You are absolutely right about me not being a fan of RuPaul and definitely not a fan of “Drag Race”. With our ever-changing times and attitudes, I knew that this issue was going to pop up again for him. But believe it or not…I agree with what he said.
I’ve been doing drag since 1985. I have watched a lot of performers come and go over the years. And I think there are some distinctions that we need to discuss. And trust me….many are gonna be upset with what I have to say.
In our drag world, there are men who perform in drag professionally. They are paid to emulate a hyper-feminine persona to entertain audiences. Then there is what I call the weekend drag queen…the ones who like to dress up and occasionally attempt to perform with hopes of becoming a professional. And then we get to the augmented queens. Some are just men who start with some simple silicone to enhance facial features. Some have electrolysis to remove unwanted hair. Then comes the breast. And believe it or not, these augmented queens believe they are still drag queens. I don’t.
What I do as a drag performer is create an illusion. The hip pads, the falsies, the corset, the tights, the makeup, and wigs complete that illusion. At the end of the performance, I take all of those things off. I have put together a persona and I can leave it in a bag later that night. To me…that’s what drag is and I know others will say otherwise.
From my experiences of growing up in the Deep South of the United States, once you start adding things that cannot be taken off at the end of the show you are no longer a drag queen. Because to me drag is an art form where men impersonate females. Anything after that is not drag anymore. You may get paid to be on stage but you are moving in the direction of being a woman. And to me, that’s cheating. I gotta shave and tuck and create a look. The augmented queen has erased some of the equation.
Now if you notice…I haven’t said anything about sexuality or gender identity.
When I started doing drag back in Tampa, Florida the scene was filled with augmented queens. Some identified as transwomen and others did not. We all called each other “gyrl” and “fish” and the word “Tranny” was a term of endearment. I still have friends who use the word and use it to identify themselves. They don’t say that they are women. So, it is hard for myself and many of the performers who came up back in the 70s and 80s to forget or change their perception of drag and trans performers.
And something that used to go on in the South that I am sure still happens today is the pressure applied to young drag performers to transition. It is tied to the traditions of the pageant system like Continental where you have to win state pageants to be considered for the top honor and crown of being Miss Continental. Occasionally a man who performs in drag without any augmentation wins this title but the majority have been transwomen. The funny thing is that there is a pageant system just for drag queens, but in the United States, drag culture is tied to the Continental system.
That being said…now we have to address the elephant in the room. Why transwomen and augmented queens should not be allowed on “Drag Race”. Because it’s called “DRAG RACE” not “Entertainer Race”. I have never understood why people who identify as transwomen and want to be considered female would want to be in a drag show. After all that work and time transitioning I would think it is time to move into your womanhood. Go to straight bars. Get a job as a woman. Over my years I have several friends who transitioned and stopped identifying as a drag performers. And I think that was a healthy thing.
Culturally I guess we are moving into a wider definition of what drag is. For example….here in Toronto, there was a cis-gender female who wanted to enter a drag competition in our gay village. She was denied and a heated conversation began about how unfair that was. But honestly, what are we doing? It’s like LL Cool J and “Lip Sync Battle”. Damn! Can’t we have anything? RuPaul is credited for opening many doors for the drag world and the LGBT Community, but I kinda hate that Ru rarely gives credit (except when he’s being paid to say it) to queens like Sylvester and Divine for opening doors for him to come through. He should be paying homage to them every chance he gets, but unfortunately, Drag Race has demoted drag down to looks and bad behavior for ratings. It is not about the art of performance. Don’t get me wrong! There have been some great performers on that show, but how many of them have won the competition? Now, look at how many contestants are coasting on the fact that they were on the show.
It is great that parts of Drag Culture are being accepted across the board but are we losing the culture in the process?
So, I don’t think that Ru should have apologized. I don’t think he should change his position. Because after competing in the 2013 Miss Continental Elite pageant I learned what the trans performers in that system thought about Drag Race. All weekend long I listened to them complaining about not being able to get work because of Drag Race contestants getting all the bookings. And in fact, I know some seasoned performers who are obsessed with getting on the show just to be able to work. I think we need to start distinguishing between entertainers and personalities. It’s like the difference between booking Snookie and booking Demi Lovato. One is a reality TV personality and the other is a singer. So, in my opinion, it is great that drag has become a part of Pop Culture but to keep it we have to define what it is and stick to it.
To all my drag performers who are just men who create an illusion and take it off at the end of the day, thank you for keeping the original art form alive.
DISCLAIMER: All opinions and advice in this column are only represented by Jade Elektra and are no way an endorsement by KINKSTER MAG.