Guest post by Sam Mandry, University of Puget Sound, 2014
My name is Sam, and I am Co-President of UPS Queer Alliance. This Friday, April 18th, Queer Alliance (Q&A) will host its 12th Annual Drag Show in the Fieldhouse (for more information visit the Facebook event). As Q&A’s largest event of the year, the proceeds will benefit the University’s LGBT Leadership Scholarship. Students and professional drag performers alike will bring exciting performances to the show, and for many students it will be their first exposure to drag up close and personal. But for some, drag has been highlighted through a popular TV series.
Every Monday night, LogoTV airs its staple franchise, RuPaul’s Drag Race. A reality competition series, Drag Race follows a group of drag queens as they fight for the title of ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar,’ and a cash prize of $100,000. Over the past few years the show has grown in popularity, and has started to become a part of mainstream pop culture.
It’s full of glamorous runways and bloodthirsty cat-fights, everything a fan of American reality TV would want. On top of that, it has the opportunity to present a facet of the queer world to the main stage, and with it a chance to increase queer representation in the media.
Yet therein lies a problem—RuPaul’s Drag Race is incredibly transphobic. Despite having multiple members of the cast coming out as transgender both during and after their respective seasons, transphobia still pervades the show.
On several occasions, Drag Race contestants and judges have used language that is used to convey humor by resting on transphobic stereotypes. While the vast majority of queens are in reality cisgender men, the show insists on using female pronouns. On the surface, it suggests that the queens on Drag Race are changing ideas about gender and gender expression. In reality, it reinforces a practice of misgendering people who do not conform to heteronormative standards; in addition to the practice of cis individuals appropriating the experiences of trans individuals.
This matter recently came to attention when an episode’s mini challenge was titled ‘Female or Sh*-male.’This angered many of the shows fans, including former contestants. That was not the first use of that slur on the show, as a segment titled ‘She-Mail’ is present in every episode to send a video message from RuPaul. Not to mention the pervasive use of tr***y throughout almost the entire franchise.
While it’s easy to say that the amount of representation is good for the queer community as a whole, queer advancement cannot come by excluding and alienating members of our own community. But Drag Race’s problem is that transphobia and their narrow portrayal of drag is shown to be the norm.
Drag is more than cross-dressing in the opposite gender on the archaic binary of female/male. Drag is performance of gender, specifically a performance to break down barriers of heteronormative and patriarchal standards that have oppressed the queer community for years. Drag can easily alienate and exclude trans* people, but if done right it can embrace difference in gender.
This difference is what we in the Q&A officer team hope to bring to this year’s show. We ask students to come and celebrate difference in gender rather than alienating trans* and other non-cis individuals. We hope the show this Friday will help provide a vehicle for queer students to break down barriers of gender, and allow the campus community to drag as more than what they see on RuPaul’s Drag Race.