What Keeps Me Calm: Binge-Watching Anything ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’
Drag Race, and anything related to it, is a welcome distraction many people like myself need after a long day of reading about frustrating news
Welcome to What Keeps Me Calm, a series of movies, television shows, albums, books, and other works of media that are comforting us during these incredibly stressful times. On particularly sad and disheartening days, there’s nothing better and more consoling than to turn to our favorite things to read, watch, and listen, as these offer a respite from the hardships we face collectively and individually.
I’d be lying if I said that the stress of this pandemic and other social issues haven’t gotten to me in the last few months. When I’m not keeping up with the news on social media, what’s been keeping me entertained is anything related to RuPaul’s Drag Race.
My exposure to Drag Race and drag culture in general started in high school. I chanced upon a TV channel showing season three. I began watching it because Raja, who I knew as the makeup artist on America’s Next Top Model, was in it. I was also curious as to how Manila Luzon, probably the most well-known Fil-Am drag queen from the show, would fare in the competition. Both Raja and Manila ended up in the top two, with the former taking home the crown.
Fast forward to when I (finally) got my Netflix subscription in late 2018, I binge-watched all 10 seasons at the time. If you haven’t done this, you should. You’ll see just how much Drag Race changed since premiering in 2009. The most noticeable change was removing the Vaseline-like filter and harsh color grading from seasons one and two.
Earlier this year, Drag Race premiered its 12th season featuring iconic queens like Gigi Goode, Jackie Cox, Crystal Methyd, and winner Jaida Essence Hall. Many fans said this season was unique because it had less drama compared to previous seasons and the contestants seem to be close until now. The only huge controversy it had were the sexual misconduct accusations against Sherry Pie, who was promptly disqualified from the top four and wasn’t included in the taping of the finale.
Speaking of the finale, season 12 also had its first Zoom call episodes and virtual crowning due to the global lockdowns. When people said Drag Race has had several firsts since premiering its very first season in 2009 (e.g. season one’s Ongina becoming the first Filipino contestant; season nine’s Peppermint was the first trans queen to join, and so on), none of us expected this to happen. Then again, no one expected Covid-19 to hit this hard globally either.
When the main show ended, World of Wonder (aka WOW Presents), the production company behind Drag Race, continued blessing fans with other spin-offs and international franchises. Celebrity Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars 5 have already concluded, but we still have Canada’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue to look forward to. WOW Presents also has a variety of series on their website and YouTube channel featuring RPDR alums.
If you ask fans why they watch Drag Race, you’ll hear different answers from appreciating the art form to helping young fans navigate their queer identity. For me, it’s an escape and a learning experience. If not for this show, I wouldn’t be interested in how several drag queens have made an impact in history and how drag has evolved into an inclusive art form through the years.
The latter, especially, helped me realize that drag is not exclusive to gay or straight men. As season eight winner Bob the Drag Queen explained in a Vanity Fair video, “Drag is blurring the gender line and creating art. It doesn’t have to be singing, it doesn’t have to be dancing, it doesn’t have to be comedy. If you are blurring the gender line and you are creating art, you are then engaging in drag.” This essentially means that even cis and trans women can participate in the art form as a drag queen (doing hyperfeminized looks) or king (doing male-passing looks).
During these turbulent times, some might think it’s not the time to obsess over Drag Race. Sometimes I find myself wondering whether it’s okay to rewatch my favorite lip-sync performance from the show or several episodes of UNHhhh with Trixie Mattel and Katya for the nth time while the world is in shambles. But with drag, you can get the best of both entertainment and political discourse. In Drag Race alone, it has featured political messages, from US President Donald Trump’s absurd behavior to the continuing racial inequality, in maxi challenges and the queens’ outfits. You can also find drag queens here and abroad speaking up against the government, using their platforms to educate people on various social issues, and attending Pride marches to protest against discrimination and human rights violations.
I think All Stars 5 winner Shea Couleé said it best when her season was about to premiere amid the Black Lives Matter protests in the US: “Our fight for justice isn’t over and our focus should remain on what’s most important. Just remember to make time to heal and feed your soul, and AS5 from what I heard is just what the doctor ordered.”
Drag Race, and anything related to it, is a welcome distraction many people like myself need after a long day of reading about frustrating news. If anything, having “charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent” might come in handy in the fight for freedom.