The cast of the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K. has been announced and the internet is, to say the least, already obsessed.
It might not be entirely mainstream yet, but it’s far removed from the isolated, underground art form it once was: drag performers will be a staple at any LGBTQ event you might visit. Drag brunches are infiltrating heteronormative spaces every weekend.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has aired eleven seasons in the U.S., as well as four All Stars seasons, where previous contestants return for the chance to enter the Hall of Fame. A U.K. edition, hosted by RuPaul herself, was announced by the BBC in December. Michelle Visage, Alan Carr, and Graham Norton were revealed as the judging panel earlier this year.
i-D is already asking, “How much Drag Race is too much Drag Race?” as, this week, RuPaul also announced both season 12 of the U.S. version and season 5 of All Stars. Based on previous years’ scheduling, we might be headed for six months of non-stop Ru, a prospect that is both thrilling and exhausting in equal measure.
The original American version is known for its cutthroat editing, turning minor upsets into major drama, and manufacturing and encouraging confrontation. One queen inevitably becomes the villain while some are pushed to one side and forgotten. Personally, I’m hoping for something more like The Great British Bake Off than Love Island. In other words, drama without resorting to savagery, while being thoroughly camp and entirely British.
This week saw the full cast of ten queens “Ru-vealed”, as well as a sneak peek at the first runway challenge—two ‘royal’ looks. It was quite a surreal experience, having met several of these queens in social situations over the past couple of years. Now, suddenly, they’re being propelled to international stardom (and scrutiny).
People on Twitter were quick to pick up on the fact that one of the contestants, Baga Chipz, wrote an article encouraging people to vote Conservative in the 2017 General Election—an unforgivable sin for many. However, as viewers get no input into the contestants’ progress—the whole series has already been filmed—this might have no impact at all, and could quickly be forgotten.
Many have lamented the lack of diversity in the show, with all but one of the queens based in England and eight of the ten competitors being white. I’ve seen several people quip that the line-up is “qWhite something”.
“People talk about representation all the time,” explained contestant Sum Ting Wong in an interview with the BBC, “but what if a little Chinese homo is watching this at home and sees me and thinks wow I’ve been brought up to do those things too.”
For many people within the queer community, this could be a landmark moment to showcase drag culture—and, as such, last week’s announcement comes as a disappointment. There are no female drag performers (yes, women can do drag too) and no drag kings. British drag is known for seasoned older queens (none of the contestants are older than 35) and eclectic performers sporting beards and playing with gender.
Of course, this is just the first season, hopefully of many. I know many established queens were reticent to apply until season one has aired, and it would be unfair to criticise the casting too harshly without knowing who applied and was refused. Plus, it’s important to remember that the casting is down to the producers while drag fans have a history of victimising queens online for decisions they have no part in.
But when has reality television ever accurately represented reality? Its name is a misnomer, an oxymoron. Love Island is hardly about love, Britain’s Got Talent prioritises narrative over talent and, well, dog acts have won Britain’s Got Talent twice. Drag Race in America is hardly an accurate picture of the variety across the country’s scene.
The success of Drag Race U.K. no doubt lies not in its reception here, but in how well it translates across the pond, where it will be available to stream on WOW Presents Plus, a new streaming service from the production company World of Wonder. Reality formats don’t always successfully migrate the Atlantic. America’s Got Talent might be a success, but Love Island USA (filmed in Fiji) was deemed a failure by many critics, lacking the messiness and unfiltered chaos of its British counterpart. Will Americans get the subtleties and sarcasm of the British humour? Will they be able to understand the Essex accents?
At the end of the day, does turning an art form into a competition ever really end well for everyone involved? Probably not, but maybe it’s more important to celebrate the little victories.
This month sees the launch of Enby, a new, gender-neutral sex toy. Wild Flower, an independent sex shop based in Brooklyn, has designed the toy in-house. Founded by Amy and Nick Boyajian, both of whom identify as non-binary, Enby is their first own-brand toy, named after the common shorthand for non-binary people, NB, pronounced ‘enby’.
As a retailer, Wild Flower is committed to inclusive and sensitive attitudes toward sex. The shop’s website has a blog with sections dedicated to “mindfulness & sex” and “non-monogamous relationships”, for example. On its Instagram, it features a gorgeous range of individuals—people of all ages, genders and sizes—as well as some hilarious memes. Wild Flower’s merchandise reads: “Trust Yourself, Feel Yourself, Touch Yourself, Please Yourself, Hear Yourself, Know Yourself, Fuck Yourself, Love Yourself”.
Much of the sex industry is still surprisingly gendered, often unnecessarily. Identical toys might be packaged and marketed entirely differently in order to appeal to women and men. Online, toys are generally categorised into ‘for him’ and ‘for her’, even though, to be blunt, a dildo is a dildo, regardless of the user’s gender.
Slowly but surely, however, more options are becoming available for trans and non-binary people, designed with diverse bodies and queer pleasure in mind. Amy and Nick consulted various members of the LGBTQ community while developing their toy. One trans friend of theirs complained about how she had thrown away all of her sex toys after her surgery, because they were no longer compatible with her body. Other trans people have explained how they often resort to toys not marketed at their gender identity, which can worsen existing gender dysphoria.
Enby looks somewhat unusual, unlike any other toy on the market, but this just demonstrates its innovation. It is something different and new. It’s available in black and deep purple, colours chosen for being gender-neutral, especially compared to the pinks and reds that dominate the market. The Enby can be humped, used to masturbate, tucked into a harness. “Hump it, stroke it, tuck it, share it”, reads the product page—it’s like a dirty Bop It.
Enby might not be the first toy to claim the title of being gender-neutral. PicoBong launched the Transformer in 2014, offering “millions of sex toys in one” with its product description listing the sex toy’s possibilities, “It’s a rabbit vibe, a clitoral massager, a cock-ring, a G-spot stimulator, a prostate massager, a double-ended vibe, and much more”. However, its success was debatable. One review summarised, “In trying to create a sex toy that can be used by everyone, PicoBong made a sex toy that is useful to no one”.
The Enby, meanwhile, has received stellar reviews so far, with an average of 4.89 stars out of 5 and comments such as “A game changer” and “Super validating”. Enby is available to pre-order and ships from the U.S. at the end of July. I discovered it myself last month at a community market in Manhattan. I now regret not investigating further at the time.
An online review at Allure recommended the Enby to a transgender man, concluding with: “Overall, I’d recommend Enby for anyone, regardless of gender or genitalia. As with any other sex toy, you’ll have to play around with it to determine how it best works for your body, but it’s absolutely worth it once you find that sweet spot”.
Enby represents a new direction for the sex toy industry, one that is more open, diverse and inclusive. Just like in the porn industry, small, independent brands are inevitably leading the way, but with such positive results, hopefully bigger brands will follow suit. After all, everybody—and every body—deserves pleasure.