This past week on RuPaul’s Drag Race, there was a re-run of episode 8, “Scent of a Drag Queen.” This episode’s main challenge was to create a fragrance with a slogan and commercial around a main theme. There were a few parts of the episode that I found interesting with the ideas of gender performance, drag, and camp. When each queen was filming their commercial, the majority of the comments from Aubrey and Michelle were negative. They expressed that the commercials had “too much” of something, whether it was sexuality, leopard print, or eye contact. However, I felt their performances were fitting because drag is meant to be an enjoyable, humorous, theatrical performance. Although some of the queens appeared a bit awkward in their commercials, they still were over-the-top with their presentations.
During the commercial challenge, it stood out when Alyssa Edwards was having a difficult time with her lines and she stated, “I talk to people all the time, but the minute someone says ‘Here are the lines. Say it.’ GAME OVER.” This grabs my attention because the aspect of learning a script and bringing a character to life is an essential ingredient to a performance. So, would drag be a performance that’s just natural for these individuals? This show clearly presents the challenges of creating your own script within a certain criteria.
An additional aspect that I found appealing was how the male models were the objects or props in the commercials. This was unique because most advertisements have women in small amounts of clothing as the objects or the individuals adoring the male figure with the specific product. Furthermore, the male models were also seen as the props in the “Whatcha Packin’” memory game challenge while the queens had to match pairs of underwear. Aside from the drag performance, these challenges themselves are queer as these males who perform as females in drag use these male models as their props. This could also be seen as “genderfuck” because the show and every individual that participates in it defies the norms of gender binaries that our society draws out. In Bornstein’s book, she discusses the ideas of camp or drag in a society that lays out a specific gender system which shapes your identity. She states, “Some folks think that camp, or drag in general, is an attempt to ape or become the dominant culture…Camp in fact reclaims gender and re-shapes it as a consensual game” (Bornstein 137-138).
Bornstein also discusses how society has constructed binaries for sexual identity as well, heterosexual and homosexual. This is based on the gender of the person you have sex with. Our identities are shaped by these gender constructs, but it’s far more fluid than just two choices. For example, Jinkx has strong feelings for Ivy. These individuals are two males that perform as females in drag. Yet, how would this identify them? Could society place a label for their sexual identity?
RuPaul’s Drag Race presents several examples of ideas relating to gender performance, camp, drag, genderfuck, and identify. Beyond the characters, the challenges and structure of the show breaks the rules of gender and demonstrates that identity can be immeasurable. As the show progresses, the queens are presented with difficult challenges and each individual learns more about themselves and others around them with or without the make-up on.
P.S. I’m really going to miss the way RuPaul says “Ivy Winters!”