RuPaul’s Drag Race Changes the Conversation on Self-Love and Acceptance

The show opens up mainstream dialogue about LGBTQ+ acceptance and fully being yourself.

Think “America’s Next Top Model” meets “Project Runway” meets “America’s Got Talent”… but with drag queens. If you haven’t heard of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” you might be living under a rock. It’s a reality show where drag queens from all over the world compete to be America’s Next Drag Superstar. The show features drag queens from all walks of life: high fashion queens, comedy queens, celebrity impersonators, you name it and they’ve featured it. The queens compete in weekly challenges to prove their skills as drag queens. At the end of every episode, the bottom two queens lip sync “for their lives” to see who will go home. But while the show is incredibly entertaining, it hosts a deeper meaning. “Drag Race” has brought LGBTQ+ acceptance and celebration to the forefront. It’s unlike anything else on mainstream TV.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” recently burst in popularity.
While “Drag Race” has been on since 2010, last year the show made a major leap from airing on LogoTV (a channel focused on LGBT cultural and lifestyle programming) to airing weekly on VH1. Major celebrities have made appearances as guest judges including Lady Gaga, Neil Patrick Harris and Ariana Grande. The show has had nine regular seasons. Plus, a few ‘all star’ seasons, which feature fan favorite contestants from past seasons who didn’t win. “All Stars 3” is currently airing.

The show’s popularity has expanded to having RuPaul’s Drag Conventions in New York and L.A., where thousands of fans go to meet their favorite queens and see panels and performances.

RuPaul's Drag Race
RuPaul’s Drag Con in New York City at the Javits Center (September 2017)
RuPaul's Drag Con
RuPaul’s Drag Con emphasizes respect and consent
“Drag Race” has churned out true pop culture stars.

Contestants Katya Zamolodchikova and Trixie Mattel have their own show on Viceland. Many of the queens have released their own music albums. The queens go on worldwide tours to showcase their talents to thousands of adoring fans. Drag is no longer underground. While some fans see this as a negative, like an unearthing of their world into new hands, they can’t deny it could lead to a wider acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ+ culture.

But with its newfound fans, the show has not lost its original charm. The challenges are still just as witty and impressive as before. The queens act, sew and create their own outfits, improv and sometimes even sing. The talents of a drag queen are more widespread than many would imagine.

RuPaul's Drag Race
Katya Zamolodchikova and Trixie Mattel at their drag show Trixie and Katya’s High School Reunion
Drag Race features a diverse selection of queens from all types of backgrounds.

The show has also featured transgender women including Peppermint and Carmen Carrera. It’s important to note that drag queens and trans women are not the same. It’s a matter of performance versus identity. Drag queens perform as women, trans women identify as women. Transgender women can compete on the show, allowing for the conversation about gender identity to reach a wide audience.

While the show is hilarious and light-hearted, it also touches on important hard-hitting issues.

The queens on the show candidly discuss difficult, ongoing experiences in the queer community, including homophobia from relatives, eating disorders and HIV. Many of the queens have cried on the show’s iconic runway while discussing hard moments of their lives. There’s a perfect mix of confidence and vulnerability from the queens as they give it their all to try to win.

RuPaul's Drag Race
Bianca Del Rio, Winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Six
All and all, “Drag Race” has a perfect mix of drama, entertainment and reflection.

Queens have their ups and their downs as the seasons unfold. But no matter what, they always call each other their ‘sisters’. There’s a sense of camaraderie, of true friendship and support between them. Even if they do different kinds of drag, or read each other to filth, they all respect and take care of each other. They work hard to love themselves unconditionally as they are.

At the end of every episode during regular seasons, RuPaul famously says, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?” Amen, Ru. Amen.

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Mariel Cariker is studying journalism and women's, gender and sexuality...