In Drama Queens, episode 9 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, we get to witness great examples of how drama is created to heighten entertainment while also educating the audience about drag as a subculture. The episode begins like many others, as Coco and Alyssa bicker and bring Jinkx into the mix. The quarrel is about the two types of drag, pageant and comedy. Their argument had me wondering: In a subculture that does not get a great deal of exposure, is it going against the community to be against someone in the same subculture? Or do the levels of differences simply create a more diverse community? Judith Halberstam argues that “queer subcultures become an alternative to kinship based notions of community” (1). Drag, like many subcultures, “provide[s] a vital critique of the seemingly organic nature of ‘community‘ and..make[s] visible the forms of unbelonging and disconnection that are necessary to the creation of community” (Queer Youth Cultures, 29). Based on this knowledge, it may be that the differences between the pageant girls and the comedians are similar to the differences experienced in a family. There are many types of people, all working toward a similar goal. Showcasing that there is not just one kind of drag is a great thing to for drag queen representation. Something that the viewers may see as a queer culture can be further broken down into different levels, exposing the diversity of drag and revealing the similarities between the subculture and an what Halberstam refers to as an “organic” community.
It seems the Pageant girls and comedy queens think of themselves as extremely different, which no doubt creates drama and entertaining television. Furthering the drama, this weeks challenge was titled, “The Crying Game.” The goal of this challenge was to put on the most convincing crying act. Some took this challenge seriously while others went a comedic route, even furthering the contrasts between the pageant girls and comedy queens. They began telling stories and tearing up, but when it came time for Detox to share, she confessed that she was having a hard time with the challenge. She revealed that her boyfriend died two years ago, and that seeing people cry makes her uncomfortable, because she is not used to being vulnerable and seeing vulnerability. I think this is a crucial moment in the episode because no matter how different the girls perceive themselves, they realized they have all gone through difficult times in their lives.
The main challenge this week was to put on a primetime soap opera, Telenovela style. The girls work their hardest to put on the most exaggerated telenovela characters possible. Jinkx tries her best to present “Sofia Vergarra Realness,” emulating the Colombian icon. Her portrayal of the female orgasm is raved about, while Alyssa’s falls flat. The fact that the drag queens are expected to be able to perform a female orgasm says a lot about drag itself. Drag is not simply dressing up as a woman, it is being and presenting a woman, and that includes knowing how to orgasm like a woman.
On elimination day, Detox opens up about her stalker ex-boyfriend and his sudden death. The most touching moments on Ru Paul’s Drag Race come when the contestants share information about their lives outside of drag. We have heard some bits of Alaska’s life with Sharon Needles, Roxxxy’s childhood stories, and Jinkx’s crush on Ivy. By sharing this information, we are able to get a back story, which is rarely seen in queer representation on television. Typically, television programs portray gay men as the gay best friend, a fashion wizard, or “an accessory” to the main female character and rarely portray their lives beyond being fashion-forward. Here, Bryan Safi from Current TV recaps how lucrative it is to be a GBF (gay best friend) on television in today’s economy.
Instead of just being a character on a reality show, we are able to peak into Detox’s life and learn more about her. Opening up and sharing her experience allows the audience to identify with Detox. We witnessed many situations in “Off the Straight and Narrow” where gay people lack affection and any form of sexuality in television. The information that Detox shared might help bring queer portrayals on television closer to actuality, and hopefully expand the “gay character’s” potential beyond “gay chic.”