Serving Fish and Fucking Gender

In January 28th’s season premiere episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” , the audience was introduced to fourteen new Queen contestants (queentestants?).  Each one of them was born male, but performs regularly as a female and is currently competing to become America’s Next Drag Superstar.  They had an underwater photo shoot, and then proceeded to make their own garments for a fashion show out of materials found in a dumpster.

In viewing the episode, it seemed as though the underwater photo shoot was just an excuse to have all of the queentestants comment on how much “fish” they were “serving.”  In the context of drag, this terminology—after looking it up—apparently refers to a drag queen with a very feminine appearance.  For instance, the Queen that showed up “untucked” wasn’t serving fish as well as the others, as when her dress went up underwater, her male anatomy was obvious.  The concept of serving fish brings about Clyde Smith’s idea of the genderfuck.  In his blog post, “How I Became a Queer Heterosexual,” Smith discusses that genderfuck can mean “fucking with gender,” or challenging and breaking the concepts behind average gender roles.  It can also mean making love to gender, and seeing it as a source of inspiration.

Both of these definitions can apply to “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”  The producers of the show have the queentestants do all of their interviews as men, but all of the competitions are done as Queens.  After all, the show itself is ultimately based on who the best Queen is.  However, showing them as males, females, and in their transitioning stages plays with the idea of genderfuck.  It shows that they can be men, be women, and in all reality spend some time in the in between—with makeup on and hair done but with a body that looks like a man’s in men’s clothes.  In fact, one of the reasons Serena Cha Cha almost got eliminated is because the judges said that her garment made her look like a boy, regardless of the over the top hair and makeup that she had on.  The point is, they’re telling someone who is biologically a male that he could go home for looking biologically male, and that is genderfuck at its finest.

Looking at it from an inspiration standpoint, these Queens love who they are when they are in drag.  Their inspiration to perform and create comes from the female identities that they have adopted as their own.  The women that these men become have specific names and back stories, they are totally different people from their male alter egos.  It’s interesting to think of each queentestant as one person with two different gender identities, exemplified by the showing of their transitions.

In Kate Bornstein’s book, Gender Outlaw, she discusses the concept of normativity in gender categories and sexual identity.  Clearly, the queens cross the boundaries put in place by these binaries by not sticking to being male or female, but rather being whichever one they want to when they want to.  However, it could be said that when they are performing each gender identity, they are performing within the binary.  As women, they tuck, put on theatrical makeup, and —for lack of a better term—are all together bitchier.  It seemed that as men they were less likely to wave fingers in each other’s faces and yell, but rather make subtle comments and walk away.  These are typical actions used by males and females on a daily basis.  Therefore, while the Queens are definitely transgressing the gender binary(making them queer by Bornstein’s standards), they are still keeping themselves within the restrictions of gender performances, or the “cult” as Bornstein refers to it.

Watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and its behind the scenes counterpart, “Untucked” provides helpful insight into what could be considered a “queer” world.  It shows the boundary crossing done by queer people, but also the restrictions that they still must perform in, no matter how much they are breaking the rules.

 

–Rosalie Tinelli

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2 thoughts on “Serving Fish and Fucking Gender

  1. […] found Rosalie’s analysis of the pilot episode of this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race to be comprehensive, but as our […]

  2. […] reading Rosalie’s post Serving Fish and Fucking Gender, the idea of RuPaul’s Drag Race being a complete example of genderfuck directed me to think […]

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