Have Straight People Appropriated Drag Race And Made It a Drag?

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CRuPaul’s Drag Race, the hit show on Netflix, is undeniably ground-breaking for raising awareness for LGBT+ issues from racism, transgender rights, and issues like HIV/AIDS and ongoing homophobic intolerance. However, a recent discussion within the LGBT+ community has opened up with Drag Race hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons with the question being asked in a recent Radio Times article – “Has the hit show RuPaul’s Drag Race become appropriated by straight people?”.

With talk of appropriation and what can and can’t be said/done being the hot topic in today’s society, it’s difficult to know where you stand on issues like this. Fundamentally I would say that the point of broadcasting a TV programme is to get people to watch it and be there to entertain. So how can you entertain people if no one’s watching? 

You can’t exclude a whole sect of society from watching a TV programme as it sort of goes against the whole point of Drag Race encouraging tolerance and diversity. What’s more, RuPaul’s show is the pinnacle of decades of hard work. He appears on shows across the globe from The Graham Norton Show to James Cordon’s The Late Late Show advertising Drag Race and selling people on how entertaining and inclusive it is. It’s his creation. His pride and joy. So why would he not want as many viewers as possible? 

Drag Race is going so far in raising awareness for often ignored issues. Trinity K. Bonet, known out of drag as Joshua Jones, was one of the most publicised contestants to come out as HIV positive and said that he wanted to go on Drag Race to show people with the virus that they still have so much to live for. Having a safe space to talk about these issues is so important for so many people who feel marginalised by society.

Some, on Twitter and Reddit for the most part, are arguing that rather than promoting assimilation Drag Race becoming mainstream is diluting gay culture. The language historically used by drag queens has now become so mainstream many people don’t even know the origins. Take “Okurr”, which has become a widely used and accepted word taken from the rapper Cardi B. One article in Yahoo even started with the headline “Who actually came up with “Okurr” Cardi B or Khloé Kardashian?”. 

This is the epitome of what critics are calling appropriation. Straight people have taken this word and claimed it as their own. Anyone who has watched Drag Race or are familiar with drag culture will be able to tell you this is not true. Yet people are still adamant it was a straight woman who came up with the word. In this sense, you can see why people are so angry because it does seem like straight people are just taking parts of this culture that they like but not giving credit to the origins. 

However, the very problematic point people are making about ‘gay culture’ being appropriated is up for debate itself. Criticisms for the widespread use of the word ‘shade’ is one of the main arguments for those against the mainstream popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, the word ‘shade’ originates from the queer black ballroom subculture of New York that has been showcased in films like ‘Paris is Burning’. Saying that people are misusing the word and appropriating LGBT+ culture isn’t right because the word is from a very specific subculture some of those people themselves are not part of. Treating LGBT+ culture as a singular thing is narrowing it down to certain attributes and traits fitting a stereotype. For those who don’t fit this stereotype, this can be very damaging and isolating. 

You can’t just tie a neat ribbon around a group of people and say that they all fit this one specific mould.  In the words of one of the most renowned Drag Race winners Bianca Del Rio, “There’s not a gate around all the gay people in a community. That’s so silly! What’s ‘gay culture’? What’s exclusive?! The world is not full of that many gay people and a lot of gay people don’t like Drag Race!” 

By Freya Hillyer

Image Credit: Wow Presents.com