The queens were put through their paces on two classic Drag Race challenges and for the first time this season, an episode didn’t feel like it was missing essential elements of the show. But first, let’s talk a little bit about one of our favorite subjects: shade and reading.
First, congratulations to Loosey, who really tapped into her inner CharismaUniquenessNerveTalent to win the Library challenge. You’ve gotta watch your back around those sparkly, positive queens. They always have the potential to be raging bitches when pushed. The line about Mistress’s kitten heels formerly being stilettos was hilarious.
Having said that, we think this week showed yet another mass misunderstanding of the culture of drag on the part of the Drag Race fandom. First, let’s note that this crop of queens were unusually adept at reading. There were only a few moments of silence and it seems like none of the reads went over the line and/or none of the queens seemed too offended by any jokes made about them. Part of that comes from being on the inside of this community and understanding that reading and shade don’t have to be personal affronts. As Ru used to say when introducing the Library challenge, this kind of communication and humor is “part of our culture.” But another part of it almost certainly comes from knowing that the fandom can be brutal and one drag-nasty comment can be blown out of proportion by thousands of online viewers and ultimately wind up affecting a queen’s livelihood. We saw that once again this week as Mistress Isabelle suffered a barrage of online attacks and had her socials shut down by malicious snitch-reporting, all because she had the audacity to get a little shady with Marcia Cubed about where she stood in the judges’ rankings.
Pretty much the main reason we wrote our second book is because we documented Drag Race‘s expansion and explosion in real time and we saw how a much wider worldwide audience of babyqueers and allies lacked an understanding of the essential qualities of drag and how they came to be. We’re *checks nails* extremely happy with the response to Legendary Children, but we’d like to take this moment to address the one critique we’ve encountered; that the history and stories found inside it have been documented before. We will not only cop to this critique, we will admit that this was 100 percent by design. While we love when anyone deigns to pick it up, it was definitely written for those people who hadn’t heard these stories before or didn’t understand how they connected to Drag Race, and by extension, all queer lives. Anyway, our point (to which we devoted an entire chapter of the book) is this: shade and reading are quintessential realities of drag life, arising largely out of African-American humor traditions, developed by trans women of color who needed any weapon they could find to survive on the streets, because 70 years ago, trans women were largely forced into sex work or drag performing. Shade and reading are cultural tools to affirm social standing, reinforce social norms within the group, and provide a momentary defense against any threat. A good, experienced queen could use her mouth and wits to bring a room to hysterical laughter, reduce another queen to tears for getting out of line, or stop a harasser in their tracks. EVERY queen develops this skill on some level. Mistress didn’t say anything that was out of line, but even if she had, the fandom of this show needs to understand and respect the culture they’re fortunate enough to get a glimpse of. Queens read each other. Constantly. Understand that and let them be what they are. We would like to think that every Drag Race fan needs to read our book before they watch the show, but even we can admit that’s not necessarily true (although it would benefit their understanding and appreciation). No, what every Drag Race fan absolutely needs to do is watch Paris is Burning. There’s no excuse for not having seen it by now.
The main challenge was a cutely framed take on homemade drag. The queens were split into three teams and each was assigned a room based on a judge’s preferred decor. From left to right: Michelle’s Jersey Girl Glam, Carson’s Western-inspired decor, and Ross’s Palm Springs Mid-Century Gay Hacienda style. Sourcing items from their assigned room, each team had to come up with a cohesive collection.
There was the usual round of “I don’t sew” nonsense, for which we have not the slightest bit of sympathy at this stage in the game. No one’s expecting world-class work, but you can take a one-day class to learn how to thread a sewing machine and finish a seam. There’s just no excuse for it coming from anyone on Drag Race at this point. We will once again state our wish that the show produce an all homemade version. Cast queens who can sew and tell them to pack shoes, wigs, jewels and tights only.
Somehow the episode managed to pack in a mini-challenge and a visit from Ru to the Werk Room, despite Todrick Hall’s ongoing attempts to ruin the show. It’s not so much that we need to see these moments because Ru provides essential information to the queens so much as we need to see that Ru has some sort of connection to each of them, no matter how small. If all she does is announce challenges and render judgment on them, she doesn’t get a chance to be Mother.
Team Visage came out looking like Michelle’s family reunion, which is exactly what they should have done. Mistress’s look is extremely impressive from a technical standpoint. It’s perhaps not the most interesting design in the group, though. Aura’s look was okay, although we’d have liked to have seen how they hashed out the situation regarding her design and Spice’s nearly identical one. Her gold cape/scarf thing makes no sense with the outfit, though. Amethyst is giving Halloween party first-time-in-drag. It’s not good. We admit to being a bit surprised by how put-together Spice is. It’s not an award-winning look, obviously, but it was competently finished and well styled. Luxx delivered high fashion, drama, and an instantly understood character. She was clearly the best in her group.
Team Carson did surprisingly well with elements and styles that don’t really lend themselves to drag interpretation as easily as Michelle’s aesthetic or Ross’s. Robin’s is interesting and has a high fashion feel to it, but that shoulder thing is weird. Jax’s was surprisingly good. The bitch can sew. We think the judges got a little nitpicky about some of the details, given how well-executed and designed it is. We think she fucked up the styling, though. Eighties hair would’ve gone a long way toward selling the look and the spiked dog collar makes no sense with it. Anetra managed to combine her showgirl aesthetic with a pseudo Ralph Lauren vibe and somehow, it mostly worked. Salina is a mess, we’re sorry to say. The comforter train was an interesting idea but it didn’t pan out in practice and it wasn’t integrated into the rest of her look.
Like Team Visage, Team Ross had a very drag-friendly aesthetic which they mostly utilized in cliched ways. Sasha’s look is the most professionally finished of the bunch. The bathing suit is gorgeous and the braided sash was a brilliant touch. Too bad she couldn’t get the coverup off on the runway. That seemed to hurt her standing. We thought Loosey’s look was hideous, to be honest. Well made, but ugly. Her drag adds about 25 years to her age and it doesn’t have to be that way, but that tends to be the case when the girls go overboard on the fillers. Malaysia had some finishing issues, but in terms of creating a full, easily recognized character, she was among the best. Once again, Marcia Cubed’s drag forces her to fade into the background. This one’s got a ticking clock on her forehead.
So condragulations to Luxx, who snatched this one easily. It’s always nice to see a queen ace a challenge in her area of expertise. She’s been puffing up her own fabulousness since she walked in the door and this week, she got to prove it.
Salina and Amethyst wound up in the lip sync and we think it was clear from before the first note dropped how it was going to go down. We’ll give Amethyst credit: she may not be quite at lip sync assassin levels, but in each of her three visits to the bottom, she worked like hell to get out of it. We can’t say that Salina was all that much better than her, but she was just good enough to make the final call a relatively easy one.
We didn’t realize until she said it that she’d only been doing drag for a little over two years. No tea no shade, but it showed. Even so, we were a little surprised by that reveal because, while her drag may be rough and unpolished, she’s actually got the makings of someone who could take it far. She’s funny and understands performing. She just needs a mother to show her how to get the technical parts of drag correct.
Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of The Year by NPR is on sale wherever fine books are sold!
It’s also available in Italian and Spanish language editions, darlings! Because we’re fabulous on an INTERNATIONAL level.
[Photo Credit: MTV via Tom and Lorenzo]
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