It was right after ringing in the New Year that I got my wisdom teeth removed. Trapped in my house with virtually all my friends gone and a cheek the size of a golf ball I did what most millennials do in their free time – I binge-watched an entire TV series. That is when I stumbled upon RuPaul’s Drag Race. As soon as the opening began to play I was hooked, not only was the show funny and entertaining but it also revealed the true artistry and talent it takes to succeed as a successful drag queen, while still drawing attention to the many transformative emotional experiences drag produces for these queens.
A few episodes in I managed to convince my mom to sit down and watch it with me, and although she was delighted and fascinated by it she still had some confusions surrounding what drag was. So she asked me, what was the difference between being trans and being a drag queen? Answering this was tricky because although drag traditionally defines these as two separate entities, we all know that one’s relationship with their gender identity is completely unique and personal to them, and is often connected to other aspects of their life. The best answer I could supply her was that drag is a social commentary on gender and is a way of idealizing the female form through performance and self-expression; whereas being trans is about a physical and emotional connection to that gender – but that the two can and do cross over very easily.
This was a statement that I assumed was generally understood throughout the drag community, especially now that more drag queens are proclaiming their trans identities. So to hear the LGBTQ+ rights icon and pioneer of mainstream drag, RuPaul, express that he felt differently about this, it struck a chord with many people, myself included. In an article originally released on The Guardian, RuPaul stated, “You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.” To hear RuPaul declare this soon after Peppermint, a finalist on season nine of the show who made the bold move of coming forward with her trans identity on one heartfelt episode seemed hypocritical at the least. Soon after making these comments RuPaul also released a tweet comparing hormones to performance-enhancing drugs, which only led him to receive even greater backlash from his fans and the LGBTQ+ community. Although he did eventually apologize, the implications of his statement run much deeper than a simple tweet can express, they reveal the true stigma that exists for trans people – even within their own community.
RuPaul’s backlash against the trans community uncovers just how set in tradition drag is to him. For RuPaul and many other older drag queens, they feel that drag has always been a certain way, and that this custom is what defines drag. But what many of the more modern drag queens have come to understand is that drag is no longer just about rejecting male stereotypes. With the social and political upheaval that has occurred over the course of drag history, drag has transformed into a whole new type of societal rebellion and self-expression. Drag queens are no longer confined to one type of drag, they are allowed and encouraged to reinvent drag by displaying what drag means for them. This has lead to the formation of a whole new lineage of drag personas, many of which do not fit the conventional “rules” of drag. And with the growing popularity of drag kings, it prompts the question: why do gender and drag have to be connected? If drag’s original purpose was to serve as a positive outlet for members of the LGBTQ+ community to rebel against the oppression they faced in mainstream society, restricting it to certain gender limitations goes against the true core of the movement.