Recently, Drag Race Thailand cast the first cisgender woman as a competitor in Drag Race franchise history, and you know what? It’s about time.
Though drag has been around for centuries, the creation of Drag Race and its increasing popularity over the past decade has brought drag performance into the mainstream in a massive way. This has allowed people of all identities to become familiar with a creative staple of the LGBTI community.
Unfortunately, the increased interest in drag performance – especially through Drag Race – has perpetuated the idea that it’s an exclusive club for only gay men.
What is drag and where did it come from
Drag is the exaggerated performance of gender. Drag queens are those performing as women. Meanwhile, drag kings are people who perform as women.
Drag has existed in various forms throughout history. It has appeared in ancient mythology, evolving then into literature, theater, and folklore across the world. In more modern times, there are accounts of popular drag queens and kings in various countries. They have appeared in pantomimes, vaudeville, and more.
Drag queens are closely associated with gay men and drag kings with women. However, there are no limitations on who can perform drag.
One of the most prominent drag queens of the 20th century was Aleshia Brevard. Born in 1937, she received one of the first gender confirmation surgeries in the United States. Her transition began when she was 21 and under the care of gender specialist Harry Benjamin.
Neither her surgery nor her identity as a transgender woman stopped her from being a successful drag queen.
Why Drag Race needs to become more inclusive
The LGBTI community already has a problem when it comes to seeming like a gay male club, suffering problems of misogyny and patriarchal privilege.
Drag Race confirming this does no favors for anyone.
Though the US edition of Drag Race has recently included trans contestants, creator RuPaul has come under fire for comments about trans women.
In 2016, he differentiated drag and trans as being about identity – as if trans people can’t take their trans identity seriously while also having fun performing and creating characters.
More recently, he apologized for comments about trans women not being allowed to compete on Drag Race.
He specifically said ‘drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it’.
It’s true that drag allows us to bring a wrecking ball to backwards societal rules about gender, but RuPaul’s comments completely ignored the fact that by disallowing women to engage in the performance of our own gender perpetuates the misogynistic impression of gay men in the community.
There’s no ‘advantage’
Drag performance is associated with exaggeration – therefore, being a cis or trans woman does not give an ‘advantage’ in a show like Drag Race.
There are many other things drag queens and kings must perfect in their art, from impersonations to make-up and costumes and lip syncing.
RuPaul’s initial ignorant comments brought up contestants transitioning and not allowing them, as if that’s what drag is about.
Women performing their own gender in exaggerated ways is ‘punk rock’, too. It allows us to break out of societal molds and buck the idea of who or what women can be, just as it allows men to do the same.
Aren’t we in this together? And if we aren’t, that’s no drag race I want to be a part of.