As the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrated the new season, they credited the show’s creator with popularizing drag and expressed concern about the protests and threats to the performance style that is at the heart of the long-running series.
“RuPaul really brought drag into the mainstream, really made people realize that it’s an art form more than anything,” contestant Marcia Marcia Marcia told The Associated Press at Thursday’s season 15 premiere in New York. The new season starts Friday on MTV.
“I think everyone’s been good with drag for a while,” said the drag queen, with the Brady Bunch-inspired name. “And now history is repeating itself and people are speaking out against it, which I find so silly.”
With a long and rich history, drag — the art of dressing as a different sex, often for performance — has been attacked by right-wing politicians and activists, who have wrongly linked it to the “sexualization” and “grooming” of children. In recent months, protesters have besieged – sometimes with guns – drag story lessons, where performers read books to children. Bans on children at drag events were issued. In late November, a gunman at a Colorado Springs nightclub turned a drag queen’s birthday party into a massacre and was charged with hate crimes and murder.
Another candidate, Jax, said the threats, protests and hate were “disheartening” but unsurprising: “Like being a person of color, being a minority, growing up in certain communities is something I mean life had to go through.”
“But we always come out on top,” added Jax. “We always come out on top and will always come out on top because we’re on the right side of history and we love what we do and we don’t do anything to harm anyone. We’re just trying to bring love to everything.”
This is also nothing new for candidate Loosey LaDuca: “It is really unfortunate that drag queens have become the new target during this time. But LGBT people are no stranger to being the enemy of the state.”
Approaching threats with caution is fine, LaDuca said, but “we will never be afraid.”
Last month, New York City Councilman Erik Bottcher attended a drag story lesson in his district. He filmed and released video of “dozens of homophobic protesters outside with the most disgusting signs verbally attacking the families and the drag queen.” Two days later, he said, anti-drag activists vandalized the hallway outside his office and gained access to his apartment building.
“Two of them were arrested. A third was arrested for assaulting one of my neighbors,” he told the AP at the premiere. “This is all an attempt to intimidate those of us who support the drag story lesson.”
Contestant Irene Dubois has a theory as to what’s behind the vitriol targeting drag performers.
“I think a man in women’s clothing is inherently hilarious just because we’re like (gasps) ‘This can’t be happening!'” Dubois surmised. “And when the men in women’s clothing stop poking, poking, winking, winking, and start enjoying how they look in women’s clothing, people start saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait . You should laugh at yourself. And if you don’t laugh at yourself, we don’t like it.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race judge Ross Mathews paints progress and regression as “a swinging pendulum.”
“The further we go and the more we embrace, accept and celebrate this pendulum – they will try to swing it back to push back our movement,” he says of anti-drag activists. “But you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. Honey, we’re fabulous.”
Marcia Marcia Marcia had a simple message for drag critics that she says is “all about fun and expression”: “If you have a problem with these things, I think you need to reevaluate.”
In the end, contestant Princess Poppy hopes it’s the impact RuPaul made on culture with “Drag Race” that will catch on.
“I feel like it’s helped a lot of people who don’t really understand drag people, gay people or drag queens,” she said. “They don’t really understand it because they don’t really understand what we’re doing. But the show humanizes us and shows that we are human too.”