It’s Not Personal, It’s Drag

Season 5, Episode 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race begins with a mini challenge to “turn back time, and bring the Funk.” The queen-testants are provided with large Afro wigs, and compete in a “Soul Train dance off.” Between watching clips from the dance-off, Jinkx Monsoon comments she was surprised to see “Honey Mahogany dances like a white girl.” In Lynne Joyrich’s “Epistemology of the Console”, she elaborates on the visibility of sexual identity (or lack thereof) through television productions, and how both scenarios contribute to stereotyped identities. she notes:

Not coincidentally, this demand [for LGBT] visibility also aims to make alignments between a politics of sexuality and a politics of gender and race – clearly an important goal, but troubling when articulated in this way, in that alignment based on the idea that sexual orientation should be made indelibly ‘visible’ as race and gender (supposedly) are carries dangerous assumptions, taking this visibility for granted and not acknowledging it as itself a construction. (17).

This is not meant to insist that Jinkx Monsoon’s comment toward Honey Mahogany was racist, (possibly sexist), or disaffirming of Honey Mahogany’s identity by any means. However, Jinkx Monsoon’s comment highlights the thesis of Joyrich’s essay, which is to say that societal truths (about identity) are shaped through knowledge imparted by television or other mediated images. Moreover, I’m referencing the combating stereotypes seen in television and film that repeatedly feature white women lacking a natural rhythm, that is expected of Black identity. Despite any ill-feelings from Jinkx toward Honey (#BedSheetLook), Jinkx’s comment about Honey’s performance uses a more playful stereotype to describe what he sees.

For the main challenge, the queen-testants are cast to star in an “Original American Drag Ballet” about the story of RuPaul’s life, entitled No RuPaulogies. As the two teams are being formed, both RuPaul and the other queen-testants are surprised to see Coco Montrese pick Alyssa Edwards as her first choice. Up to this point in the season, the audience is aware of the fact that Coco Montrese and Alyssa Edwards were once close friends, but had a falling out some years ago at a separate drag competition. Coco openly mentions that Alyssa’s strength is dance, and she would be a great asset to Coco’s team.

With lessened hostilities between Coco and Alyssa, the audience learns more about Alyssa’s struggle to gain acceptance from her father. She mentions she was unable to have the “traditional father-son relationship” because of her father’s criticisms towards her passion for dance and art. She explains how music and dance were her tools to help cope with pressures growing up, and her father’s disinvestment felt like he rejected Alyssa’s desire for happiness.

Honey Mahogany shares a similar experience to Alyssa’s, and explains that after her parents found a picture of Honey in drag they sent her away to Africa. Honey doesn’t include details on being sent away, but she does mention that being gay has given her a different perspective than what she imagines as a traditional straight experience.
In Larry Gross’ “The Mediated Society”, he explains that sexual identities are self-identified, so sexual minorities “are rarely born into minority communities in which parents or siblings share [their] minority status” (13). Both Alyssa and Honey’s stories shed light on what Gross’ explains in his writing, as both their respective families were troubled by their child’s sexual identity, and distanced themselves. Alyssa’s story describes how finding comfort with her own identity was at the cost of a relationship with her father, while Honey explains his visible sexuality as something that hindered potential relationships, in addition to added turmoil with his immediate family as well.

Alyssa’s portrayal of “The Evil Ru” in No RuPologies, helped him in win his first main challenge, while also providing him safety from elimination next week. With Vivienne Pinay and Honey in the bottom two, they are called to lip sync for their lives to Britney Spears – I’m A Slave For You. In a sad twist of fate, both Vivienne and Honey are sent home in the first ever double-elimination of Drag Race history because they’re unable to impress the judges.

During Untucked, after having been eliminated Vivienne explains that she knows she possesses the skill to be successful in drag, and the other queens competition distracted her. Vivienne justifies her inability to get along with the other girls and comments that, “sometimes drag queens take on personas because they’re not happy with themselves”. There are many ways to interpret this statement, but I wonder how exactly this affects someone’s drag, since drag is always intended as a performance. Furthermore, we finally get to see the moment replayed every week during the Untucked intro when Alyssa says, “It’s not personal, it’s drag.” Granted, as audience members we know that Alyssa won this week and Vivienne was eliminated, however, Alyssa’s statement was confusing, considering this episode explains how (dance and) drag were very important to her growing up and also led to her profession as a choreographer. Jagose’s book Queer Theory: An Introduction explains the constructions for gender and sexual identity to be very limiting. Maybe the point I’m completely missing from Vivienne and Alyssa’s statements is that the visibility for explanations about drag and drag culture through television are so limited, and trying to understand them is unnecessary.

— NP

Tagged , ,

Post a response

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: