s counter-culture and subversive in nature.

Having been on air for almost a decade, the show continues to challenge the very concept of drag, crowning a wig-less bald queen, Sasha Velour. It has also seen its openly trans drag queen, Peppermint, as season 9’s runner up.

A testament to the show going mainstream is its growing audience, including those who aren’t exactly within their target market. Namely, straight men. I personally caught up with two hetero dudes within my circle who are fans of the show. Rewind back to a decade ago, and straight people fawning over drag queens would have been called an anomalous divergence from nature.

So what exactly about the show captivates these guys? What goes on in their heads while watching? I sought out for insights and evidence of our evolution towards becoming a more inclusive and open species. Why should we all care about shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race earning its slot on primetime TV?

 

JC Tevez, identifies as a straight dude, and is a casual viewer since Season 9

What’s your favorite aspect of the show?

I LOVE the drama. like the beef between contestants, the bad blood. But I also enjoy the humor. Whether it be from the way they talk to each other, the performances during the challenges, or the comments of the judges. Over all I think it’s entertaining to watch from start to finish.

If Drag Race taught you anything, can you share with us what that is?

I like the part of every episode where they touch on sensitive topics that affect the LGBT community. Aside from the funny parts of the show, there is some heart behind it, which I feel is the reason why it succeeded for so many seasons while other reality shows failed. I remember a few episodes from Season 9 where they touched upon the shooting at the Pulse night club, and another about body image issues (something I struggled with). It shows that these drag queens represent a voice for the LGBT community, and have this platform to share their thoughts on important topics.

As a straight guy, why do you think a show like Drag Race is important for mainstream audiences?

I think it serves as a platform. Perhaps not to represent the entire queer folk community, but a good portion of it. I think for mainstream audiences like myself, we get to hear their voice on a larger scale, because usually, in other daily activities or shows, we never hear their side of the story. RPDR gives them a voice and we lend it our ears.

Who’s your favourite queen?

I was team Peppermint from Season 9 (I think Sasha Velour won with that flower gimmick in the finale). From this season, I think Aquaria is gonna take it.

 

Anjo Joaquin, straight dude, and RuPaul’s Drag Race viewer who binge-watched all seasons with his girlfriend

Can you share with us your first viewing experience of the show?

I just decided to sit down with my girlfriend and watched all seasons available on Netflix. I had my usual expectations for these types of contests and reality shows, but I found myself enjoying the characters of the show so I continued watching by myself after.

Have you thought of being in drag?

I’ve done drag but not in the same level, like just for kicks at Halloween.

If Drag Race taught you anything, can you share with us what that is?

If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?

Why do you think a show like Drag Race is not only important for queer folks, but for mainstream audiences?

It’s important because lots of people don’t understand the whole concept of drag, the people that do it, or a lot of issues facing LGBTQs, for that matter. I think the show brings to light a lot of LGBTQ’s unheard stories and their misunderstood culture to a wider audience. It’s not the complete solution, but it is a step in the right direction.

Who’s your favourite queen?

It’s a tie between Kimchi and Acid Betty

That said, RuPaul’s Drag Race made great leaps to cross a socio-cultural border that shouldn’t exist in the first place, all thanks to shady drag queens. With its growing mainstream popularity, it’s important to note that drag was born out of queer folks fighting against oppression and for their right to self-expression. Try to see beyond just the sassy remarks and hilarious banter.

And tbh, if a couple of straight guys can watch queens with a ton of make-up lip-syncing to “So Emotional,” so can you. Shantay you stay.


Words by Maria Grant
Images from RuPaul’s Drag Race

 

 

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