It began in March. The queen of all queens, RuPaul, teased millions of queers around the world with a new batch of drag contestants that would be taking over our television sets, hitting us with high drama, and winning over our hearts in the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“Drastic Times call for Drag-Tastic Measures” the tagline read. And it wasn’t wrong. In the past year, the queer community has been hit hard with both social and political heartbreak.
First, we all remember the Pulse Nightclub massacre that sent shockwaves into the community and made us realize that we are still misunderstood, targeted, and murdered just because of our sexuality or gender identity. Then, in November, our nation elected two men into the White House who absolutely do not have our back.
For the first time in a while, our community was unified on one thing — fear.
In the nine seasons of the queer cult classic RuPaul’s Drag Race, we’ve seen our share of queer issues. In earlier seasons, when social issues shined through the drama, it beefed up the reality competition with topics that affected us. It was powerful, but it only reached queers and our closest allies.
In season one, Ongina openly discussed her HIV during a challenge that pushed the queens to shoot a commercial for Mac’s Viva Glam makeup. She was one of the first reality TV stars to come out as HIV-positive. She won that challenge. Trinity K. Bonet also came out as HIV-positive in season five.
In season three, Alexis Mateo touched on the effects of the now repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which barred queer people from openly discussing their sexuality in the military, during a video challenge that will be shown to U.S. military members serving overseas. She snatched the challenge win with her uplifting, hilarious video.
In season five, Monica Beverly Hillz became the first contestant to openly discuss her transness when she came out as a transgender woman. She was an early out in the season but made a lasting impact. A number of the contestants have since come out as trans, including Carmen Carrera, Kenya Michaels, Jiggly Caliente, Gia Gunn, Stacy Lane Matthews, Sonique, and Peppermint.
The most recent season, which snagged a time slot on VH1, has catapulted the cult show into the mainstream. This is a blessing.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 introduced a new format. For the first time,the show has strayed away from the normal drama-filled seasons and incorporated a new social issue into nearly every episode.
Season 9 has addressed body image, HIV status and history, the Pulse Nightclub massacre, transgender issues, bullying, and family acceptance to a mainstream audience, some of whom have no knowledge of the issues our community faces. And it’s doing it in style.
The first episode raked in nearly one million viewers, and the numbers every week have failed to fall under 500,000 viewers. It continually ranks in the top 10 shows on Friday nights, falling behind sports games and Real Time with Bill Maher.
For the first time in a long time, we have a completely queer cast telling hundreds of thousands of viewers the issues our community faces. It’s giving the viewers real characters they can relate to and admire and then hitting them in the face with a queer agenda.
Based off the interactions on Facebook and Twitter, a lot of these viewers are queer people, a lot of the viewers are heterosexual women, and a lot are our youth.
RuPaul is literally educating the children. He’s showing them why they need to stand up and fight for their brothers and sisters. He’s showing them that “gay people get to choose their families.” He’s showing them that there is still a lot of work to be done, and it is up to them to change it.
My friends told me I’m reading into it too much. After all, it is reality television. And it’s drag. They could be right. But I doubt it.
I think we should be thanking RuPaul and his talented team for giving us exactly what we need right now. And drag queens do have a history of starting revolutions.