The Art of Drag: What Ru Can Do For You!

Start your engines! That’s right, RuPaul’s Drag Race is back for season 8 of this cult phenomenon reality series. Wait, what? You haven’t heard? Where have you been! RuPaul’s Drag Race is a reality TV show which each year sets to find out America’s next top drag superstar, awarded by superstar model of the universe, RuPaul. Imagine America’s Next Top Model but with drag queens and ten times more shade. At the end of each week, two drag queens must fight it out on stage in the most epic lip sync of their lives. The series achieved cult status in recent years and since its addition to Netflix, it has been amassing more fans ever since. In fact, it was RUvealed last year that Jonathan Ross has purchased the rights for a UK version of the series, and many fans await in anticipation to see how it will turn out. The question on everyone’s lips however is just why a reality show such as RuPaul is so important for LGBTQ* issues and its community? How can we find inspiration from drag as an art form? Well, let’s delve in and enter the RUniverse.

RuPaul originally created the series to elevate drag as an art form, and it’s clear that its influence has been far greater than originally anticipated. I discovered the series a few years ago when starting university. At first, I thought it was a novelty but when I realised the amount of work the contestants put in, I was amazed. I delved into the scene here at Leeds, visiting clubs such as Viaduct which host a range of drag cabaret. It made me realise that these were people’s careers and the contestants were competing for more than just a title. They were competing for their dream goal.

The contestants were competing for more than just a title. They were competing for their dream goal.

What does drag mean? Many of us who have been subjected to gender studies will argue the idea that drag mocks identity, and is a satire on societal expectations of gender. Others, less informed, may think it’s just a novelty and bares no importance to the LGBTQ* community. Wrong. So wrong. I would agree that drag mocks identity, but it goes further beyond LGBTQ* issues and in fact, inspired many more communities. As a G myself, I enjoyed the empowerment and courage that it takes to perform as drag. My theatre background allows me to understand characterisation and the portrayal of a role on stage, but I see more than just a brand in many of the queens. The show has been so powerful for the scene that many queens are still basking in their glory, touring the world. We’ve had a fair few queens tour Leeds too. From season six winner, Bianca Del Rio, to show favourites, Wilam, Latrice Royale, Courtney Act and Alaska Thunderf**k 5000, it is clear that there is a cult following for the queens. If you are interested in seeing some drag, Viaduct showbar always have cabaret acts throughout the week, and I’m sure that many more RuPaul’s Drag Race stars will visit our city in months to come.

While it is exciting to see the queens, it can come with a price. Paying up to £40 to say ‘hi‘ and have a photo is all fun and part of the drag club culture, but I think that in order to get the most out of drag, you have to see its importance beyond the stage antics and performances. Let’s have a look at RuPaul herself. Rupaul has had an amazing career, a key highlight of this was being the covergirl for MAC makeup in the 90s was a strong standing point for challenging gender ideals. Ru’s career took off again with this new season but we see a clear divide between Rupaul Charles in the workroom and Rupaul the drag queen. This shows the difference between character and self, and it’s important to realise that if its takes a character for someone to identify themselves then fine, so be it.

Many of us can take real inspiration from drag without having to drag up, and I would urge those who aren’t necessarily involved with LGBTQ* directly to see how drag can inspire you too. For example, I see myself as a drag ambassador rather than an aspiring drag queen (I don’t really suit dresses, unfortunately). However, I did gain heaps of confidence by watching the show and so can you. Drag isn’t just for the LGBTQ* community, it’s for equality. I was impressed to see so many straight fans when I saw the AAA girls in Mission. Studying here at Leeds has never been a problem for my sexuality, I’ve never felt part of a minority or segregated community and I owe a lot of that to the arts I enjoy here in the city. From drag queens to theatre and galleries or even nights out, I take inspiration from forms such as drag and embody their confidence. Because, after all, as RuPaul so joyfully says: ‘if you can’t love yourself then how the hell you gonna love anyone else?’ Amen!

Mark McDougall

Image courtesy of TruTV

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