Toxic ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Fans Are In Danger Of Ruining The Show For Everyone

Everybody say love!

RuPaul's Drag Race host RuPaul

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As soon as we get a glimpse of the queens competing in a new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, viewers guesstimate who will reign — and who would go home first. Over on Facebook and Instagram earlier this year, the Meet The Queen videos for Season 11 were flooded with comments immediately, some loving — many hateful, masquerading as shade.

— This article was first published February 1, 2019. —

“Is it me, or is this [cast] a bit B team?”, one person asked. “This cast so boring and low energy compared to season 10… seriously a downgrade,” another offered. “First to go, calling it.”

The reveal, a live stream hosted by Adam Rippon and season 10 winner Aquaria, didn’t fare much better. Aquaria took to Twitter shortly after to condemn the “extremely racist” and “heinously judgemental” comments left by viewers, who took glee in every awkward moment or less-than-perfect look and performance. But they were, unfortunately, nothing new.

The comments echoed what we see during, before and after each season. Before All Stars 4 had even begun, returning queen Farrah Moan’s announce photos copped comments calling her a ‘filler queen’, ‘trash’ and a ‘waste of a spot’. A social media intern’s since cleaned things up, but it’d already made its mark. The day after the cast announce, Farrah took to Twitter to say she wasn’t sure if she could deal with the attention.

“Idk if my mental health is at a point where I can handle another round of these fans and their hurtful opinions every week,” she wrote in a now-deleted (but screenshotted) tweet.

“I wish people looked at us as human beings with a passion for our art, instead of these disposable dancing monkeys here for your entertainment.”

Aquaria and Farrah are far from the only queens who have spoken out against the Drag Race fanbase. And while saying mean things online isn’t exclusive to this show, there is a specific insipidness to the ever-growing fan base, ironically because of the intense connection they have to the queens.

Much has been written about the power of Drag Race‘s magnitude, its ability to transform what was once a butt of a joke into a mainstream cultural force, all while being one of the most racially and culturally diverse shows out there, reality or otherwise.

It’s often joked the show’s like a sport’s league for LGBTIQ people (and the many straight women who find strength in the queen’s fierceness), with fans creating fantasy leagues and arguing non-stop over a ranking system of the season’s tops and bottoms.

We’re forgetting one thing: Drag Race‘s just not that serious. As Alyssa Edwards once said, “it’s not personal, it’s drag.”

The endless podcasts and recaps around Drag Race show there’s so much to discuss and probe, and that’s part of its charm: once you’re invested, you care deeply for all the drama, on and off the show.

On and offline, its easy to lose hours debating top threes and lip sync robberies, runway performances and overlooked moments or unfair edits. But as the show balloons in popularity, that passion to defend favourites has turned race chasers into trolls.

And we’re forgetting one thing: it’s just not that serious. As Alyssa Edwards once said, “it’s not personal, it’s drag.”

That’s Not Reading, That’s Just Being A Bitch

Despite what the internet suggests, shade isn’t a Chrissy Teigen clap-back. It, like so many of our cultural obsessions and catchphrases, comes from New York’s ballroom scene, a community of queer and trans people — largely of colour — who created makeshift families and a space for safe expression when the rest of the world ostracised them. In 1991 ballroom documentary Paris Is Burning, drag legend Dorian Corey spells out the fine line between hate and playful shade.

“Shade comes from reading, reading came first,” Corey tells cameras. “Reading is the real art form of insults.”

Reading’s exaggerating a flaw or truth about another person, and turning it (and them) into a joke. In Paris Is Burning, we see Venus Xtravaganza call a muscly man an “overgrown Orangutan”, asking him to touch her own flawless, hairless arms. The point’s made, but it’s also laughed off.

As are (most) of the leg-and-dairy reads in Drag Race‘s annual reading challenge, a tribute to Paris Is Burning where queens put on reading glasses and crack jokes about their competition. Alongside the Snatch Game, it’s high up on each season’s most-anticipated moments, where the queens, who by this stage know each other pretty well and can play off each other’s personalities.

But reading requires that intimacy — and when fans join in online, they lack the community that makes shade, shade. Think of it in the simplest terms: it’s easy to playfully insult a friend, but much harder to pull it off with an acquaintance. While fans might feel connected to the queens, it’s largely a one-way channel — and for them, your ‘jokes’ land as hate.

