Why I’m celebrating the trans Drag Race contestants over the straight cisgender one


Drag Race host RuPaul Charles
I remember when Carmen Carrera came out after having been on the show (Picture: RuPaul’s Drag Race)

I’ve been a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race since the series started.

As someone who was doing drag at the time it premiered in 2009, the show and the people on it captivated me. In some ways, I saw myself represented in them.

I’ve watched the series grow from what seemed a low budget DIY show in someone’s garage to a massive mainstream television programme, watched by queer people and straight cisgender people alike. 

The franchise recently announced its contestants for season 14 of the US Drag Race – which includes two trans women of colour, Kerri Colbi and Kornbread ‘The Snack’ Jeté.

And when I saw them walk into the workroom for the premiere episode last week, I felt represented, and seen.

From Kerri wearing the trans pride colours and winning the mini challenge, to Kornbread winning the maxi challenge, it made me feel proud, and is a strong reminder as to why trans people belong in the drag community.

I’ll never forget when Carmen Carrera, who wasn’t out as trans in the series, came out after having been on the show. For me, it was a sense of validation that trans women exist in these communities, and we shouldn’t have to hide who we are.

While the majority of the contestants on the franchise so far have been cisgender gay men, we have also seen several trans people openly compete, such as trans man Gottmik (season 13), trans woman Peppermint (season 9), and trans woman Kylie Sonique Love, who initially competed on season two, but later on on All Stars 6, where she became the first trans person to win a season.

Quite a few contestants have later come out as trans women after they competed on the show, including Kenya Michaels, Laganja Estranja, Jiggly Caliente, and Gia Gunn – and Gigi Goode came out as trans non-binary shortly after appearing on season 12.

Drag Race UK then became the first season where a cisgender lesbian competed on the franchise, with Victoria Scone joining the show on season three. 

At the same time, as a trans person who has done drag in the past, I know what it’s like when someone tells you that you shouldn’t do drag, or that you’re not welcome in that community. This is something I’ve been questioned about, both by people in my community and people in clubs when I’ve been in drag.

RuPaul came under fire in 2018 after being asked if he would cast a trans contestant on the show who had transitioned, replying ‘probably not’ because ‘it changes once you start changing your body’ – he later apologised for any ‘hurt’ his comments caused. 

To me, drag has always been about subverting and playing with expression – and about challenging traditional narratives about gender and sexuality. It has also been a source of expression; a place where I could explore femininity and play with it.

Growing up, it was clear to me that femininity wasn’t something that ‘boys’ were allowed to explore – except through performance or comedy. So drag became a place where I was allowed to and get recognition.

I did drag for quite a few years and travelled abroad to perform, even after I came out as trans. Drag was an important stepping stone for me, and when openly trans I was able to enjoy it on another level – more as a performance and less as an escape from a world that perceived me as a man.

Trans people have always been a part of the drag community and played a central part in it, and it’s been a refuge for many who’ve been able to express themselves through it. 

Throughout the years, there have been voices on social media criticising the fact trans women are doing drag, with some not understanding why they’d want to keep doing it after coming out.

But the difference between being trans and being a drag queen/king is quite simple: trans is who you are, but drag is what you do.

So it’s a shame that the two trans drag queens and their successes might be overshadowed by controversy surrounding the show’s first ever cisgender, straight male contestant – which has caused quite the splash.

Like many others, I agree that they should prioritise queer people on the show instead. I found the casting a bit of a strange choice, given that there is an endless amount of untapped talent and representation within the queer community – such as drag kings, more disabled queer people, and people from more diverse backgrounds.

RuPaul's Drag Race season 14 cast
They should’ve cast another queer person on the show and continued to increase queer representation on mainstream TV (Picture: VH1)

We don’t often see LGBT+ people on mainstream television at all, at least not in leading roles or to the extent of Drag Race.

I therefore don’t agree with the gatekeeping idea that cisgender straight men can’t do drag or should stay away from it – I think they absolutely should if that’s their passion. As long as it’s done respectfully and thoughtfully and with awareness of privilege – and not just because they find it funny to dress up like a woman.

But there is a difference between accepting that drag is for everyone, and giving a straight, cisgender man a platform on an international mainstream queer TV show, rather than so many of the talented queer people waiting to be discovered.

Queer people are already wildly underrepresented and have a lot less access to such opportunities – you’d think a show of this kind would do their best to counter that and showcase queer talent on blast.

But regardless, the drag queen in question isn’t to blame – she just applied, like so many others. The choice of who is on the show is ultimately down to the producers. From what I’ve seen, she seems very aware of her own privilege and will no doubt show herself to be a solid and gracious ally.

That said, I think the focus should rather be on the the queens representing diversity – like Kerri and Kornbread. There have only been a small handful of trans women that have openly competed thus far and I’m excited to see how these two do this season, and how they represent our community. 

On top of being trans women, they are also women of colour – and trans women of colour in particular are victims of extreme violence, especially in America. It’s incredibly important that they get representation, to show Black trans women living their lives and being celebrated for it.

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Our young generations need to see themselves represented, so they know that they can have a good future, and that being trans gives you opportunities in life.

So instead of being upset about a cisgender straight man competing on the show, I’m going to tune in to root for Kerri and Kornbread. I personally think it would be fabulous if both All Stars and Drag Race reigning queens were trans.

It would send a strong message that trans women and trans people deserve to be recognised and celebrated — both in and out of drag.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk. 

Share your views in the comments below.

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