LGBT TV – RuPaul’s Drag Race: The Drag Invasion

RuPauls Drag Race

As it is LGBT month in the UK, some of our OTB writers are talking about their favourite LGBT shows and films. First, Joseph Hallas looks into the world of drag superstardom.

In the past couple of years a brilliant US TV Show called RuPaul’s Drag Race finally came to UK screens via Netflix and Tru TV. If you haven’t heard of it, Drag Race is a reality TV show (one of the few decent ones) in which a dozen or so drag queens with wildly different looks and personalities all compete for the spot of “America’s Next Drag Superstar!” Hosted by legendary cross-dressing supermodel RuPaul- it’s one of the funniest, sassiest and most authentic programmes on television. It’s also super irreverent which highly appeals to my desire to mock everything.

Before I watched Drag Race, I have to admit that I didn’t really understand the whole drag community. I mean yes, I had stumbled into Manchester’s Canal Street a little, trollied a few times to see some drag shows, but I didn’t really see the people past the glitter & the rhinestones. RuPaul’s Drag Race has successfully lifted that mystique that comes with show business, and you begin to see how talented these men really are.

How many celebs are there who do all their own make-up, hair, costumes, jokes and routines by themselves? Not as many as we’d like to think. These queens are truly talented, more than just drunken entertainment, and they look sickening* while doing it (these are terms you will inevitably pick up). Whether it’s Bianca Del Rio’s sharp tongue; Sharon Needles’ gothic drag; or Katya Zamlodochikova’s Russian gymnastics, there really is something for everyone in this show.

I think the most fascinating thing about watching Drag Race as an LGBT viewer is that I feel I can relate to it more than other shows with LGBT characters. Gay characters in TV shows are widely side-lined into the cliché “bullied gay kid storyline”, “coming out storyline” and “one-dimensional gay best friend archetype” roles. This show features a plethora of gay (and occasionally transgender) men who all have their own distinct personalities, backstories, anecdotes and talents. We aren’t being portrayed as one-dimensional idiots. We’re being portrayed as fierce, diverse and talented.

The giant subculture that the show has spawned only further proves my point. It has a highly-frequented subreddit (r/rupaulsdragrace) featuring hundreds of forums, discussions, polls, memes and jokes all based around the show. The queens themselves frequently perform all around the world (including the UK) and have reinvigorated the LGBT scene all around the world because of it. I mean hell, season 6 queen Bianca Del Rio is headlining my local Manchester Apollo Theatre this month! That’s a 3,500 capacity building!  Drag Race has become more than a TV show, it’s become a movement all of its own!

Drag Race judge Michelle Visage has openly expressed her interest in integrating the show even more with UK TV. A self-confessed anglophile; she apparently is a big fan of the Scouse accent and Primark. We have to be known for something I suppose. You may have spotted her on Celebrity Big Brother 2015 giving death stares to Perez Hilton. It was magical.

So perhaps I have intrigued you into giving the show a chance? Be warned! Watching the show as a newbie can be a tad tricky, as there are a lot of drag and LGBT slang terms to pick up if you want to have a bloody clue what anyone is saying. I’ve watched the show with my mum a few times and often find myself pausing to explain the slang. Here is my quick glossary:

Fishy (adj)- a Queen who looks eerily like a woman.
KiKi (noun)- to have a gossip i.e. “let’s have a KiKi”.
Reading (verb)- insulting someone in a humorous way.
Shade (noun)- an insult, i.e. “she threw some shade about my shoes last night”.
Shady (adj)-  said about a person who is rude or backstabbing.
Sickening (adj)- to be brilliant and/or fabulous i.e. “OnTheBox is absolutely sickening”.

Unfortunately, I have to stop my glossary there because most of the other words are a little too PG-13 to continue with, but you get the idea.

The show has just announced the cast for its 9th season which is likely to premiere in the US around March.