In pre-millennial years, if a man clad in a dress, a pair of high heels and a full face of makeup appeared on national television, it’s safe to say a few eyebrows would be raised, and the reception would be largely negative.
However, with shows like Modern Family, Will & Grace and Glee paving the way for LGBT representation in recent years (albeit cultivating certain stereotypes – sorry Kurt!), it seems that television has entered a new era.
Whether for comedic reasons, inadvertent homophobia, or simply for the sake of ‘equal representation’, the gay stereotype has been torturously exploited over the last decade or two. In recent years however, it looks as though this painfully pigeonholed personality has finally served its time.
Naturally, casting gay men and women as the funny supporting characters had its importance once upon a time, but their appearance purely for comedic purposes in this day and age is antiquated to say the least. I do not wish to disregard queer characters of the past in any way, as they served an important role in their time. For a lot of them however, they existed as gay merely for the sake of fair representation, and queer issues were never at the forefront of their two-dimensional storylines.
An all-gay show didn’t seem feasible a decade ago, with fear that the conservative backlash would outshine the concept itself. This all changed in 2009 with the airing of RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR), marking the beginning of drag’s global takeover, and the growing popularity of gay culture in mainstream media.
The show fosters a message of self-love, pride, and acceptance, with each episode ending with Ru proclaiming “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gon’ love somebody else?! Can I get an ‘Amen?” – followed proudly by an “Amen” from everyone in the room. The show has indeed provided the world with an entirely new – and utterly fabulous – dialect, with phrases like “Yaaas Queen”, “Shade” and “Werk!” dominating everyday life and the internet. It seems as though there is no escape from the dreaded gay agenda, and it seems the world is completely fine with that (finally).
The show is so much more than a drag competition however – where fierce competitors battle for a coveted spot in the Drag Race winners’ circle, to reign as America’s Next Drag Superstar, and to receive $100,000 – its mere existence is a political statement in itself, and it serves as a massive “F-you” to the hetero-normative society it is slowly stamping out.
With both the show and its competitors throughout the years having social media followings in the millions, RPDR acts as a platform to encourage public discourse when it comes to LGBT issues and provides an outlet for young queer children all over the world to let them know it is ok to be different, and furthermore, it is something that should be celebrated. The show certainly has done its part in raising awareness on mental health issues within the queer community, transgender struggles, stories of institutional and family rejection, and battles against HIV.
With guest judges like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande and Kesha in recent years, it seems RPDR has finally achieved the success it deserves, and the queens on each season can shape genuine career paths for themselves after the show; with queens appearing in mainstream television, in Broadway musical productions, or topping the charts with original music albums of their own. The show has undoubtedly elevated the art of drag to an astronomical scale, and this has forged a new avenue for LGBT representation in mainstream media.
Boasting a net worth of over 7 million dollars, Ru has certainly forged an empire for himself, and his work towards LGBT rights, recognition and celebration is not something that should be taken for granted or treated lightly. Having just received his own star on Hollywood’s ‘Walk of Fame’, RuPaul Charles has blurred the lines with regards to societal expectations of gender, sexuality and self-expressive art, and has played a monumental role in rewriting herstory.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is available on Netflix, VH1, and Comedy Central.