Drag Race’s “Super Troopers” episode was definitely one of my favorites all season. Besides the Snatch Game and the “Reading is Fundamental” segment, the episode where the queens take stereotypically straight men and put them in drag is always the one I most look forward to. It is always interesting to see these men play with notions of gender and camp and how a lot of them have a blast doing so. One thing I’ve always had a problem with, however, is how these episodes always teeter on the borderline of camp and plain ridicule of drag. At what point does it stop being endearing and start simply becoming a contrast between hetero-normative and queer representations of gender?
What I loved about this season was the political and cultural message behind bringing in a group of gay military men in a post-DADT world. That the men are gay and are able to share their stories of being a part of the military during DADT highlights an important and oft-ignored feature of RuPaul’s Drag Race: its ability to highlight and bring a different representation to the social and cultural issues of our time. DADT worked to suppress the voices and identity expression of gay men and women in the military based on the fear that homosexual people would “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.” (source) This homophobic fear stems from historical and mainstream representations of homosexual men as “sissy” and feminine sexual predators. Really, the quote should read, “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of masculinity and heterosexuality that are the essence of military capability.”
What this episode of Drag Race does is twist these preconceived notions of gay men as largely feminine. In Connor’s post, “Varied Representations,” he points to Drag Race’s play on gender representations to be related to Jeffrey Bennett’s article “In Defense of Gaydar: Reality Television and the Politics of the Glance” which deconstructs reactions to reality dating shows that assign sexual orientations to contestants based on their degrees of masculinity and femininity. Of course, the men that were most feminine were stereotypically viewed as gay and vice versa, and yet the shows would break these stereotypes for shock value. Connor argues that this episode “has varying degrees of masculinity and femininity within each contestant and their pairs…These differences make it more difficult to stereotype the groups as a whole and blurs the lines of masculine versus feminine.” Rather than relying on contrasting poles to highlight transgressions in stereotypically assigned gender performances based on sexual practices–extremely feminine straight men, for instance–this episode shows the us that there are varying degrees on the spectrum of masculinity and femininity that have little to do with sexual identity.
It was a surprise to everyone that the partner Alaska chose, the pretty blonde one, had zero grace walking in heels while Detox’s masculine-looking partner walked like a seasoned queen in stilettos. This shattering of cultural stereotypes based on appearances also tells us that even drag queens can subscribe to these gender performance expectations, as Alaska was the one that assigned the partners based on these stereotypes. In his article, Bennett points out the importance of the “gaydar” in these dating reality shows and that “it is often unconcerned with truths and more interested in ideals of who might (and often does) exist in one’s midst. Gaydar is in part fascinating because of its inevitable inaccuracy. By smothering fluid identities with ontological expectations, gaydar eventually fails in its essentializing impulse.” (409) In a way, Alaska was subscribing to these notions of the gaydar, hoping that her blonde beauty would make a good drag queen yet these men were swiftly able to prove her wrong in her original assumptions.
These ideas that Connor and Bennett point to perfectly signify one of the most important takeaways in our QIPC class, that gender and sexuality identities are fluid social constructions and tend to be restricted by societal and cultural control.