Over 6 seasons and 75 drag queens, RuPaul’s Drag Race has been one of the oddest and yet most compelling TV programs out there. If you haven’t seen it yet, each season a number of America’s greatest drag queens battle it out over a number of challenges to be crowned ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar — imagine Project Runway mixed with The Apprentice mixed with ball-tucking. Not only that, but the whole thing is judged by RuPaul, Supermodel of the World and basically the Gandalf of drag. But apart from it being one of the best reality programs out there for the sheer madness of it all (previous challenges have included making couture gowns inspired by dogs, filming informercials for the troops and making a musical of RuPaul’s life called — of course — Shade: The RuSical), the wonderfully amped up nature of it all means that you get to see real life issues played out in exaggerated form. You can learn a lot from these queens, who have after all taken any rejection and hostility you get for being gay and turned it into something camp, fun and creative, and teach us:
1. Pretty can only take you so far.
Every year Drag Race features a number of so-called ‘fishy’ queens (called ‘fishy’ because, in a piece of great gay slang, they look like women, but there’s something a little fishy about them…). They admittedly look stunning, and the guest judges rave about how beautiful they are for the first few episodes, and then…well, they just fizzle out, constantly being outdone in the challenges by the queens who have taken their time learning other skills and developing senses of humor, and quickly told to ‘sashay away’. Similarly, in real life, being beautiful and having a great body will be fine for a surprisingly long time but, as Bianca Del Rio so effortlessly put it, ‘beauty fades. Dumb is forever.’
Queens we learn this from: Mariah, Gia Gunn, Vivienne Pinay, Rebecca Glasscock and many other queens that you only half remember.
Key quote: Judge Michelle Visage to Carmen Carrera: “STOP RELYING ON THAT BODY!”
2. REALLY listen to your elders.
Everything that we hold dear in our lives had to be fought for by somebody at one time or another, and drag is such a poignant example of this. Drag queens all over the world are being inspired right now by Drag Race, and the queens themselves are inspired are inspired by Paris is Burning and RuPaul, who themselves owe every things to drag figures like Marsha P. Johnson who started the protests at Stonewall 45 years ago. Those of older generations have so much to teach us, and queens who don’t listen to their elders are soon sent home by those old enough to see through their precociousness and (as Drag Race legend Latrice Royale put it) ‘romper room fuckery.’
Queens we learn this from: Wise drag goddesses Latrice Royale and Bianca Del Rio, and Phi Phi O’Hara, who admittedly she’d never seen Paris is Burning and was then lost in the final to two more knowledgable aware queens.
Key quote: Adore Delano about Bianca Del Rio: “She’s everything I want to be when I’m 57*….*laughs* she’s going to kill me!”
*Bianca is 37.
3. Most people are bitchy to others because of their own insecurities.
What really makes Drag Race so successful is that behind the fun and fierceness there’s real heart. Where lesser reality shows would be happy just to edit villains into being, Drag Race really shows us how much pain can be behind someone lashing out at others. This can make for uncomfortable viewing, as you invest hatred in someone only to realize that inside they are just a scared and abandoned child inside. Doing drag in a world obsessed with masculinity is hard, and this takes its toll. And just like in Drag Race, sometimes you need to think that this person being shit to you is only doing so because the world has been shit to them.
Queens we learn this from: Roxxxy Andrews and Phi Phi O’Hara, the respective bitches of their serious whose hostility masked a pain that was quite often devastating to watch.
Key quote: Ru’s now famous sign-off at the end of each episode: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
4. “If in doubt, freak ‘em out.”
So said by perhaps the greatest drag queen the series ever produced, season 4’s Sharon Needles. And whereas we might not be willing to go as far as her and walk the catwalk bleeding from the mouth as she did for the ‘RuPocalypse Now’ challenge, but we can all stand to learn that often the most creative and memorable way to do something is to do the opposite of what everyone is expecting you to do. This is true of many problems, from professional to the personal. At the very least you’re going to stand out, and if you can do it as well as Sharon Needles, season 4’s eventual winner, you can really go far.
Queens we learn this from: Any of the last three winners: Raja, Sharon Needles and Jinkx Monsoon took this mantras and took home the crown because of it.
5. Life is infinitely better if you are wearing a dress based on a pineapple.
Seriously, Google ‘Manila Luzon pineapple dress’ and tell me this isn’t the finest TV program there has ever been.