Drag queens, gay culture, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” | Salon Life

The campy spectacle has lost favor with a generation of young gay men. Can RuPaul’s new reality show bring it back?

In the nineties, drag was everywhere. RuPaul was a spokesmodel for MAC, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” were on the movie screens, and Wigstock was this massive event in NYC. Every city had it’s drag shows, pagents and performers.

But according to the author, drag has fallen out of favor because being gay is less shocking. There’s less of a need to be provocative, and because gays are coming out younger and have more access to information and networking, there’s less need to gather at clubs. If you have more support, why would you need to be outrageous to prove yourself?

And it’s also harder to do drag now. There are fewer clubs doing shows. And where are the new divas?

The tragic and outsize divas that have long inspired drag queens are also becoming harder to find in the manufactured pop landscape: The Bette Midlers and Whitney Houstons have been replaced by Katy Perry and the Pussycat Dolls. “The sad thing is, the pop stars that were popularly impersonated in my day all had personality,” says Lady Bunny. “How are you going to impersonate Rihanna? What is her personality? You don’t know, because she’s just a product.

And drag has become an embarrassment to some in the LGBT community. Because it is out there, and it’s so non-mainstream, they see it as an impediment to their acceptance in mainstream America. Of course, truth is mainstream America doesn’t accept you because of drag queens-they don’t accept you because they’re taught that homosexuality is a mortal sin and you’re going to Hell for it. But that’s beside the point…

But you know, it’s not all a disaster. There’s still drag out there:

That’s not to say drag is dead. There will always be an audience, albeit likely a small one, for female impersonation. Underground balls and pageants continue to play a large part of African-American gay urban culture (as documented in “Paris Is Burning”). While Eason has noticed a decline in pageant interest in some parts of the country, there’s been an upswing in conservative states like Missouri, Louisiana and Texas, and everybody I spoke with acknowledged that, while mainstream gay culture may have changed, pop culture works in cycles: You never know when things will come back in style.

If a drag queen is to emerge as the next RuPaul, however, she’ll have to reinvent drag for the sensibilities of a generation that thinks it’s seen it all. She’ll have to make us want to turn off our computers, put on an outfit and head to the clubs. So whatever she does, it’s going to have to be pretty damn fabulous.

I don’t consider myself a drag queen, but I’ve admired those who do it well. It’s an art, as well as expression. Drag queens often accepted me when nobody else would, and they’ve been a part of the transgender community forever. And yes, it was pissed-off drag queens who started off the Stonewall Riots (if you don’t know what they are, go look it up yourself).

So, drag does matter. At least to me.