Queer visibility is vital in all forms of entertainment – from reality TV to the metaverse

Let’s get this right from the start, and make sure that LGBT+ kids experiencing these technologies for the first time see themselves and feel part of the future

Tia Kofi
Wednesday 07 September 2022 12:27 BST
Ginny Lemon and Bimini Bon Boulash discuss being non-binary on RuPaul's Drag Race UK

Today’s entertainment looks quite different to when I was a kid. Concerts in video games. Fashion shows in virtual reality. Customisable avatars and whole new digital realities.

These technologies bring exciting potential for creativity, experimentation, and collaboration. As people flock to these new spaces, especially younger generations, it’s essential they feel included on the journey and see people like them, whether they’re gaming, putting on a VR headset, entering a virtual workspace, or designing their own digital outfit.

As a queer, Black drag queen, seeing yourself in the places and spaces that are getting people talking, generating excitement, and showing us the future, is essential to feeling accepted. Those first moments of visibility – seeing someone “like me” – can be lifechanging.

For me, it started with reality TV. Seeing Nigerian-born Melanie Hill on Big Brother in 2000 was the first time I saw someone like me being themselves in mainstream culture. Seeing Nigerian drag icon Son of A Tutu perform blew things open for me years later. It was gorgeous. Ever since, I’ve resisted “cookie-cutter” drag and try to celebrate entertainment and expression in all forms.

For kids today, we’ve come on from reality TV to virtual reality, gaming, social media and so much more. There are more sources of entertainment, but are they always opportunities for improved visibility?

We need intersectional queer communities occupying these new spaces quickly. They need to be visible, loud, and actively involved by the companies building these technologies on the road to the so-called metaverse. A study by Virtual Worldwide and The Dematerialised in 2021 found that 40 per cent of people think the metaverse will be more equitable to people who are in the LGBT+ community, compared with just 12 per cent who responded less equitable.

Queer communities need to feel as safe in the metaverse as we would want them to feel in the physical world. Especially when 70 countries still criminalise LGBT+ status, we need to be creative with the spaces where queer communities can be their true selves.

It’s why I jumped at the opportunity to work with Meta on their Queens of the Metaverse campaign. While it’s clear that the “metaverse” is in its early stages, I’ve been amazed by how prominent queer talent, creatives, designers and technicians are in bringing their star power to its development. Virtual and augmented technologies have taken my drag to a whole new level, showing me possibilities for collaboration, design, inspiration, and performance that I had no idea were possible.

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There are so many barriers to queer and drag creativity that technology can help overcome. The cost of raw materials; the fear of waste and having to start again with physical designs; access to studio space; and closeness to likeminded communities, especially if you’re not in London.

Instead, imagine almost infinite options for designing your digital self, fantasy worlds and landscapes, designing fashion that would be impossible in the physical world, with all sorts of digital animations. It doesn’t get much more drag than that.

But if people don’t see themselves in these new spaces, they will be left behind. Queer communities will lose out on the potential of new technologies, and sadder still, entertainment will miss out on the creativity and stories the LGBT+ community can bring.

Let’s get this right from the start, and make sure that any other queer, marginalised kid experiencing these technologies for the first time sees themselves and feels part of the future.

Tia Kofi is the face of Meta’s Queens of the Metaverse campaign, a pop artist, and star of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season 2

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