One queer woman’s intimate relationship with RuPaul’s Drag Race

BY ELEANOR NOYCE. IMAGE RUPAUL STARS IN NETFLIX’S AJ AND THE QUEEN 2020

Before I watched drag race, I had a very one-dimensional view of drag: that it was merely a man dressing up as a woman. Oh, how wrong I was…”

Confession: I identify as a queer woman, and I am obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race. Granted, these two statements don’t always go together but I’d like to dismantle the idea that drag is a subset of gay male culture – drag isn’t just for gay men to enjoy. There, I said it.

Before I watched drag race, I had a very one-dimensional view of drag: that it was merely, “a man dressing up as a woman”. Oh, how wrong I was. Being a drag performer encompasses being able to act, sing, dance, tell jokes, sew, and perhaps most challenging – be likeable. 

The success of RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars has had a profound impact on the way the world perceives drag. The newer seasons have seen the expansion of drag circles, and the show is now watched by both LGBTQI+ and non-LGBTQI+ viewers alike. Importantly: the drag represented on drag race is not the only form of drag that exists – drag culture is by no means limited to drag race, and not all forms of drag are represented on the show.

The links between gay and bisexual men and drag are poignant, so it’s no surprise that drag is commonly perceived as being somewhat exclusively for gay men. History tells us that early forms of drag arose in theatre, notably during the Shakespearean period. At that time, all roles were played by men as women were excluded from the arts. 

Increasingly, drag has become more diverse. Unfortunately, this isn’t to say that Ru Paul’s version of drag necessarily conveys this… Seminal documentary, Paris Is Burning, emphasises the presence of trans women on the New York ball room scene of the 1980s. Trans women, including Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P. Johnson, were at the forefront of the LGBTQI+ rights movement both pre and post-Stonewall. Trans people belong in drag spaces. RuPaul, take note. 

Drag Race introduced the art of drag to me. And it is an art form. As a queer woman, I have often struggled to understand how I should portray myself physically. When I first came out, I bought a load of flannel shirts and dungarees, because I thought this was the only way to gay. (I’d been wearing Doc Martens et al since the age of 16, so I don’t think I’d been fooling anyone…)

Drag Race changed all of that. Now, I wear bright colours and bright prints: almost nothing in my wardrobe is black. My winged eyeliner and colourful eyeshadow look is distinctive. Watching queens such as Sharon Needles, Sasha Velour and Aquaria prance the runway in an array of out-there styles made my eyes light up. Each and every queen I admire informs my own sense of style. 

Drag Race has also allowed me to explore new genres of music – my love for Kim Petras and Ariana Grande was pretty much born through drag race, though the adoration for Gaga has been there since I was a baby gay in formation. 

Put simply: Drag Race is the reason I was able to watch my first drag show at The Admiral Duncan on Old Compton Street in Soho. It’s the reason I frequent The Royal Vauxhall Tavern in south London. It’s the reason I wear bright colours, bright eyeshadow, and the reason I toy with playful makeup styles. It is the reason I firmly believe that drag is political, and part of the role of drag queens is to be political. 

To wrap this up, drag is an important part of my life. It guides much of my daily existence. The lessons I’ve learnt watching it are invaluable, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for the drag community. If Michelle Visage’s enthusiasm for bio queens and trans performers in Gay Times is anything to go by, it’ll be multi-dimensional, inclusive, and variant.

Drag isn’t just for gay men: drag is for everyone.

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