I would like to go on record here and say RuPaul’s Drag Race is the greatest show of all time. Sure, this is completely hyperbolic but it’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it but I have good reason for it. In the years I’ve been watching countless drag queens throw shade, glue down their wigs and death drop across the main stage, the show helped me look at myself, a queer man of colour, in a completely different light.
For this to make sense I need to take you back to when I was at university between 2009-2012. In a nutshell, I was deep in the closet and miserable as fuck. Not being out at university is a regret I still have today. If I had come out at university I would have been able to experience the unfiltered joy of being openly gay during my most transformative years. Instead I was self-loathing, denied myself the enjoyment of listening to pop music, carefully watched the way I dressed, modulated my voice to make sure it never got too high or that I didn’t react to something too flamboyantly incase it would get people talking.
I knew well before university that I was gay. It just took me until many years later to actually accept it. It got to a point where I genuinely considered living a double life where I married some poor woman, had a family together and also kept a boyfriend on the side like some fucked up Hannah Montana. It sounds ridiculous now and I do laugh, but the self-loathing was so real back then.
After university I moved back home and away from the hyper hetero environment I put myself in for three years. The first job I got out of university was a bog standard retail job (three years of essays and astronomical tuition fees and I end up back at retail, hurrah!). The job was awful. I hated every minute of it, mainly because an openly gay co-worker of mine found my profile on Grindr and threatened to out me to everyone unless I came out myself. As you’d expect, this shoved me further back into the closet and I stayed miserable.
In 2013 I moved to Nottingham for a year to do an ill-fated masters degree. Around the same time, I began using Twitter a lot more as a way to interact with other gay people because I was tired of pretending to fancy this girl or want to shag that bird. Goddamnit, I just wanted to talk about Britney Spears and dissect every episode of The Hills. I remember telling one person, who I owe so fucking much to and he knows who he is, that I was gay and just by chance he suggested I watch the first four or five seasons of Drag Race on Netflix.
At first I hated it and this was because I hated myself for being gay. Like, I had to really learn to accept that I was different and I found that really difficult because I saw what coming out did to my aunty – parents didn’t accept it and she essentially had to live a double life – and I kept thinking that was what lay ahead for me.
But as I kept watching it something in me shifted. I don’t know if it was the pure joy I got from watching these queens be so unapologetically gay or RuPaul’s words of wisdom – ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?’ – that I started to build up the confidence to finally accept myself. I watched as gay men from all races and walks of life talk about their personal struggles and how drag helped them come over adversity. It was so damn inspiring.
It’s weird because you don’t expect drag queens on a reality show to have kind of impact on you – I didn’t anyway. Drag race is the type of show where everyone is the token loud and in your face contestant that you see on any other reality show. And really, why the fuck shouldn’t they be loud? Effeminate gay men are constantly stigmatised as “giving the rest of us a bad name” because apparently showing any sign of femininity is a weakness. But on Drag Race they don’t care, they celebrate it.
I think that’s what really struck a chord with me. I spent years trying to act “manly”, to make sure my wrist wasn’t limp, that my walk didn’t arouse suspicion and my music taste wasn’t too focused on the big pop girls to get people talking. It was exhausting and when I surrounded myself with LGBT people (albeit on Twitter) and we talked about Drag Race, among other things, it felt like I could finally stop acting and just be.
The confidence that Drag Race instilled in me was as the catalyst to me coming out. Major claim I know, but it really did help redefine my own self awareness in that being gay is fine and being an effeminate gay is fine too.
I’d wish I could say that when I started being myself the friends around me were super supportive, but they weren’t. I’m not longer in touch with 90% of the people I went to university with. One former uni friend said I was “living up to the stereotype” of a gay man and that I should just go back to being the old me. The gag is that old me was never really me to begin with! I was sad to begin with but its been a blessing because its rooted out all the fake allies and generally shit people I had in my life.
On some weird level I envy the young queer children growing up today because I wish there was something like Drag Race on TV when I was growing up. I always consider it as more than an entertaining reality tv show – it’s an education in self-acceptance. Drag Race is almost wrapping up its ninth season and it’s the biggest it’s ever been. The Drag Race brand is inescapable with queens breaking into the mainstream appearing alongside Little Mix and Miley Cyrus. The show may lose a bit of its charm as it moves to catering for a more mainstream audience on VH1 but that said, the show continues to have a profound impact on me and I’ll always credit it for literally changing my life so it’ll never lose me as a fan.