By writing this piece, I can’t help but to feel slightly hypocritical. Let’s start by acknowledging that I am someone that believes that you cannot separate the artist from the art. This idea has definitely challenged my thought process and has complicated the concept of enjoying art solely for the feelings it creates within me. I am part of a generation that is often regarded as extremely sensitive, self-aware, and cancel-culture driven. While I do believe part of my generation does fit in that mold, I feel like my generation is simply one that craves accountability. We have let so many things slide over the years and been witnesses, or even victims, of behaviors that need to be stopped. I will not support an entity that goes against everything I believe in. For me, that entity is RuPaul.
RuPaul is an example of someone who lived enough to see himself become the villain. At this point you’re probably thinking, “Damn! What the hell did RuPaul do?” The reality is not about what he did, but rather who he became. In the 80’s RuPaul’s mere existence made people really uncomfortable. He self-describes as someone who was ready to challenge the status quo, to challenge the ideals of identity. “Drag was a tool because it was the most punk rock antiestablishment thing we could do,” RuPaul said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I decided to start doing drag more as a way to get a rise out of the existing drag community and the preppy Reagan ‘80s anti-disco story line.” When you google RuPaul in the 80’s, you see a strong confident force wearing combat boots, smeared eye liner, and ratty wigs. A definite polar opposite of the Glamazon that you see on TV today.
RuPaul’s style evolution has nothing to do with my disdain of him. While we don’t have makeup artists and stylists at our disposal, most of us have evolved our style as time has passed (I used to have a faux-hawk, an eyebrow piercing, and a shell necklace, but that’s a story for another time). But the reality is, even with the contributions he has made to my community, I find it hard to support someone with a documented past of backwards views on trans folk. I find it hard to support someone who runs a fracking operation on his own backyard without regards to the irreparable damage that industry makes. I find it hard to support someone who has seemingly replaced a genuine personality for an array of carefully constructed talk points.
RuPaul has openly admitted that in Drag Race, trans women are not welcomed. This was a shocking revelation, especially when you consider the inmensurable contributions the trans community offers to the drag world. Former Drag Race performer Willam said it best: “We work with trans women every night side by side, and for them to be denied the opportunities because of someone’s narrow-minded view on what they call ‘drag’ is fucked.” If that isn’t enough to make you question the morality of RuPaul, you must know that he makes part of his fortune out of allowing fracking operations to happen in the land he owns. Fracking is the practice of drilling for oil and gas that emits methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 84 times more climate-warming than carbon. The fracking process emits toxic air pollutants which can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Research also shows that poor people and people of color are more likely to be forced to deal with hydraulic fracturing in their community, and therefore disproportionately suffer the health problem it causes. RuPaul is the definition of capitalism. He may have built his brand with good intentions but along the way, money, awards, and fame took the driver’s seat.
And yet, I keep watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. How do I even justify that?
The truth is, at this point I watch Drag Race solely for the performers. For them, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime and for me it’s a chance to broaden my list of queer entertainers. I keep watching the show because representation matters and as queer people, we don’t have many shows that represent us justly. Think about it, how many times have you seen that tired, flamboyant, comic-relief caricature on sitcoms? How many times have you seen the flannel-wearing, tough lesbian trope simply used to point out the lack of masculinity of another character? Characters like that actually exist within the realm of our community, however, in the media, they are often written by white, cis writers in a malicious way, to make their white, cis audience knee-slap at the expense of our humanity. By watching Drag Race, at least I get to see members of my community thrive, and also stumble, as they inch closer towards a world that sees us for our humanity rather than our fashion, our sayings, or our quirks.
Imagine a world where RuPaul used his voice to shine a light on trans issues? Imagine a world where RuPaul used his voice to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement? Imagine a world where RuPaul used his voice to speak out against the irreparable damage fracking does to our already-flailing ecosystem? Just imagine how powerful that would be. But sadly, that is just something we won’t see soon, but head over to his Twitter so you can know where to download his latest collection of bare-minimum dance singles or where to watch his latest one-season-and-done production. *shade button sound*