In spite of a nor’easter that hammered New York City for an entire day, the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 donned their highest heels and biggest hair and worked a fabulous red carpet event at TRL Studios in Manhattan Wednesday night. Nails flew, looks were served, and the girls had plenty to say about RuPaul, the future of drag, and the show’s latest controversy.
Surprisingly, despite the frigid air, New Mexico-based queen Kalorie Karbdashian-Williams was found fanning her face furiously with her hands. “Girl, I am melting,” she said, exasperated. “I’m a big girl, I’m always hot. You can go over and ask Eureka, she should know!”
After cooling down with a sip from her cocktail, Kalorie reminisced about her early days of drag in Albuquerque.
“I started doing drag because I was kind of going through this identity crisis where I thought I wanted to be a woman,” Kalorie said. “Then I started playing with makeup and I started to see that I could create a whole different face. From then I knew I didn’t want to be a woman, but I just wanted to play with makeup.”
Though she resolved her identity crisis with relative ease, Kalorie’s story touches on issues involving gender identity and drag—two topics of recent debate in the drag community and beyond.
RuPaul set the internet ablaze this month after an interview with The Guardian in which he discussed whether or not he would allow a transgender contestant to compete on Drag Race. “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture,” he said.
Curiously, the show had a transgender contestant—New York City-based queen Peppermint—compete in its ninth season. When confronted with this during the interview, RuPaul clarified: Peppermint hadn’t “really transitioned,” he said, thus why he allowed her to compete. When asked directly about allowing a fully transitioned contestant on the show, RuPaul cemented his argument.
“Probably not,” he said. “You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the concept of what we’re doing.”
RuPaul was heavily criticized for his statements and quickly took to Twitter to apologize.
“Each morning I pray to set aside everything I THINK I know so I may have an open mind and a new experience,” RuPaul wrote in a tweet. “I understand and regret the hurt I have caused. The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement.”
RuPaul followed up with another tweet that some have said casts doubt on the validity of his apology. In the tweet, RuPaul explained that the show has always screened for “charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent,” and nothing more, and attached an image of what looked like a green flag.
The image itself is a painting called Train Landscape, by the gay American painter Ellsworth Kelly. Users on Twitter began accusing RuPaul of incorrectly typing “train” instead of “trans” into a Google search, alongside the word “flag.” As of today, RuPaul’s tweet still stands.
The drama sparked a conversation within the LGBTQ community regarding trans, female, and nonbinary drag performers. Drag Race Season 10 contestant and New York City queen Yuhua Hamasaki addressed the show’s rules and RuPaul’s comments from the red carpet.
“Drag is whatever you want to be and anybody should have the ability to have fun, be free, and play with drag because drag is for everybody,” Yuhua said. “I’m not trans or cisgender, I identify as gender neutral and I got on the show. So drag is for everybody and I’m here to represent that community.”
Yuhua echoed a general consensus among most of this year’s contestants. Other competitors, including Kansas City-based queen Monique Heart, chimed in to agree with Yuhua.
“First of all, we’re all born naked and the rest is drag,” Monique said, sipping her drink. “You come out your mama, they slap you on the ass, you cry, and they wrap you in that little blanket.”
After a few laughs, she continued: “You know what that little blanket is? Drag,” she said. “When you get older, you can wrap that blanket around you as a little skirt, or around your neck if you want to be Superman, or around your head because you wanted to be a lady. But it is all drag.”
After a quick “herstory” lesson on the evolution of drag from men dressing up as women in Shakespearean plays, to trans women leading the drag movement, Monique touched on the adaptable nature of the art form. Like her, most of the other queens focused not on how RuPaul defines drag, but on how drag is defined by the person doing it.
“No one person defines what drag is,” New York City’s Miz Cracker said in a beautiful pink tutu. The queen, who is also a writer, has extensively covered this discourse in the past. “If you want to know what drag is, go out and look at it and decide for yourself,” she said.
Not that every queen was in agreement—or even chose to take a side. Florida-born queen Vanessa Vanjie Mateo declined to comment on the issue, and instead threw shade at All Stars 3 contestant Milk, a New York City queen who is known for her androgynous drag style.
“Who knows what they’re going to bring?” Vanessa said, referring to the show. “Maybe they’ll bring a bitch that doesn’t shave, but they already did that, they brought Milk, with a beard.”
Drag Race alum and current competitor Eureka O’Hara believes that the show can be used to educate both mainstream society and the LGBTQ community. Eureka, who identifies as gender neutral, is among many past competitors on the show who do not identify as cisgender males.
“I think we’re at a time in our community where gender fluidity needs to be educated and we need to understand it and support it,” Eureka said sternly in a neon blue wig. “We have always been a step ahead of all other entertainment media, and I promise you that we will be a step ahead even on this.”
While queens like Eureka are hopeful that the show will continue to expand the definition of drag, other competitors remain unsure. New York City queen Dusty Ray Bottoms expressed uncertainty about the show as it continues to increase in popularity.
“I’m just really not sure, I don’t know the direction,” Dusty said, shaking her head. “I know that RuPaul’s Drag Race has changed and evolved every year. Maybe in five years there will be a fully transitioned queen? There may even be a drag king. But who knows what will happen with Drag Race?”
Most of the queens seemed well-aware of the discourse among drag race fans and other parts of the LGBTQ community surrounding gender identity and RuPaul’s comments.
“I don’t think Ru made a statement, I think he answered a question that was specifically about how the show was set up at the time,” said Season 7 alum Mrs. Kasha Davis, wearing a deep blue dress and her signature wig. “I wouldn’t be surprised if things change in the future.”
“Look at what it’s doing for the youth!” Mrs. Kasha shouted. “When we were kids you didn’t have this to look up to or emulate or say ‘I’m normal.’ It gives you a direction. It gives you something to say, ‘I feel like I fit in.’”
Some of this season’s girls, meanwhile, pride themselves in how diverse this year’s cast is in regards to style. One queen and body-builder from Nashville, Kameron Michaels, says she is happy to push the show’s boundaries further as its first “muscle queen.”
“I’m spreading that open and making the boundaries a little wider so maybe next year they’ll go even wider and grab someone else who hasn’t been on the show,” Kameron said, holding her ornate headpiece in place.
While the future of drag and Drag Race remains unclear, the competitors made clear that drag is still in the power of the queens, and not a single person. RuPaul may have brought these girls to fame, but as Monique Heart put it, “You have to honor the [transgender community’s] history and what they’ve done to keep drag alive.”
While it has never been perfect or representative of all styles of drag, RuPaul’s Drag Race has done much to educate mainstream society on this queer art form. But it will need to continue to evolve if it intends to stay in the zeitgeist of queer culture.
“For me drag is drag,” Kalorie said confidently. “You can be a woman, you can be trans, you can be a smurf. To me, at the end of the day, I think anybody should be allowed to have the freedom of expressing their art.”