The Influence of RuPaul and Her Girls on Culture and Gender (Panel)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Women's and Gender Studies

Lindsay Bryde (SUNY Empire State College)

RuPaul Charles has been one of the most successful drag performers in history. His show RuPaul’s Drag Race has steadily increased its audience share and jumpstarted the careers of dozens of drag performers. It’s not simply a contest to be declared “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” but a platform for each queen to shape their brand and the different forms drag takes. It should be considered how the show has educated audiences on drag, beauty, race, and gender through its successes and failures.

A recent example of the dialogue on gender and performance prompted on and off the show erupted on Charles’s recent comments on including trans contestants that vary based on point of transition. Charles stated in an interview, “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it” (Aitkinhead Web). It’s not the first time that Charles has made comments that could be construed as transphobic or sexist on this topic. Yet, this is the first time that Charles released an apology when facing backlash (notably season 9 runner-up Peppermint, wrote an op-ed piece for Billboard that challenged this perspective, citing her own experience as a successful trans queen). This shift in stance shows the growing influence of the queens that Charles has brought to the fore and society’s continuing understanding of the constructs of gender and performance that drag engages with.

Other topics could touch on The Vixen and Chi Chi DeVayne's arguments that the show provides an unfair advantage to wealthy performers versus poor performers, and to a larger extent a conversation on race. There is the concern that plus-size queens have been dismissed unfairly and early on in the competition (less than a handful have made it to the Top 5). There have also been controversies over challenges that could be viewed as racist and sexist (ex. contestants were asked to determine if those in photos were Female or She-male).

Aitkinhead, Decca. “RuPaul: ‘Drag is a big f-you to male-dominated culture’”. The Guardian, 3 March 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/mar/03/rupaul-drag-race-big-f-you-to-male-dominated-cu....

RuPaul’s Drag Race has steadily increased its audience share and jumpstarted the careers of dozens of drag performers. It’s not simply a contest to be declared “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” but a platform for each queen to shape their brand, promote different forms drag, and start conversations on a number of cultural questions (i.e. gender, race, and identity). This panel seeks paper that considers how the show has educated audiences on drag, beauty, race, and gender through its successes and failures.