NO GIRLS ALLOWED: Bio Queens, Boy Drag & Belonging
RuPaul is no stranger to controversy, and her latest comments have exploded all over social media. When asked about allowing biological females on RuPaul’s Drag Race she responded with “That show already exists. It’s called #MissUniverse” and while her comment is humorous, it’s also insensitive to those who are seeking acceptance.
We are witnessing an explosion of biological queens, CIS-gendered female drag queens, whose very existence has proven to be a threat to their male drag counterparts. Historically drag culture has been dominated by men who use drag as a means to poke fun at traditional gender roles. Take Crimson Kitty, NYC’s reigning LadyQueen who recently celebrated a decade of performing at the legendary The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Make no mistake about it, Crimson is one killer queen, and while many assume that it’s easier for a bio women to do drag because they already have feminine features and so the process of getting ready (i.e. make-up, hip/breast pads and hair) is much easier, it can take up to several hours from Crimson Kitty to get ready for a show, Her fastest make-up application was 45 minutes. One look at her hyper-exaggerated persona and you’ll understand how much work and creativity goes into each show.
Drag continues to evolve from its “Look-A-Like” beginnings, which is why we are seeing so much fierce competition within the major cities that embrace drag. There’s still no shortage of boys willing to dress as girls and flap their arms to a song they barely know, but this is no longer enough to build a career out of. Legitimized by RuPaul, drag has reached mass penetration, by which I mean it’s now mainstream, so it’s no wonder we are experiencing an influx of gender-defying drag alternatives. Up until RuPaul’s Drag Race, we’ve judged drag artists by how well they can mimic and lip sync a song, but the bar has been raised so high that simply showing up on time and in a fabulous outfit is no longer enough. Audiences and fellow queens are pushing each other even farther than ever.
“RuPaul stated in the past that the ONLY thing [s]he screens for is Charisma, Uniqueness, Talent and Nerve. However for those applying, it’s not quite that cut and dry in terms of what they do or don’t accept.” says Crimson, “While I think RuPaul’s response was flippant and snarky, it is also part of how he portrays himself to the public. It was a joke for him, but for many of us struggling for acceptance, whether it be a LadyQueen or Drag King, it really hit home. As women, we work just as hard if not harder to elevate ourselves to a professional level. Even in certain hierarchies of nightlife we still get treated as if we don’t belong by a majority of gay men. It makes our artists journey that much harder to climb.”
As an institution, drag could be a lot more inclusive, but at the same time we need to remember that gender, labels and sexuality do matter in the larger scheme of things. To abandon these things in favour of inclusivity just might come at the expense of the very things that make us unique. The latest urban argument is “We don’t need labels and no one cares if you are gay, straight, male, female, black or white any more” but this kind of comment usually comes from people of privilege, usually white and straight. Any gay that tells you it doesn’t matter lives in a complacent box, sheltered from the real world. Moreover I would argue that these types of comments are literally breaking down the fibre of our community, making it extra hard for our LGBT brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Just last week a Bangladesh gay rights activist was hacked to death, so try telling his parents that labels don’t matter anymore.
Crimson Kitty hosts a weekly screening party for RuPaul’s Drag Race in Brooklyn, NYC.
About the Author
Raymond Helkio is an author, director filmmaker, and graduate of Ontario College of Art & Design. He currently lives in both Toronto and New York. His most recent play, LEDUC, is now available in paperback. www.raymondhelkio.com