Over the weekend, two cast members in the upcoming season of RuPaul’s Drag Race were targets of a violent gay bashing that took place in West Hollywood. For those who may not know, Drag Race is a competition TV show featuring, you guessed it, drag queens. The queens compete in challenges that test their style, performance, lip syncing ability and just about everything else you need to be America’s next drag superstar. Think Project Runway meets America’s Next Top Model, with 10 times the gay and twice as many “Yasss Queens!”
When I first heard the news of the attack, I wasn’t shocked. Nor was I worried or scared. I was angry. Maybe my reaction was a little selfish, but I was irritated that whoever did this whisked away the celebratory spirit permeating through the gay community — in anticipation for the show’s next installment — and ushered in a spirit of distress.
It seemed worse, somehow, to ruin a desperately needed breath of fresh air for a community struggling to stay positive under an increasingly anti-LGBT+ administration. Drag Race is wildly popular in its own right, but for the gays it takes on a whole new level of significance. Whoever attacked those queens knew exactly what they were doing. They knew just about every queer person in the country would hear about it within a matter of days.
Why can’t we enjoy one good thing, before hatred rears its all too familiar and constantly growing head? In a matter of hours, my Facebook timeline went from predictions for the new season, meme after meme of previous queens’ best moments and, of course, posts worshiping RuPaul herself to posts rooted in fear, anger and concern for the violence committed against high profile members of the queer community.
As the week went on, and more and more of my friends started talking about the attack, my frustration intensified. Drag Race is supposed to be the perfect distraction. It’s hard to worry about wiretapping and angry presidential tweets when Ru’s girls sashay down the runway. But when the queens we love can’t escape the perils of our polarized cultural climate, the distraction is shattered.
We’re reminded that even the fiercest queen isn’t immune to a bigot with a brick and a bone to pick.
To ease my restless mind, I put off the growing list of French conjugations and story edits to re-watch some of my favorite Drag Race episodes. It was during this binge session that I realized I was thinking about everything all wrong.
Drag Race isn’t a distraction — it isn’t just campy entertainment for the sake of campy entertainment. It’s not about who has the best look of the week or who slays the most lip syncs, either. It’s not even about who wins.
By creating a show where the most femme and fabulous members of our community can share their talent, Drag Race is really telling stories of triumph and self-love. I’m reminded of Sharon Needles’ season 4 anecdote, when she says “Growing up, I wasn’t just gay. I was gay and weird.” The queens features on the show aren’t the popular gays, and they aren’t interested in showing the world how they’re ‘just like everyone else.’ When the rest of the world throws bottles and bricks at them, RuPaul lifts them up and dishes out life changing advice on a weekly basis.
Episode after episode, season after season, the world’s most successful drag queen reality TV program really shows viewers the tenacity of the human spirit.
Ru’s girls have climbed overcome every roadblock out there (and they did it in heels, too). If these queens can survive growing up “gay and weird,” being excommunicated from family, losing friends and lovers to AIDS, self-hatred and everything else that comes with being so ‘uncomfortably’ gay, surely we can handle whatever challenges life throws our way. And while I wish the attack in West Hollywood never happened, we can’t let these tumultuous times invade our celebrations or rain on our parades.
RuPaul, unsurprisingly, says it best: “Once you uncover life’s cruel hoax, you become angry and you become mad as hell and then you become bitter. And then you become very cynical.”
And what do we do with that anger and cynicism, when it feels so justified?
“But the next level beyond that — if you can go beyond that — is laughter and irreverence. You can laugh, you can dance, you can seek out the places where you can blossom and expand.”