You better work! On educating yourself about the struggles that affect the drag community
By Jessica Berget, Opinions Editor
Let me start off by saying that RuPaul’s Drag Race is the best television show ever made. Its portrayal of the drag community has heightened the art of drag into mainstream culture, it puts every other fashion, make-up, costume, and entertainment reality show to shame, and has inadvertently made a mockery of those who say that gender is not a social construct. In saying that, as much as I love the show, there is one thing I cannot stand about it, and that is the queen bitch herself: RuPaul.
Time and time again RuPaul has proven that she cares little about the way in which many of the queens are exploited and represented on the show for the sake of attracting an audience, and she has even been the perpetrator of such mistreatments. Contestants on the show are often asked by producers about their tragic backstories and sensitive, personal issues, such as a family member dying or a traumatic life event to garner pity and sympathy, and, ultimately, to get better ratings.
Blame this on the producers and the nature of reality television all you want, but Ru has also been involved in exploiting her fellow queens under the guise of being a caring, motherly figure. Fans of the show will remember near the end of a season when the top four queens have “dinner” and one-on-one time with Ru (“dinner” in this case being a bunch of tic-tacs, but I’ll get to this later). Although it sounds innocent at first, these dinners are just an excuse for Ru to ask the queens about their personal struggles or dysfunctional family dynamics to squeeze out any last bit of drama that she can get. She essentially does the same thing on the main stage when she pulls out baby photos of the contestants and asks them what they would say to their younger selves.
The way Ru tries to get the queens to disclose their troubled pasts to the audience has always made me cringe, but it was especially uncomfortable in season seven when one queen named Pearl had her one-on-one time with Ru. Despite Ru knowing that Pearl had gone through a traumatic experience as a child, she constantly asked her questions about it and tried to get her to open-up about her childhood, even though it was when they don’t want to is bad, but to do it for ratings on your television show is just horrible.
I understand that it is a reality television show, so they need drama and controversy to get viewers. However, within a community as strong and supportive as the drag community is, I would hope that RuPaul would treat the queens with a bit more sensitivity and respect, and not exploit their life stories for ratings.
Another problem I have with RuPaul is that she sets impossibly high standards for the queens on her show and expects them to do many things that she can’t even do. They are expected to memorize lines and choreography, dress their wigs, and even occasionally sew and design their costumes within just a few days. Contrary to what some may believe, she has her gowns designed and sewed and has her make-up done by other people, but these are all things she has given other queens harsh critiques for in the past. It has also been rumoured by some guest judges and past contestants that RuPaul doesn’t even memorize the few lines she has on the show—they are fed directly to her through an earpiece. Of course, Ru doesn’t have to be able to do everything that the other queens are expected to do, but it’s ridiculous that she gets angry when they don’t know how to do one thing, when she can’t do a lot of them.
Ru has also showed that she is especially tone-deaf around issues that don’t directly affect her, especially transgender issues. Many times, she has defended her use of the word “tr*nny,” because, as she claims, “it is not a slur aimed at trans women,” and that “no one has ever said the word ‘tr*nny’ in a derogatory sense.” Sure, Ru. Coming from someone who does not identify as trans, it’s ignorant for her to say what the transgender community should or shouldn’t be offended by. She has been continuously called out by past transgender Drag Race contestants and fans for her actions, to which she either brushes it off, using the tired excuse that “people get offended by everything these days.” Or, she takes the petty route and blocks them on Twitter. Ru is often quoted in saying “unless they pay your bills, pay them bitches no mind,” but her conduct on social media says otherwise.
Finally, there is the infamous tic-tac one-on-one dinners that Ru has near the end of the season with the final four contestants. During these dinners, Ru jokes about being on a diet and watching her weight, so all she eats are tic-tacs. This is an obvious dig at people with eating disorders, as tic-tacs are often used to curb appetite. Eating disorders are common in the gay community; and among men with the disorder, about 42 per cent identify as gay. Many queens who have been on the show have talked openly about their struggles with eating, so for Ru to make a joke of it for about five seasons straight shows how out of touch she is with some of the struggles of the drag community.
RuPaul has made changes in the world of drag by bringing it to the public sphere and building an entire empire for queens to support both themselves and each other. As much as I appreciate her for making drag mainstream, I really dislike like the way she runs her show. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and RuPaul perpetuates this tired, old cliché. Ru is fabulous—there is no doubt about that, but she should be more sensitive to the issues that surround the drag community and use her voice to help her fellow queens, not alienate them.