Roundtable: And the Rest is Drag (pt 2)

bonus-dragrace2 hours, 36 minutes
Released: March 8, 2018
Recorded: March 5 & 6, 2018

In the second part of this special roundtable episode of WEBurlesque The Podcast, Viktor Devonne continues his discussions with nightlife performers from New York and throughout the country about RuPaul’s interview in The Guardian and his comments about the gatekeeping of drag performance.


The first interview is with Daphne Always, a trans woman that identifies as a cabaret artist and sometimes drag queen: “For me, I feel more like a drag queen when I’m performing a character… When It’s a more party sort of room as opposed to a cabaret space where I feel like I’m being a little bit more genuinely myself… for me drag is about the level of artifice to it.”

When asked about her feelings on RuPaul’s Drag Race as a show, Daphne says the public may be given it more credit as a serious vehicle for representation of queer culture than it deserves: “I think it is a fantastic reality television competition. I think it has taken on meaning and a place in the queer community and some straight communities that is maybe a little bit more loftier and a little bit more unwieldy than what it should be taken as. Which is a reality television competition… I think at one point it absolutely was [something I wanted to audition for], it seems like the end all be all…But that was before I actually started working as a performer… and once I did I realized that…it’s just not for me. It kind of really defeats the purpose of [performing] for me. If we are gonna sit around and compare and say this is more valuable than that… I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with competition…I just don’t think I could handle everybody across the world having an opinion about how worthwhile my livelihood has been because I wore hair that Michelle Visage read me to filth for.”

Continuing on to exactly how Drag Race has changed the face of the drag scene itself, Daphne laments that its nature as a reality show has stripped away some of the mystique and personal privacy drag performers used to have in exchange for a “behind the scenes look”  at who the queens are: “It does this thing where people start to claim access to performers and their personal lives and the validity of what they do. And I think that has a lot to do with the show showing the queens in and out of drag… For a long time, the point of a drag queen was that you saw them on the stage, and you saw the fantasy that they [were] creating… and that’s how you [knew] that person. But then RuPaul’s Drag Race introduced this whole idea of quote ‘Who is this queen as a boy?’ Which then, if you pull that thread, which inevitably we all did, it leads to part of what is being consumed here is not just the drag performance, but the person themselves. Who they are as an individual.”

As the interview wraps up, Daphne and Viktor finish the conversation by talking about how Drag Race is a mainstream model that doesn’t necessarily represent the queer community, but rather a much more palatable “gay culture” that straight people feel comfortable with.  Pondering the question of what it would mean to have that large of an audience base, Daphne remarks “I would love to have a platform where I can reach people as a person and not an exciting sort of novelty. At the same time… the goal isn’t to abandon my queer life and so I don’t know what going mainstream actually looks like.”

The second interview is with Allegra Spread, a nonbinary drag performer who hosts Drag Race viewing parties in New York. Allegra recognizes that Rupaul has done a lot for the popularization of drag, but at the end of the day, he isn’t the only person who gets to define what drag is: “RuPaul was a very important person in the scene of bringing drag to the mainstream to really give it an elevated platform. But, just because one person does a lot of leg work doesn’t mean that they get to be the end, length, and final say of who is allowed to partake in this community that has grown bigger than him… Specifically for my viewing party, what I actually decidedly did and mixed together when I cast everybody… was I wanted trans queens, black queens, Muslim queens, any kind of queen that wouldn’t be allowed to be  on the show basically,  to be making commentary and to perform and to have a platform to make them money and to do their drag in the midst of that crowd.”

As an assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) queen, Allegra finds themselves often having to do the work of educating people about what it means to be trans and/or nonbinary and how drag is about more than just a femme persona that cis men perform: “Drag has nothing to do with gender except for the fact that it can be an exaggeration of it if that is what your character or your persona is driving by. It doesn’t have to be…It’s not connected to gender and not ruled by it.”

Unfortunately, teaching people this fact is made harder when RuPaul makes controversial comments and his fans take his word as law: “There are so many people who watch the show and are what I refer to as ‘Ru Girls.’ People who are just obsessed with these queens that are produced by the show and they don’t really have much interest in the local queens. Which is whatever, their choice, but then this kind of thing comes up and the people who live in the boroughs will ask and rush up to local queens ‘So what does this mean?’ Because a lot of the time, people who aren’t actually night life performers aren’t really aware of the struggle for trans performers or femme performers to be recognized in a field that has been taken from their literal history.”

