RuPaul's Drag Race UK is wrong to embrace the outdated stereotype of queer bitchiness

One of the oldest cliches about queer communities is that they're catty and bitchy. It isn't true – and heavily edited attempts to perpetuate the myth are the last thing we need

Adam Bloodworth
Friday 04 October 2019 17:05 BST
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As excitement mounted in the hours before the premiere of Drag Race UK, contestant Divina De Campo tweeted a plea: “I guess what I’m trying to say is be kind to us all,” she urged. “We are all only human.”

It was a simple request – some might say almost disarmingly simple. It was the type of comment that would’ve made viewers new to Drag Race wonder why there was any need to post the tweet at all. After all, isn’t kindness the least we should all expect? Something we shouldn’t have to publicly beg for?

The answer is, of course, yes. And in the majority of queer circles, communities thrive alongside one another. But De Campo has been performing for 15 years, and will unfortunately have come into contact with the type of toxic abuse that so often affects LGBT+ people, whether in the form of homophobic or transphobic slurs or within the LGBT+ community itself. So she has her reasons to fear the worst from the show.

Homophobia from outside the community is self-explanatory. But De Campo was alluding to something else: the cliche that bitchiness prevails in queer circles – and more specifically, the outdated stereotype that drag as a genre has cattiness and bitchiness at its centre.

If you’re wondering where the supposedly “woke” RuPaul’s Drag Race fits into all this, I’d argue that the original US show has often promoted negative stereotypes about the LGBT+ community. This promotion of negative stereotypes has been carried over to the UK show.

Even in the first episode, contestants were shown making catty comments about one another on and off camera, and behind each others’ backs. Sensational edits are frequently made to show queens side-eyeing one another, fighting with each other and getting into slagging matches. And on every episode, contestants are taken into a Big Brother-style room to purposefully bitch about other contestants.

You might say that the fighting is an authentic representation of what’s actually going on during filming. And I’d agree to a small extent. As De Campo said in her tweet, “filming this has been one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever been involved in, nothing else even comes close”.

And at times, this means contestants do snark at one another, with one seeming disapproving that another hadn’t been to a drag show before and another calling a contestant’s look “half missing”.

But by the end of the episode, the sensation and drama had been ramped up to an entirely unrealistic level. The music sounded like the stuff theme parks play when you’re about to board a rollercoaster; it only served to make tight cuts of contestants shouting at one another seem awkwardly inauthentic when screened seconds after other shots showcasing the group’s clear closeness.

This sort of editing crassly and grossly sensationalises any small disagreements between contestants. By doing so, it perpetuates negative stereotypes about queer people to suggest that all they can do is argue and fight with one another.

As East End queen Baga Chipz surmised early in the episode: “Everyone’s friendly, you know what I mean? You normally do get the odd twat though don’t you.” But from what I could glean from the first episode, any unsavoury characters are far more likely to be found in the editing suite (or higher up, in creative meetings about the show’s style and direction) than in a fabulous dress.

That we’re being fed this fake in-fighting feels even more absurd when you consider how the UK drag culture differs from its American counterpart. In the UK, our innovative drag scene celebrates queerness in its original form, meaning difference: queens, particularly in east London, have beards, hairy chests, and are, as Drag Race UK queen Crystal put it, “a little bit more punk, a little bit more gender-f*ck, kind of the alternative style of drag.”

In other words: we don’t have time for cattiness. If we’re competitive, we’re competitive in a friendly and intellectual way; more interested in gender politics and equality than landing shallow jibes or achieving shallow aesthetic perfection.

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I’m going to surprise you now by revealing that I actually rather enjoyed the season premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. On the whole, I thought it did a good job of taking the show from one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other. RuPaul handled well his blind spots about UK queer culture, admitting that he didn’t know who people such as Kim Woodburn were. Where he was unfamiliar, he asked the right questions to educate himself.

Crucially, he was open-minded to our drag culture. Now all that I ask is that the big TV producer bosses that’re making editorial decisions about how RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will look and feel are open-minded too – and that they stop portraying us as an arguing, fraught and bitchy community. It’s honestly the last thing we need.

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