“RuPaul’s Drag Race” finished its ninth season last week in a hurricane of reveals: rose petals were unleashed, wigs were tossed, and masks were cracked open. Sasha Velour, a politically engaged oddball from Brooklyn, slaughtered the competition to be crowned America’s Next Drag Superstar. As she urged the audience to change the world, I was reminded of all that I love about the show.
From the queens’ entrances – full of pose and poise as they preen for the cameras (as well as the other competitors) – to the vividly emotional lip syncs at the end of each episode, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is undeniably full of drama. It could be expected to be equally full of bitter contestants who claw at each other in the race for the crown: this is not true. The queens are more than just ‘racers’ – they are a family. As each elimination occurs, the queens don’t complain. Instead, they write heartfelt messages on the mirror in lipstick, often urging their fellow competitors onward.
Each episode also includes body positivity: Ginger Minj proclaims that she is a “glamour toad” as she enters the workroom; Latrice Royale is “large and in charge”, and queens like Max and Violet Chakchi go flat chested on the runway. Body shaming is simply not tolerated – either by Ru or by the fanatical audience.
This celebratory attitude is reiterated by the incredible diversity which has triumphed. Six of the eleven winners so far (including the two “All Stars” seasons) have not been white. This clashes with the frequent erasure of people of colour in the media. Monica Beverly Hillz – who came out as a transgender woman on the main stage – prompted a debate about the role of trans women within the drag community. Recently, Peppermint became the first drag queen to arrive on the show after coming out as transgender; she triumphed as she conquered the competition and finished second. Ongina (of the long forgotten first season) discussed her HIV positive status and helped to lessen the stigma attached.
The show searches for charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent – characteristics which the mononymous RuPaul has in abundance. From their crass humour to their history within the drag world (a former “club kid”), there could not be a more appropriate host. Ru – who married long-term partner Georges LeBar earlier this year – has also released many songs which urge listeners to work in order to achieve their dreams. Whether gay, straight or non-conforming, the message is clear: nothing will be done for you. Ru’s blunt attitude reiterates this as he questions the queens in the workroom; they are expected to be able to toil to succeed rather than just “resting on pretty”.
Even RuPaul’s mantra at the end of each episode promotes positivity: “if you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” As the queens reply with an amen, the audience is reminded of the need for self-love and self-care. For viewers who are likely to be young and vulnerable, this reminder cannot be more necessary.
Bedazzled, hilarious, and unapologetically political, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” may be trashy at times, but it is clearly one of the most magical – dragical – shows on television.