The next performer to chat on the podcast is Velvet Kensington, a queer nightlife and burlesque performer in New York. Like many of the other people in this round table discussion, Velvet admits that RuPaul has accomplished much for drag over the years, but only for a specific subset of drag: “RuPaul has done a lot for the drag queen community- and I say specifically the drag queen community because we all know that she doesn’t advocate for drag kings…I’ll also say that it is her show and her producers get to choose whatever it is they want to do and she has that right, but I don’t agree with the statement that she said. I also think her apologies weren’t really apologies for what she said, they were more like generalized statements.”

As the conversation goes further into what are Velvet’s feelings about drag, she points out that mainstream drag as we know it has somewhat of a misogyny problem: “I’ve always had issues with drag queens because [they] are taking…the femme presentation which has been specifically put on women, whether they like it or not, and using it to excel in the performance world and getting paid for it. How is it revolutionary that cismen are taking what women have been doing for years and (the women are) not getting paid for it?”

While Velvet admits that she is much more comfortable with queerer and less rigid forms of drag, she still feels like RuPaul’s version has overtaken the market and is what people who have never gone to a local drag show believe drag is: “Because drag queens have been more in the main stream, this is what…people in smaller towns are seeing. They’re now expecting their drag experiences to be like Ru.”

Leaving New York for a moment, Viktor connects with Morrigana Regina, an AFAB queen based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Morrigana’s experience as a queen stands out not just because she is AFAB, but also because RuPaul’s Drag Race was what inspired her to try out drag in the first place: “During (the time I was starting out), there was no space, I only saw RuPaul’s Drag Race on whatever platform I watched it on at the time. And I didn’t see any women or anyone else besides gay men doing drag… So, I would go to my little gay clubs dressed what I thought was looking like a drag queen…People were like, ‘You’re weird, you’re wearing a wig.’… it wasn’t necessarily negative; it just wasn’t acknowledged.”

When asked about her feeling on RuPaul’s belief that only cis men can perform drag, Morrigana feels torn: “I’m kind of frustrated because I am welcome within my community here in Pittsburgh and I feel great and I feel alive and I feel happy. For the first time in my life, I’m doing drag on stage and living my best life. I love it. And then I hear my idol… I love Rupaul, I’m thankful for RuPaul, he has created a lot of paths for entertainers and I will never speak bad of him, I just disagree… I learned form you and now I can’t be in your club… It just doesn’t make sense that he says so much inclusivity talk, but then he says, ‘But you know, not on my show.’”

The final interview of the podcast is with Lee Valone, a trans male drag king who runs BEEF SHOW, an all drag king revue in Brooklyn, and was crowned Mr. Coney Island 2017. Lee has a lot of feelings about RuPaul’s statements, but he is far from shocked by them: “The worst part of [the situation] me, anyway, is that it’s not even a surprise. It’s continuing disappointment of this person who is supposed to represent everything that the artform that I love more than anything in the whole world represents and it’s both disappointing, irritating, a little disgusting, but overall, just not a surprise which is why it hurts so much.”

Lee is in the singular position of running the only all drag king show in New York City, and therefore is offering something that audience might not have seen otherwise if they just watch Drag Race or go to the viewing parties. Yet, just like many other performers, Lee first introduction to the are form was indeed through the reality television show: “Anytime someone comes up to me and starts talking about drag, inevitable they either ask about how I got started or what were my influences… My first experiences with really getting nose deep into drag was through RuPaul’s Drag Race… my roots for drag experience was watching this show and by watching this entertainer who is a deeply problematic individual and a deeply problematic icon. Though, still an icon…I mean, when RuPaul first started he was a very genderfucked performer… but…his politics and his views didn’t keep up with the world around him. The world around him is changing and the queer community is changing- [into] what its always been but more in the open… Drag no longer belongs to cis men and it never did in the first place, so what I’m looking for is an apology that it never belonged to anyone. But I doubt we’ll ever get that.”

When asked if he thinks Rupaul can change his views on what drag is, Lee is skeptical, but believes that the art form will do just fine with or without him: “I think the only thing that will change his mind is the money…Right now, the Rupaul’s Drag Race story is one of exclusion, meanness, and breaking people…To me, drag is- it’s so many beautiful things. It’s storytelling, it’s costuming, it’s textiles, it’s movement, it’s dance, it’s acting, it’s all these different things. But above all, it’s just a person on a stage or not showing you what they want to say…gender performance with intentionality… [RuPaul] is worried that [queer drag] is going to infringe on his brand, and his money, and his point of view. He is afraid of change and it is time to grow up.”



  • Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
  • Interlude Music: “Cuban Sandwich” by Kevin MacLeod (; Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License;
  • everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
close-alt close collapse comment ellipsis expand gallery heart lock menu next pinned previous reply search share star