I Have RuPaul's Drag Race Fatigue

Trixie Mattel

Is your wig wilting? Are your YAAAASes and hieeees sounding more like nahs and byes? Have you Miss Vanjie-ed from saying Miss Vanjie?

Then, like me, you may be experiencing the symptoms of RuPaul's Drag Race fatigue.

I've been reporting on Drag Race for The Advocate since 2012, when I covered the red carpet for the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars. I remember the wonder I felt at first seeing the stars from television in the flesh: legends like Nina Flowers, Tammie Brown, Raven, Jujubee, Chad Michaels, Latrice Royale, and more.

Today, a decade after the reality series first aired — and after watching Royale lose for the third time on All Stars 4 — Drag Race can feel, at times, more wearying than wondrous.

A part of this is due to the show's (deserved) success. It has done for reality television what Will & Grace did for sitcoms. Drag Race, about to begin its 11th season on Thursday, has won multiple Emmys and spawned international spin-offs. Its viewership, after moving to VH1, has ballooned such that a wig-snatch can be water-cooler talk even in predominantly straight offices. RuPaul's Drag Con, held biannually in New York and Los Angeles, is a runaway hit — with kids!

Since Drag Race's inception, over 140 queens have walked the runway. You can't escape them — even in the show's off-season. Many have integrated into mainstream popular culture. Visit the movies and see Shangela and Willam in the Oscar-winning A Star Is Born. Turn on network television to see Valentina in Fox's Rent: Live. Visit any social media platform to see a flurry of music videos, movies, messages, and memes from past contestants. 

Queer visibility, especially in the current political climate, is important. And how I loved seeing the first drag queen walk the red carpet at the Oscars. But honestly, it's a lot to follow. Only the most die-hard fans will be able to recall all of the Drag Race alumni. Even RuPaul reportedly has trouble keeping track, as attested by past contestant Phi Phi O'Hara, who recounted a moment on All Stars 2 where the mention of Jaidynn Diore Fierce drew a blank from the host. RuPaul said as much to me in 2012 at the first All Stars premiere: "Listen, they’re all great, but some of these kids, quite frankly, you can’t remember their names."

I can't remember all of their names, and I've interviewed most of them. Their ranks keep growing. There are 15 queens this year, up from the original first season of nine competitors. All Stars is now an annual occurrence, which at least gives viewers a fresh chance to reacquaint themselves with past contestants. But even this occasion is a missed opportunity.

Those cast in All Stars, as has been noted by other critics, are primarily from more recent seasons. This gives the show the air of a season reunion or found footage rather than an assemblage of the greats. While there have been many dazzling moments in the span of All Stars — season 2 is the gold standard — the twists lately have been disappointing and exhausting (see: BenDeLaCreme's self-elimination, Shangela's vote-off-the-island by fallen contenders, and the double win of All Stars 4, which felt like no win at all for either contestant).

That All Stars season 4 flows almost directly into the 11th season of RuPaul's Drag Race means that fans hoping for a break from the drama won't get one. Drag Race season began in December 2018 and will run through June 2019, a veritable deluge of drag. The Drag Race Holi-Slay Spectacular — a shameless plug for RuPaul's holiday album — only heightened the cabin fever.

However, it's not the quantity of the contestants that's the main issue — although an All Stars that occurs less frequently would allow talent to grow while also not exhausting my time or vodka budget. It's the diversity. Because of how the sausage gets tucked, it becomes more and more difficult for new competition to feel fresh, especially when these dozens of competitors are overwhelmingly cisgender gay men. Many have compelling personal histories, which get wrung out by producers over the course of a season. But most, as presented within the confines of Drag Race, are just variations on a trope. 

Of course, not too long ago, it felt revolutionary to see Drag Race's assemblage of gay men on television — even when the show was broadcast on channel 272. However, in 2019, it feels odd and boring that a show that has billed itself as "the voice of the Resistance" does not include a greater variety of transgender women, cisgender women, nonbinary people, and bisexual people. Having achieved mainstream and critical success, the show has done little to change its formula and present a more reflective representation of drag's diversity. The inclusion of even one transgender contestant invariably sparks a questionable comment, remark, or behind-the-scenes drama from the host, who has been very firm in his belief that women have no place on Drag Race

“If a female were to do drag, it loses the irony,” RuPaul told me in 2016. RuPaul later told The Guardian in March 2018 that he would "probably not" allow a transgender woman who had undergone gender-confirmation surgery to compete on Drag Race — a remark that he later apologized for after sparking an intense backlash.

However, an unaired exchange with Gia Gunn, the only transgender contestant on All Stars 4, demonstrated that the show and host still have a long way to go toward being truly inclusive. "I felt completely disregarded," Gunn told the podcast Race Chaser. "I didn't feel acknowledged. I didn't feel wanted, to be there in the competition."

As Drag Race moves further into the mainstream, it has attracted more A-list guest judges, including Miley Cyrus, who dressed as a man this week to help promote the VH1 show's Thursday premiere. More of this, please — not glitzy guests, but the invitation of women and others to showcase a greater diversity of gender-bending and fabulosity in 2019.

Drag Race has a unique opportunity to present this showcase and to push the most marginalized voices of the LGBTQ community into the forefront. I hope, in future seasons, it won't waste it. The change would not only be a boon for representation, but it would also make Drag Race feel fresh and truly a voice of the Resistance.

In the meantime... Vanjie!

DANIEL REYNOLDS is an editor at The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.

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