Last week, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK announced the lineup for its third season, which arrives on BBC iPlayer next month. The third season was cast and filmed entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic—season two had a sudden and unexpected break in filming midway through the series. And if it feels like that series only just finished airing, you wouldn’t be wrong: Lawrence Chaney was crowned the show’s second champion in mid-March. But the producers wanted to get back to the show’s original timeline, airing each autumn. And as RuPaul now chairs four Drag Race shows filmed around the world—which have been on non-stop since New Year’s Day—she’s on a tight schedule.
But season three of Drag Race UK is set to make herstory, with the first cis woman competing for the crown. Victoria Scone is a Cardiff-based drag queen and performer—and a queer woman. Immediately, there was backlash on social media, particularly from Drag Race super-fans, the kind who have little knowledge of drag beyond RuPaul’s world. And, of course, they distracted from the real issue here: whether ‘scone’ is pronounced like ‘stone’ or like ‘gone’.
One Twitter user and YouTuber prompted significant outcry after posting a video titled ‘Why I Don’t Support Victoria Scone on RuPaul’s Drag Race’. He was promptly torn to pieces by drag queens from all over the world, including reigning champion Chaney, who posted her comments on Twitter: “Women raised me, I’m inspired by strong women and now Victoria is one of those strong women because of her standing up and showcasing who she is to the world, unapologetically. Sorry but you’ll just have to get used to it.”
This news revealed the worrying misogyny that pervades much of the gay community. Recently, I saw a similar discussion about women in gay bars, with gay men seemingly determined to gatekeep such spaces—when, in fact, many queer bars are intended to serve the entire LGBTQ+ community, not just the G. And it should be noted that we are thoroughly lacking in spaces for and representation of queer women.
“Drag is for everyone and anyone can do drag,” season two fan favourite Bimini Bon Boulash reminded us. Trans women have competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars—when queens have come out as trans in between competing on their original series and returning for All Stars. And the last US season cast Gottmik, the first trans man to compete on the show. RuPaul has previously made some rather disparaging comments about female drag queens—but it seems that she is now changing her mind and moving the show in the right direction.
For some time, Drag Race supported and elevated a very specific kind of drag: femme makeup, wigs, heels and padding. Slowly but surely, though, it has accepted and platformed more diverse drag artistry, like Sasha Velour and Ginny Lemon.
There were, however, valid criticisms to be made of the Drag Race UK announcement. Many were pointing out that there was only one person of colour in the cast, which wasn’t technically accurate. While there’s only one black queen, two contestants are of mixed heritage—River Medway and Anubis Finch have Singaporean and Egyptian heritage, respectively.
But the criticisms didn’t stop there: only two of the queens aren’t from London and the South East; there’s no one from Scotland or Northern Ireland this year. People want to feel represented on such a prominent and popular show, but small towns and local scenes are consistently overlooked. Of course, true representation is nearly impossible, especially in a cast of twelve, and this is reality television, with casting decisions made to deliberately cause drama. But they could certainly do better.
To be clear: it is not the fault of any of the contestants that the casting is so deficient. Any and all blame lies entirely with the producers. Applications were no doubt down this year, with people wanting to wait until after the pandemic to apply. But it’s still largely inexcusable—perhaps not much has changed since the first cast was announced.
RuPaul is not and should never be the arbiter of everything drag, even if fronting two dozen seasons of drag reality competitions has effectively made that the case. Marla Sinner, a drag queen based in Glasgow, put it particularly eloquently. “Just because we can be cast now doesn’t mean we all want to,” she wrote. “It’s good progression but it’s a long time fucking coming and a long way to fucking go.”
The LGBTQ+ community is one that boasts acceptance, kindness, and love. It consists of people who for a lot of their lives have been told they were outsiders, or different—that none of us truly belonged.
