With series seven in full, glorious swing, Rebecca Humphries explains why the reality show is just fabulous. Can she get an Amen up in here?
I was recommended the US reality sensation RuPaul’s Drag Race by more than one gay friend with an insistency unlike anything I’d ever experienced. A steely-eyed, quietly-burning assertiveness, a barely heard “You. Have. To. See it.”
“It’s big hair, too much make-up, bitchy queens with ridiculous fashion sense. You, of all people, would love it.” I was intrigued. And, obviously, incredibly insulted. And, to be honest, hesitant. My only experience of drag queens were rather frightening creatures in darkened cabaret bars pouncing on audience members. Once, at Madame Jojo’s, a queen tried to hit on my boyfriend. When he said he was with me, she proceeded to look me up and down and came back with “you poor bastard”. I wasn’t a fan. How little I knew.
Drag is so much more than big eyelashes, sequins and bad versions of Big Spender. RuPaul presides over a different world. A world where illusion is key, where what Cher says goes, where surprises, like genitals, are tucked away ready to protrude at any moment. Let me tell you why I love it.
RuPaul aka Mommy dearest, Supermodel of the World
RuPaul is RuPaul Charles; drag queen extraordinaire, Glamazon and all kinds of delicious. Every outfit is to die for, hair coiffed to perfection, with such stunning make-up it makes me question what I’ve been doing all this time. Ru appears as man and woman during each show, to lend a sympathetic ear and dish out advice, and in full drag to critique performances on the runway – often to hilarious effect. But unlike so many reality judges, Ru is only ever completely supportive and appears genuinely proud of her queens. In her own words – she do sassy, she don’t do bitchy. I could quote her all day.
I hate to pick favourites, but, hell, this is a competition about drag queens. It’s what they’d want. Sharon ‘When in Doubt Freak ’em Out’ Needles, her love of being different and the fact she named her drag mother ‘Robin Mansions’. Alaska, Sharon’s other half, responsible for my favourite perfume ad of all time. Bianca Del Rio, for carrying off the combination of smart mouth and big heart like no other. Chad Michaels, for making Cher a lady. LaTrice Royale, for takin’ me to church. Raja, for having a wardrobe I would stab a bitch for. Adore De’Lano, for giving me the phrase “I would stab a bitch”.
Dolly Parton once said, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap”, and no group ever embraced a statement with such fervour as this bunch of queens. Seriously, Ru’s girls don ensembles that make Strictly’s Orla look like Kate Middleton on a particularly stoic engagement. The looks range from showgirl to executive, from stripper to runway chic. Often made in 24 hours, held together with hot glue, stuck straight on the skin. There’s been fake blood, Big Bird, Carmen Miranda, sprouting angel wings and candy floss couture and that’s just off the top of my head.
The dictionary of terms
At first it’s another language entirely but once you’re on board you will not be able to get enough. It’s English with added fabulous. A glossary, for drag virgins:
Fierce: To look incredible
Sickening: To look so incredible you make me sick
To ‘read’: Witty bitching at someone to their face, passively or not. (“I love your outfit; did you just make it?”) Reading should be in good humour. Unlike…
Throwing shade: To put out someone’s light, to be aggressively bitchy
Now sissy that walk: Walk like a woman
Fishy: To look especially like a woman (see Courtney Act, Carmen Carrera)
Realness: To look real, lack of camp
“I’m serving”: The look you’re going for, e.g. “I’m serving fishy realness” = I look exactly like a real woman
Kiki: Party, not to be confused with…
Kai Kai: When two queens do it. I’m pretty sure they’re deliberately similar.
The elimination round
We’ve seen the X Factor out-of-tune sing-off. We’ve witnessed Strictly’s bottom two being dragged around the dance floor dejectedly. No elimination round can ever compare with the Lip Sync For Your Life, where two queens pit their miming skills against each other to diva tunes from the likes of Britney, Aretha, Lady Gaga…you get the idea. You will never see contestants fighting to stay in a race like it – they spin, kick, do splits, wigs are (often) pulled off, as are whole outfits…It’s honestly as though they are fighting for survival. Camp heaven.
The triumph over adversity
It stands to reason that anyone who really found themselves by being someone else has issues to contend with. Much of the show’s heart comes from the candid confessions from the girls while putting on the slap; their isolation from a young age, their conviction they were different and somehow ‘made wrong’. Many hail from religious backgrounds and have parents who have shunned their choices. It is shocking to hear how many have contemplated suicide, how some have attempted it. When the subject of HIV and AIDS is broached, it is dealt with such understanding and tenderness it is truly humbling to see. Until five minutes later when they’re back throwing shade and trading bitchisms.
It’s all about light and shade, this show. I’ve learned a lot from these girls. I’ve learned being magnanimous makes you beautiful. That you can be supportive and helpful to others in a competitive environment; because other people’s abilities do not in any way lessen those of your own. That subtlety is for wimps (except when contouring, then it’s essential). And that, in the words of RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gon’ love somebody else. Can I get an Amen up in here?”3669 Views
Rebecca is an actress and writer from Norwich. She likes her portions big and her dogs small. @Beckshumps