The first time I heard of a drag queen, I was maybe seven or eight years old. My mother had shown me and my younger brother the film Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and we were instantly obsessed with the final dance number in the film. I can remember loving everything about the makeup and the costumes, and never once questioning why these men were in dresses, lip syncing away to Abba and CeCe Peniston. Fast forward a few years later when I was in high school. My friends and I were anime fans, constantly cosplaying at conventions or at each other’s houses and often dressing as the opposite gender for the sake of being the characters we loved. Once again, I never questioned dressing or presenting as a boy when it came to cosplay. It was just what I did. What we did.
But then a cosplayer I highly admired (and still do) did something I had never heard of. He came out as trans, explaining that he had never truly felt comfortable as a woman and was going to begin his transition. That was the first time I felt anxious about who I was in regard to gender. I had never really thought about my casual flip-flopping between masculine and feminine presentation but knowing that being transgender was actually something people could do, put my whole concept of “crossplaying” into a different kind of perspective.
Keeping these feelings to myself was a lot to deal with, but after a while I stopped thinking about it. That is, until college when the anxiety flared again as I came to know more and more people who identified outside of the binary. The term genderfluid came into my life at that point, and much of the anxiety was lifted. It was okay to be somewhere in between cisgender and transgender that was still valid! I started to become more open about my own existence outside of the gender norm and was comfortable with that.
But what does any of this have to do with RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Lately, using they/them pronouns hits my ear wrong when it’s in regard to myself. She/her pronouns make my skin crawl as well, but explaining they/them to those who aren’t familiar (or even open) to their usage when it comes to a singular person gets exhausting. It’s hard to feel like a valid person when you don’t know how to completely come out of the closet and be yourself.
Anyone who watches Drag Race is very familiar with Ru’s end-of-episode mantra, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”. To this 23-year-old, gender-confused, bisexual who is riddled with anxiety disorders, that mantra means everything.
I was introduced to Drag Race during a particularly rough time in my life, as I was told it might help cheer me up. As a fan of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Paris is Burning, I thought I would give it a go. I was already familiar with some of Katya’s work, so I began with season 7. The queens were often catty and vicious with each other, but they also surprised me with their compassion for each other as they listened to the struggles their new drag sisters had gone through, bonding over homophobic encounters, mental illness, eating disorders, substance abuse, and even gender identities. It was these moments that got to me the more I watched, and after devouring the season, I binged watched all the other seasons as well, learning more and more about each of the queens and feeling more and more validated when it came to my anxieties in regard to my own issues with gender and sexuality.
In the most recent season (Season 9), I found myself being drawn towards Peppermint and Sasha Velour the most. Peppermint was very open about being a transwoman, and Sasha never shied away from her thoughts on how “gender is a construct, tear it apart.” (as stated in the song C.L.A.T.). Thinking more and more about where my gender sat on the spectrum, I found my anxieties growing as well. It can be a very difficult thing to struggle with, especially when you don’t feel you have anyone to talk it through with. Explaining my genderfluidity was hard enough to do with friends, but to throw in the possibility of being trans on top of that? Not a chance. But I watched these queens strut their stuff week after week, and seeing their confidence helped give me confidence. They showed me that I don’t have to tell anyone right away, that I can take the time and think things through.
Every time I find myself anxious or panicky about my gender, I think of RuPaul and the RuGirls. I think of drag. Every time being femme makes me uncomfortable – at home or at work, where I’m still mostly closeted – I think of it as drag. Every time I feel like I want to be femme, but that it contradicts my wanting to be male, I think of drag. It validates my feelings and reminds me that gender is little more than a social construct (and before anyone brings genitals into the mix, sex and gender are different things).
RuPaul has built an empire based on drag, and empire that flips the bird at gender constructs and spreads positivity to a community that is constantly getting put down based on who they love. Queens like Katya, Alaska, Jinkx, Peppermint, and Sasha represent – to me – positive icons who rock who they are and don’t let the crap people can say get to them. I find myself looking to them to remind me to be confident, to not listen to negativity, to not give in to my insecurities. Without them or the other RuGirls or even Mama Ru herself, I wouldn’t be able to confidently voice my thoughts and feelings on the matter.
At this point in my life, I still experience anxiety when it comes to telling people about my pronouns or answering questions people have about gender identity, but I’m working on it and my confidence. Am I ready to transition? Not just yet, but maybe one day, when I’ve had more time to find myself.
My name is Rachel, my friends call me Rae, my readers call me RJ. One day, I might go by something else, but I have time to figure that out. One day I’ll be more confident about being a boy (despite all these lady parts). And I’ve realized all of this because of Drag Race.
So to anyone struggling with the same anxieties, the same insecurities, the same fears: you aren’t alone and you never will be. There will always be people who are there to listen, to help, and to support you throughout your life. Yes, there are people who won’t understand, and that is a scary thing to think about, but you deserve the lives you want to live with the people who support your decisions.
And most important of all:
If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?
Can I get an amen up in here?