For the most part, members of the LGBTQ+ community are accepting of one another. We’re like one big chosen family. But we must also face the reality of what is happening inside our community—where racism, transphobia, biphobia, and ableism (which is by no means an exhaustive list) are taking place and are not being recognised by those who perpetrate these harms. The LGBTQ+ community, and subsequent events such as Pride Month, are supposed to be welcoming and accessible, yet are starting to become anything but.
Many LGBTQ+ spaces are centred around white, cis, gay men, and above that, white people in general. LGBTQ+ BIPOC have been highlighting discrimination in so-called LGBTQ+ ‘safe spaces’—but who are they really safe for?
Research conducted by Stonewall shows that three in five black LGBTQ+ people experience discrimination from other LGBTQ+ individuals. A large problem across white members of the LGBTQ+ community is that we think our queerness cancels out our whiteness. White supremacy is still active in the LGBTQ+ community to this day, just like it is active across society as a whole.
In an article for Metro, written by Mishti Ali, Yaseen, a Pakistani gay man, described his first Pride. Yaseen was sixteen at the time, and after rejecting older men who were hitting on him, he started being subjected to slurs and was called “a dirty P*ki.”
More Stonewall research also found that 36 per cent of trans people and 26 per cent of disabled people have experienced discrimination from within the community. When speaking about transphobia, I remember being at London Pride in 2018, waiting with my youth group to march in the parade. Unbeknown to us until later that day, the parade had been delayed by anti-trans protesters. For those unaware of the incident, a group of anti-trans protesters laid down on the ground carrying banners that claimed, “trans activism erases lesbians.”
Pride is supposed to be a place of love and acceptance, yet that day started with hate and intolerance. Unfortunately, anti-trans sentiment is nothing new in the community. Trans people have been an integral part of queer liberation, most notably the Stonewall uprising where Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson became significant figures in the LGBTQ+ community. However, post-Stonewall trans people, in particular trans women, were quickly disregarded in the community.
Three years after the Stonewall riots, in 1973, Rivera took to the stage at the New York City Pride, and was met with boos from the audience. This audience was predominantly cis, white, and middle-class. In response to their boos and cries, Rivera said to the crowd, “I have been beaten, I have had my nose broken, I have lost my job, I have lost my apartment for gay liberation—and you all treat me this way?”
Ableism is also widespread among the community. With access to LGBTQ+ events often not being available to disabled people, making these spaces more exclusionary than accessible. It’s interesting that LGBTQ+ spaces often fail to consider the needs of disabled people when its own community’s demographic is far more likely to experience mental illnesses, which often manifest themselves in physical ways. Just highlighting the interlinking of it all.
Biphobia within the LGBTQ+ community is yet another problem we need to tackle. Bisexual people are often ‘too gay’ for the straight community, and ‘not gay enough’ for the LGBTQ+ community. Causing us to be in a weird limbo of not belonging anywhere. Bisexual friends of mine have been told by lesbians to just “admit they’re gay already.” When bisexuality is constantly displayed as a stepping-stone from straight to gay, it’s hard to accept yourself—you constantly feel like a fraud.
When bisexual people date one gender, they are often told “oh, so you’re gay/straight now?” As a bisexual person myself, it feels as though the root problem here is a lack of understanding about bisexuality that manifests into biphobia (whether intentional or not).
A 2002 study conducted by Daniel Welzer-Lang, which sought to look at the biphobia displayed by some gay and lesbian people, found some shocking results. The study interviewed 93 people with a range of identities. When one participant was asked what he would say about bisexuals, his response was, “they’re hypocrite, unfaithful, two-faced, uptight, cold, pains in the neck, turncoats, self-important, trendy, heterosexual, capricious, frigid.” He concluded: “they don’t exist.”
This biphobia and lack of acceptance can lead to the development of mental health problems in victims. Despite research suggesting that bisexual people are more likely to suffer from mental illness compared to their lesbian and gay counterparts, there remains a significant lack of studies surrounding mental health and bisexuality.
Those arguments have only skimmed the surface of prejudices and divisions that are alive and well within our community. We cannot expect to achieve true global queer liberation until we are advocating for all members of our community. We must fight for change within our community first, because no one else will.