Back in the marriage equality fight of the mid-2000s, before states that allowed same-sex marriage were stacking up faster than empty champagne flutes at a fancy brunch, there was a significant side conversation that marriage equality would be a death knell of the queer rights movement.
Some said that marriage equality would be nothing more than heteronormative equivalency, a way for our heterosexual overlords to control and domesticate and mainstream us. The thought was that doing so would strip away the very thing that makes being queer so special
We existed outside the suffocating miasmic bubble that is the straight world, and some of us liked it that way.
While there is merit to that argument — marriage as an antiquated notion that’s been utilized by men to commoditize and control women — there is no doubt that queer people participating in its tradition have and will change, even elevate the institution. You know, like we do property values in the neighborhoods we move into.
But if there is one phenomenon in our culture that brings queer people and our culture speeding into the center of mainstream culture, it ain’t marriage, hunty. It’s RuPaul.
More specifically, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and how it single-handedly launched a national interest in all things drag, and by extension, queer. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in a social situation with some straight person who I can barely find a thing to talk about, but when the subject turns to “Drag Race,” there’s suddenly this shared herstory. All of our differences fade away as we both agree that Kim Chi is our favorite queen, even though she looks like she’s trying to kill roaches every time she walks a runway.
Sometimes it can get a little weird when a straight guy is going off on how much he hates Phi Phi O'Hara, and while I also hate her, I find myself defending her as a fellow queer against the harsh critique of a straight person. For me, even the ones I don’t like on the show, the villains or the petty ones, I love those queens because they are queer and visible.
We all know that being visible requires a lifetime of strength and determination, and they deserve a degree of our respect simply for their willingness to be on the show.
What I have found lately though is that while I love “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” I’m coming to loathe the “All Stars” seasons, where queens from past seasons compete for a place in Ru’s Hall of Fame.
In “All Stars,” RuPaul and the judging panel do not eliminate the queens week by week. They have the weekly winners lip sync for a chance to pick who is eliminated. Not only are these queer people pitted against each other in high stakes competition, they’re the ones sending each other home.
Now from a strictly tea-and-shade point of view, the tea is scalding, the shade is deathly cold and the entire show takes on a new spin as the queens are challenged with the decision to have the eliminations based on performance or play a strategic game. Do they send home the deserving queen, their biggest competition, or the person with whom they have preexisting beefs?
Not only are we judging the queens on their runway and drag skills, the audience also ventures into judging fellow queers on ethics and morals. As the world watches, we battle queer versus queer for the pleasure of queers and straights alike, and nothing could unify us more thoroughly than rehashing every moment online, turning every look and side eye into a meme.
We are living in a post-“Drag Race” world now. Everything about being queer is slightly less mysterious, foreign and “other” in our society, and it did not take a generation of queers married and living lives in communities around the country to do it.
Nope, a cinch for the gods did that, a death drop did that. The future is female, but thanks to RuPaul, that may just be the way future tucks.
Addendum: This column was written before the announcement by RuPaul that they’d be changing the voting rules on “All Stars” in this week’s episode, which may be a shift for the series completely to stop having the weekly winner queens eliminate from the bottom two queens, or it could be a stunt for the episode and next week it is back to Queer vs. Queer Hunger Games. All I know is I am feeling all sorts of on-topic this week and sort of psychic like I’m clocking things before they happen, and also glad to have a week off from us having to devour ourselves for the straights' amusements.
A version of this column originally ran in Q magazine. Flip through the latest edition below.
Pick up a new issue of Q magazine each week at queer and LGBTQ-friendly venues around town.