Am I Doing this Write?

Drag Queen Rupaul stands in a black, glossy bodysuit in front of two large, glaring eyes veiled behind pink smoke

I’d like to say I’m not a fan of reality TV, but I’d be lying. I was raised to be a little bit of a television snob, and turned my nose up at these self-indulgent shows for most of my life. Then, I got a taste of it via BBC 3’s Don’t Tell the Bride, and since then I have racked up countless hours watching Tattoo Fixers, Are You The One?, and Come Dine With Me. I even used to make weekly pilgrimages to a uni friends house to watch Geordie Shore on their sky TV –  three years studying in Birmingham made me really miss my hometown’s accent.

What is Drag Race?

Lately, I have been a little bit hooked on RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you haven’t heard about the show – which might be unlikely – I don’t want to leave anyone out in the cold. A selection of America’s (supposedly) finest drag queens battle it out to be crowned America’s next drag superstar. I’ve known about Drag Race since its inception, but never really bothered with it until it popped up on Netflix. Now, I’m fairly invested in it.

Now, there are aspects about the show that I dislike. I have issues with the format – the editing blatantly depicts the queens as the producers want them to be seen, and oftentimes the eliminations are so clearly staged, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Even the host, queer icon RuPaul Andre Charles, has rubbed me up the wrong way a fair few times with her views. But at least this show features people with genuine skill and talent, and I have fallen in love with a few of the queens who have passed through RuPaul’s workshop.

Best Queens

My favourite by far is a certain Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova – you can just call her Katya – a Russian-via-Boston drag queen and fan-proclaimed “Queen of Runners-Up,” after being snubbed, very unfairly in my opinion, on the two seasons which she appeared. Not to sound like a bitter fan, but she really didn’t deserve to a) be eliminated in Season 7 or b) get to the finale of All-Stars 2 only to lose to Alaska.


Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova from RuPaul's Drag Race

There’s Chi Chi Devayne too, a New Orleans queen who grew up with very little but learnt quickly how to make the most of it. A lot of fans of the show, and even some contestants, looked down on her because of her Bayou upbringing and strong southern states accent. But she consistently faced everything with a level of poise and dignity I could only dream of.

Watching this show made me ask myself a lot of questions, though. I don’t like fashion shows, yet Drag Race is basically a twelve episode long runway. I’m not even a huge fan of competitions, unless it’s Bake Off. I do love make up – I’ll watch forty make-up tutorials back to back if I have the opportunity – but Drag Race is frustratingly devoid of actual make-sequences save for the odd ten second montage. So why am I getting so obsessed?

Drag and Identity

It dawned on me recently, though, that I for once am not watching this reality TV show for the reality TV aspect of it. Sure, the challenges can be hilarious, and you’re lying to yourself if you don’t enjoy just a teensy bit of drama.

For me, a very butch gal from the North of England, there’s an odd level of identifiability that I have with the drag queens. Growing up, I had to fight for my femininity. I didn’t used to be one for skirts, or make-up, or floral things when I was younger, so I was presumed (incorrectly) to be a “d*ke.” Any attempt I made to be more feminine to counteract the bullying was often met with scorn, yet I persevered in an attempt to get the homophobic name-calling to stop, and I got scared to be my naturally more masculine self.

Nowadays, I couldn’t care less what people think of me, obviously, and I’ve since embraced all aspects of my gender identity including the masculine and feminine parts. You can catch me in full glam make-up and wearing boy shorts from Primark and Doc Martens most days of the week. Dr

Self-expression

Likewise, when I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, I see a group of people who are completely at ease with themselves and the way the express themselves. You see them transition from jeans and vests to full costumes, and while they look completely different externally, you can still see that their real personas still shine through. That kind of homogeneity between all of their various expressions is something that I hadn’t seen before in any other art form, or even in real life.

And what’s more, they’re allowed to have all of these expressions. These queens are participating in something where they’re embraced for mixing up masculine and feminine energy to create their own special looks and personalities and identities.

It’s something I’d love to see a lot more of in real life. It would be amazing if everyone could express themselves in whatever way they wanted in the outside world. Most people don’t have a catwalk on a television programme to show off their identities, and walking down the street as their true selves risks all kinds of unwanted attention and potential abuse. My own combination of lipstick and men’s fits shirts might only scratch the surface of playing with gender boundaries, but it means I know the difference between wearing what society expects you to wear and wearing what you want to wear. Hopefully, the day will come where everyone can express themselves exactly as they want to. Until then, stick an episode of Drag Race on, and enjoy the ride.