Can Ru Paul’s Drag Race end homophobia?
If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch Logo’s “Ru Paul’s Drag Race,” you are missing out on a rare opportunity to witness a miracle of media. The competition pits beautiful Drag Queens against each other in a challenge to be beautiful, to be resourceful, and to have the charm, grace, and dignity of Ms. Ru Paul Hirself. The miracle is that the show has returned for a second season and has yet to lose the political power that can be gained by using this as a vehicle for education about homophobia and transphobia. The show I described could easily fall into the category of Miss America Pageants in terms of reinforcing sexism and objectification of women, except the gender, race, and sexuality play that happens in the show effectively illustrates the complicated reality of human sexuality.
Now, I don’t want to exaggerate how Radical this show is, it still has the underlying goal of dominating other people, demonstrates the height of bitchiness that can happen in the gay community (which may or may not accurately reflect YOUR experience with the gay community), and has that ridiculous “how many ways can we embarrass people” aspect of reality shows that keep a diverse audience returning to watch it again and again.
I often do trainings for youth and adults about anti-homophobia, and the real trick is breaking down the mysterious image they have into real, complicated people that have a lot in common with them. The Drag competition highlights the professionalism and artwork that goes into performing as Women. In the process, we can begin to question our own beliefs about what a “Woman” is, I mean, if she looks like a woman, who’s to say she isn’t? The show also spends time sharing a little more about the contestants. We see Men with children, Men who were HIV +, Men who look like they could kick your ass. . . and we begin to see that there’s nothing threatening about it, nothing disgusting or repulsive- it’s just awesome performance.
This show has a diverse group of contestants in terms of their race, nationality, age, body size, and expression of femininity. You can watch a BBW drop into the splits and do it while talking about sizism in the challenges. You will watch as one of the Ladies is schooled on manners after she was rude to an older gentleman on the street. Ru Paul said “I do sassy, I don’t do Bitchy.” Bringing it back from being “lady like” to being respectful and considerate.
If you’re looking for a current, pop culture reference to get the conversation about sexuality, oppression, or gender started, look no further. And have fun while helping to end homophobia, stop gender policing, and to have more freedom for queer and straight people to express their sexuality and gender how they want.