In closing out LGBTQ+ history month, Luke Ward and I spoke at the UoN Psychology Society about our research on Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Given the popularity of the series (especially now it is available on streaming service Netflix), it is likely that even if you are not a part of the LGBT+ community, you may have seen the show (or at least shared a meme or two).
The series Ru Paul’s Drag Race first began on LGBTQ+ network Logo TV, and over the past decade, has made the move from a niche and community oriented market, to a mass market phenomenon. This echoes the roots of drag, from the underground ballroom scene in 1980s New York, to the accessible (but not always affordable) drag shows and conventions that are available today. We have moved away from the underground to taking up more space – cis, straight, previously unavailable space – which has made drag something more lucrative than its initial inception.
It is within this commercialised region of drag that we see a shift in focus within the community. It is not just a symbol of resistance against societal norms of gender and sexuality, but it is also something of a commodity – something that to our (patriarchal) society, has become useful, in being able to sell products (literally – make up, drag queen merch) to a wider (mostly young, white, and straight) audience. Whilst the majority of the Drag Race series have been based on the US, if we bring in the UK to this conversation, the evidence of wider accessibility of drag can be seen through its showing on the BBC, of all television networks.
Whether the commercialisation of drag is a positive for the community remains to be seen. However, what we can say on the back of the success and accessibility of Ru Paul’s Drag Race is the awareness that has been brought to a range of intersectional issues, from racism to religion, and gender identity to social class. Though some of these issues might not be news to the LGBT+ community, we can most certainly agree that it has brought about discussion of such issues to those who perhaps had not even thought about such positions, let alone experienced them. Especially with the perpetuation of social media, community discussion has never been so lively, both online and offline.
Regardless of your opinion of the series, it has opened up conversations in new spaces that brings visibility to the LGBT+ community. We discuss these issues, as well as the comparisons between US and UK drag, in our recent paper that you can find here.