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Life’s a Drag – is RuPaul included?

By Alex Lambden

In 2009, the innovative RuPaul’s Drag Race exploded onto American television screens with the aim to find ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar.’ Since then, long established gay icon RuPaul, has not only introduced us to over 126 all inspiring and all diverse drag queens and showgirls but has also bought a huge voice and support for queer artistry. The show was created in the name of parody, with the aim to mock other reality TV shows at the time such as America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway and American Idol. However, last month, the show fell to its lowest ratings ever in its All Stars season. By following a more mainstream direction and sticking to its repetitive formula, it has left many LGBTQ+ fans, like myself, wondering whether the show has become the type of reality TV show it once would have mocked?

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race! I remember watching it under the covers as a secret solace for my closeted teenage self and am still so inspired by artists that debuted on the show. The main elements of self-love, shameless self-expression and gay ‘herstory’ were a voice that wasn’t present for me in school or in my friendship group and I am forever grateful for it. The show must be absolutely credited for its positive impact for the LGBTQ+ community by raising awareness and uniting us through the love of the femininity and art, as well as creating an abundance of fun catchphrases that sometimes become the main communicative method when we feel silly.

Alas, I have a confession. Although the competition used to be like the gay gospel for me, I can no longer sit through most episodes. Once a series on an American exclusive cable channel, the show now airs on VH1 in America and is on UK Netflix making it more mainstream than ever. The niche LGBTQ+ reality show has attracted international fans all across the world regardless of their gender, age or sexuality.

Don’t get me wrong, any LGBTQ+ voice within mainstream society is a huge feat for our community through challenging heteronormative, and our own, perception of drag artistry and queer issues. However, I think of the show as being an escapism, not as an excuse for 29-year-old straight cis Hayley to be calling herself ‘Slaylee’ whilst calling everything ‘sickening’ and shouting ‘you better werrrrrrkkkkkkk!’ as if the show is a fad like avocado toast or matcha tea. Furthermore, producers have started to make the show feel unnatural as every week seems to force a new argument or sob story to wrangle the contestants into overly dramatic moments. To me, the enigma of the show’s earlier seasons was its pride in being low budget, messy but authentically organic.

Maybe I’m being a bad gay but I do believe that the show has become a bit of a drag but I must merit its positive impact on the LGBTQ+ identity and community. I am actually glad that the show is becoming increasingly mainstream, as I am sure it is inspiring those, closeted and out, every episode. I also understand that RuPaul is sticking to a consistent formula as the show is the biggest gay voice on television and the consequences of changing it might be too risky. Perhaps it is a sign that there needs to be more LGBTQ+ representation on television, the only other TV show I can think of is Queer Eye which again mainly focuses on gay men. A show that focuses on the voices and talents of transgender, non-binary, and bisexual people within our community as these groups deserve a greater presence within mainstream media. Now RuPaul has pushed the boundaries, I hope other queer TV shows can find a greater presence within mainstream and more niche media.

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