The new cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK has been revealed, and unfortunately, I think it is a painful reminder of what we see as “palatable” within the LGBTQIA+ community. While the show is often championed as a celebration of diversity, I believe it fails to represent the range of identities that fall under the acronyms’ umbrella.
Being part of the drag scene does not make you immune from enacting oppression. The line-up of what will be the UK’s first ever season of RuPaul’s Drag Race is dominated by cis, white men, the same demographic that has the most power in mainstream society. The show is clearly going to be a reflection of, rather than a rebellion against, structural inequality.
Bodies that aren’t associated with RuPaul’s definition of womanhood are excluded from the show. In my mind, Drag Race appears to take a tokenistic approach to diversity, with the US Drag Race including only a small number of trans women, and the UK version just two visibly BAME contestants.
RuPaul has made his blinkered stance on this important queer art form painfully clear, arguing that “drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it”. But when RuPaul says “men”, I doubt he means someone like me: an Afro-Latinx gender-nonconforming trans drag prinx.
Applying these rigid parameters to drag has an adverse effect on the wider performance community. Cis, white drag queens are in the spotlight while drag kings, gender-nonconforming people and drag performers of colour are left on the side lines.
To me, not only is the UK Drag Race failing to represent the eclectic drag scene, it’s also providing a platform to a queen who has voiced some seriously questionable political views. Baga Chipz, who joins the UK line up, wrote an opinion piece entitled “Why vote Conservative” which stated, “Theresa May served as our home secretary for seven years, working with communities up and down the country to keep us safe and to promote tolerance, but she also proved to be a capable politician, always on the ball and never at risk of having a ‘Diane Abbott’ moment!”
Given the former prime minister’s voting record on LGBT rights (even if her stance might have softened in recent years) and her introduction of the hostile environment policy, I would hardly call May an ally of the BAME or the queer community.
In my mind, RuPaul’s Drag Race is clearly not an opportunity for all. To remain silent and not challenge the show’s exclusion, to me, is a sign of privilege – particularly if you benefit from the status quo. In my experience, staunch defenders of the show tend to match the demographic it represents. Whether it’s cis white men defending it’s “woke” credentials or cis white women clamouring for a “gay best friend”, the line-up of the UK Drag Race will probably still enjoy ample support.
It’s a travesty that the casting team have ignored the phenomenal black talent the UK has to offer. Yes, they’ve ticked the diversity box by including a black queen, Vinegar Strokes, and an Asian queen, Sum Ting Wong, but these contestants will have to compete in a majority white landscape.
In contrast to the homogenous world of RuPaul, the UK drag scene is punk because of its authentic diversity. Queens of colour, trans queens, and drag kings all bring something unique – providing the kind of disruptive, challenging energy that the art form is based on. We need to make space for these identities in the mainstream, because, in my opinion, these male, pale line-ups are making the drag scene look stale.
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