Friday, March 30, 2018

When Feeling Fabulous Seems More Important Than Your Fixed Position...,

Guardian  |  RuPaul likes to speak in deeply heartfelt but somewhat opaque rhetorical flourishes, so I ask if he means that Drag Race has a political message about humanity.

“Yes! It doesn’t have a political agenda in terms of policies in Washington. But it has a position on identity, which is really the most political you can get. It has politics at its core, because it deals with: how do you see yourself on this planet? That’s highly political. It’s about recognising that you are God dressing up in humanity, and you could do whatever you want. That’s what us little boys who were maligned and who were ostracised figured out. It’s a totem, a constant touchstone to say, ‘Don’t take any of this shit seriously.’ It’s a big f-you. So the idea of sticking to one identity – it’s like I don’t care, I’m a shapeshifter, I’m going to fly around and use all the colours, and not brand myself with just one colour.”

Pinning him down on precisely what all of this means can be tricky, in part I think because he doesn’t want to offend anyone by explicitly acknowledging the contradiction between his playfully elastic sensibility and the militant earnestness of the transgender movement. The two couldn’t be further apart, I suggest.

“Ye-es, that’s always been the dichotomy of the trans movement versus the drag movement, you know,” he agrees carefully. “I liken it to having a currency of money, say English pounds as opposed to American dollars. I think identities are like value systems or currencies; there’s not just one. Understand the value of different currencies, and what you could do with them. That’s the place you want to be.” But to a transgender woman it’s critically important that the world recognises her fixed identity as a female. RuPaul nods uneasily. “That’s right, that’s right.”

What I can’t understand is how transgender women can enter a drag contest. Last year RuPaul’s Drag Race was widely acclaimed for featuring its first openly transgender contestant, called Peppermint – but if transgender women must be identified as female, how can they also be “men dressing up as women”?

“Well, I don’t like to call drag ‘wearing women’s clothes’. If you look around this room,” and he gestures around the hotel lobby, “she’s wearing a shirt with jeans, that one’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt, right? So women don’t really dress like us. We are wearing clothes that are hyperfeminine, that represent our culture’s synthetic idea of femininity.”

In the subculture of drag you do occasionally find what are known as “bio queens” – biological women who mimic the exaggerated femininity of drag. Would RuPaul allow a biological woman to compete on the show? He hesitates. “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture. So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”

So how can a transgender woman be a drag queen? “Mmmm. It’s an interesting area. Peppermint didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.” Would he accept a contestant who had? He hesitates again. “Probably not. You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing. We’ve had some girls who’ve had some injections in the face and maybe a little bit in the butt here and there, but they haven’t transitioned.”

There’s something very touching about RuPaul’s concern to stay abreast of subcultural developments and find a way to embrace even those he finds confronting. “There are certain words,” for example, “that the kids would use, that I’d be like, ‘Wait a minute, hold up now.’ But I’ve had to accept it because I understand where it comes from.” Such as? “Well, one of the things that the kids do now is they’ll say, referring to another drag queen, ‘Oh that bitch is cunt, she is pure cunt’, which means she is serving realness,” by which he means presenting herself as realistic or honest. “They say it knowing it’s shocking, knowing it’s taboo, and it’s the same way that black people use the N-word.”