2 hours, 8 minutes
Released: March 8, 2018
Recorded: March 5 & 6, 2018
In the first part of a two part WEBurlesque special, Viktor reaches out to drag performers across the country to get their takes on RuPaul’s then-recent interview in The Guardian where he claims drag is more “subversive” when cis men do it as opposed to any other gender. Many artists had a lot to say on the topic and these two episodes are the recordings of the mini interviews Viktor had with all of them.
The first interview is with Crimson Kitty, a nonbinary drag queen who is the creative mind behind Lady Queen Collective, a showcase entirely devoted to featuring assigned female at birth performers.
On the subject of Drag Race, Crimson Kitty believes that it has been both a blessing and a curse to the drag community as a whole: “There are a lot of opportunities I would not be able to have had it not been for the popularity and the rise of drag in our society. That is a fact….it definitely has changed it, it definitely has opened up new avenues, but at the same time, because we are getting such a linear version of what drag should be it has also closed doors as well. So honestly it’s a double-edged sword.”
When it comes to their career as a “hyper queen”, Crimson Kitty has struggled to find a place in what is now considered “mainstream drag.” They also have unfortunately had to go through the task of explaining their identity to others repeatedly.: “Being someone who is an educator you have to put forth a lot of emotional labor to explain to people calmly and I struggle with the word calmly…. Because it’s very easy to get defensive. I tend and I have gotten defensive in the past. For me as I grow into my character and myself more it’s very important for me to be patient with the children. But ‘Lady Queens’ started as a joke… [it was] a kind of compromise. And while I shouldn’t say I compromise in my drag career; I’ve had to out of necessity of wanting to be on stage…it was about going through the back door.”
At the end of the day however, Crimson Kitty strongly believes everyone can perform drag who wants to: “No one gets to define your drag but you. Everyone is able to perform drag whether they want to or not. Everyone has a place on stage.”
The next performer Viktor calls is Gloria Swansong, a trans drag artist who mostly does shows in Manhattan. Like Crimson Kitty, Gloria talks about how the work of coming out as transgender is never really finished. It’s a process you go through again and again: “As a trans person, every day is education. Every day with my family, with my friends, with people I don’t know… as much as you don’t want to, you’re always having to educate people around you….So any kind of situation like this I always approach it with education and empathy…. That being said, I also strongly believe that the brand of RuPaul’s Drag Race is separate from RuPaul’s own issues and whoever he is as a human.”
While this issue is obviously very upsetting, Gloria also feels the need to point out that humans are flawed, and while the urge to “cancel” someone may be strong when things like this happen, you shouldn’t necessarily write someone off completely: “There are a lot of people who want to burn the barn or just completely dismantle everything the moment that we decide someone is problematic… and that’s not how change happens… We should look to renovate before we try to burn the whole thing down…People watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and that is the only exposure they have to drag and they start equating gay male cattiness with drag, or they start equating things that have happened on the show with drag queens. But I don’t necessarily blame Rupaul’sDrag Race for that. I blame people who only watch reality tv and that’s all they care about.”
After finishing up with Gloria, Viktor gets on the phone with Vylette Tendency, another nonbinary drag performer who comes from the Brooklyn scene. The moment the conversation starts, Vylette is very up front and open about their view on the situation: “I will say this completely on record: Fuck RuPaul, fuck what money has done to RuPaul…. The Rupaul that I had learned about when I was a kid, the club kid RuPaul that did not have an empire, was a punk. RuPaul had a mohawk and like did her makeup in a fucking car….to hear that person… it’s got to be money…. This is what he has based his entire empire off of, is very pretty female impersonators. As shitty as it is to hear what he said, it’s not that shocking.”
Vylette laments what Drag race has done to the drag scene and how formulaic it has become. While some spots in the boroughs do cater to more alternative and queer friendly drag, the majority apparently do not: “What Drag Race has done to drag in the bars, there’s like a science now… Pop song plus death drop plus jump split equals you are probably going to get booked again.”
From there, Viktor moves away from the New York contingent for a moment to reach out to Ophelia Nightbird, a performer in San Diego who recently moved from New York City. Ophelia basically agrees with what a lot of the other artists have said about RuPaul as both a performer and a symbol of a capitalistic brand: He and his show have been great for the business of drag, but not necessarily for the art: “While I do love Drag Race from an entertainment standpoint, and I’ve had many friends on the show and I think it’s been wonderful how it’s advanced the careers of so many girls and given so many people chances and taken drag and kind of elevated it to a certain level… I also feel that it’s been kind of a hindrance in that the awareness that it’s brought to the mainstream is… very feminine presenting.You know padded, fishy looking, it’s very certain aesthetic in a way. It’s very branded to the RuPaul brand if you will. Which is not consistent with what drag is. Because drag is so many things, it goes so far beyond that RuPaul’s Drag Race brand.”
When it comes to the topic of RuPaul claiming it is more political and “punk rock” to do drag as a cis man, Ophelia believes that the entire concept is rather ridiculous and tone deaf to what is going on in our current political climate: “What is more punk then having to fight to be acknowledged? And fighting against people who are saying you are not worthy? What is more punk than that?… To not give a chance to someone just because they are trans or because they are assigned female at birth is really hypocritical.”
As a follow up to that sentiment, Viktor gets in touch with Bronze Bettina, a drag and burlesque performer who grew up in the south with the same cultural touchstones that RuPaul himself had: “He comes from the club tradition that I come from. Anytime you went to Oz in the French Quarter or the Common Ground in Ithaca, NY or fucking Limelight, and he still has that attitude. He hasn’t changed that much from who he is and there was no incentive for him to change because the allure of his level of attitude was part of his brand…. I never expecting RuPaul to be…. a civil rights role model? RuPaul puts on really nice dresses because they make him money. RuPaul’s drag in the beginning was very like gender fuck, very DIY, very ‘yes I made this out of construction paper.’…and he made a conscious decision to go towards the evening gown version because people were paying him for it. So that’s not really who he is. So, the idea he’s dumping shit on trans people and gender queer people and stuff like that A. doesn’t surprise me, and B. sounds like sour grapes.”
Bettina echoes previous sentiments that the drag that Drag Race promotes isn’t the kind of drag that has historically been so important to queer people: “My experience doing drag was that it was a celebration of all the things the queer community is about artistically and [promoting a sense of] family.”
To finish the first half of this two-part round table podcast, Viktor closes the episode with some short antidotes from Faux Pas Le Fae. Mostly a circus and side show performing artist, Faux Pas is a trans woman that has occasionally dabbled in drag kinging with her wife and performance partner Aurora North. She sees RuPaul’s comments as dangerous for furthering the invalidation of trans people’s identities: “I feel a lot of respect for what this artist has accomplished. I cannot fathom what it is like to grow up a gay person of color and I think they have overcome a ton, and so there are a lot of things I think are amazing about this person’s life. That said, we all sometimes need to be confronted- to me not in an antagonistic way- but in a respectful way. And that becomes harder when you have more power and privilege…. [he added] fuel to the heteronormative argument that there is just something wrong with trans people and it shouldn’t be accepted or allowed… It’s disturbing, it really is.”
- Synopsis written by Raina Sinclair for WEBurlesque
- Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
- Interlude Music: “Apero Hour” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
- everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp