Issue 11, Semester 1
By Dinu Kamurasinghe
In 2017 I spent a lot of time watching men glue eyebrows, contour cheeks, pad hips and tuck until camel toe becomes a compliment. In between brushstrokes and blending, I found some of the most poignant television I’ve ever watched. I would watch these (mostly) men with their hair pulled back in what, to my uninitiated eyes, looked like a stocking and packing tape, overdrawing their lips and slapping their faces with blenders and sometimes I’d find my heart in my stomach. Now in its tenth season (not including All-Stars and Untucked), I’ve fallen deep in painful, joyous love with RuPaul’s Drag Race.
This past year has been both tough and triumphant for queerness, and the fallout continues closer to home. I suppose it was unsurprising that I looked to one of the queerest shows ever to deal. I had laughed every now and then at late-night episodes of Ru telling queens to shantay or sashay, but ultimately, I was (and still am a bit…) suspicious of drag and its reliance on a binary gender split.
This season, it has been great entertainment to watch Vixen fight, fall, shine and tear up, but it has also been strangely cathartic. In episode four of Untucked, Vixen spoke about coming across as an ‘angry black woman’ because she is never the one to cry when she feels attacked. Instead, she fights back. When you finally see some salt in Vixen’s eyes, it’s when Asia O’Hara spoke to her with care and understanding.
Asia noted that Vixen had valid reason to be angry, but that it wasn’t gonna get Vixen any further. It’s an unsavoury reality, but it captured how women of colour have to be careful about everything--even their anger. Even that, we must dole out deliberately and gracefully. Watching Vixen fight, yell then nail a performance is not unfamiliar. I know the feel of being the one that argues back and then comes out with the glitter and gags (or in Vixen’s case, glitter and construction paper).
Drag Race is full of confusing and difficult moments like this. It was important to see Peppermint reveal that she is trans to her fellow queens, anxious of the reaction she would get in what is supposed to be a game of men doing women (even according to Ru himself). And I can’t forget when Detox broke down in real tears in a mini-challenge where the queens were telenovela-style bawling. To watch RuPaul Charles’ perfect face falter for a moment was odd. Somewhere along the way I realised this is the queerness I love. It’s performative, it’s silly and it bloody hurts.
This is Drag Race. It’s filled with performance, joy, sass and sadness. And through it all, it’s about backing yourself. It’s about getting your catchphrase in an episode as many times as possible (from your lips or otherwise—miss Vaaaaaanjie).
I won’t pretend drag is without its problems; I know the gay community has many issues when it comes to bodies, race and image. A drag show with a style like Top Model doesn’t exactly help . But Drag Race resonates with me because I recognise the humour, anger and intensity in how I experience queerness, brownness, mental health and so on. I realise that I can laugh and I can cry and it can come from the same place. And somehow it can end up feeling better.
I sat down today and watched an episode of Drag Race. I watched it sideways under my doona where I could feel my stomach digesting my depression. But despite that, the rain bucketing down outside and my certainty that at least one tree is going to fall on a car, I feel strong enough to get out of the house. I’m going to place a tasteful rhinestone somewhere on my face and pretend that my anxiety, my sadness, myself, is a shiny, light reflecting piece of pale pink plastic. And it’s gonna look faaaaabulous.
Because in the words of a famed queen you can by now guess the name of, If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?