In Paris Is Burning, Corey implies that shade comes in part from queer bodies having to defend themselves in the real world. But there, the intent is different: it’s a matter of survival, of fighting back. “If it’s happening between the gay world and the straight world, it’s not really a read,” she says. “It’s more of an insult, a vicious slur fight.”

In a lesser sense, fan messages about how X or Y queen should have gone home just become insults without the context of sisterhood, working against the myth of ‘Everybody Say Love!’ the show promotes. And as queens become villains on the show or have an off episode, they’re bombarded with messages — take Gia Gunn, who spent her stint on All Stars 4 stirring the pot. It was perfect reality TV — she gave us lots of entertaining moments, beautifully petty one-liners and facial expressions, but fans absolutely hammered her online with messages about how she’s a toxic, hateful person.

But she’s just playing the role of a villain (the whole world is drag!). That line is blurred for most viewers, who write off a queen forever off one comment, or turn early outs into the butt jokes (Honey Davenport, Serena Cha Cha).

And as new fans visit old seasons, queens who got a bad wrap on their seasons like Phi Phi O’Hara, Ginger Minj and Laganja Estranga are called evil, gross or unhinged all over again, on the daily. Talking on the Katya and Craig podcast, Laganja recently revealed plans to step away from drag, finding the fanbase and live audiences to be too judgemental and hateful, speaking of how crowd members often buy tickets out of spite.

She’s not the only one. Controversial winner Tyra Sanchez has had a tumultuous relationship to fans (though she did threaten to bomb DragCon…) and largely quit drag, as have much-maligned queens Magnolia Crawford, Rebecca Glasscock and Phi Phi O’Hara.

You’re Born Naked, And The Rest Is A Dumb Joke

In early seasons, the pastiche of Drag Race was clear. Low-budget and indebted to Top Model and Project Runway, the show poked fun of reality TV conventions through dumb-ass mini-challenges and photoshoots, as well as campy one-liners and riffs off Tyra Mail and Tim Gunn’s intimidating workroom presence.

It was a show that never took itself too seriously — early season challenges included eating gross food, selling tickets to a drag burlesque show on Hollywood Boulevard, and lip-syncing to backstage fights from previous seasons. It was dumb, fun, and full of bad cum …jokes.

That kitschiness has kind of been lost a little in the glow-up since Season Six in 2012. As it gets glossier, the show has scrubbed itself of its scraggly roots.

On the very first episode, Rebecca Glasscock entered the workroom wearing jeans. Jeans. Lines like ‘lip sync for your life’ and ‘Charisma Uniqueness Nerve and Talent’ have, in time, lost their ridiculousness.

Where wig removals were once considered raw moments of vulnerability, now they’re the height of unprofessional behaviour. Now, you must have a wig underneath your wig, because we now expect professional, always en-pointe performances from what’s an inherently messy, campy art-form.

For most, Drag Race is drag in a way we’d never say The Voice is music, or …Top Model is modelling.

There’s also an uncomfortable racial and size element to the hatred: and by that, we mean that the fanbase consistently favours slim, white queens above all others. Part of that is due to the show’s own portrayal of queens of colour, and the implicit racism in giving them unforgiving or spiteful edits. On Season 10, The Vixen called out Aquaria for her ‘white tears’ in Untucked, prompting a meta-conversation on how a black queen or person of colour defending themselves is continuously read by the public as them attacking or bullying others. As them’s Phillip Henry wrote when discussing The Vixen’s portrayal, Drag Race is a “microcosm of gay culture”, complete with discrimination.

Talking to Out about the latest All Stars, The Vixen raised another astute point. In recent seasons, and particularly on All Stars, she notes it’s evident that queens are self-editing themselves for the show, either through creating ooh-ah-ah catchphrases or by openly saying they wouldn’t send home fan favourites like Latrice Royale, in fear of what the fans would do.

With more people watching — and much more money up for grabs — there is more at stake, but the seriousness of the fanbase is stifling the show. It’s like they’re missing the joke: the fundamental irreverence of drag. While we wouldn’t go as far as Jasmine Masters in saying RuPaul’s Drag Race has fucked up drag, it’s definitely changed it forever. For most, Drag Race is drag in a way we’d never say The Voice is music, or …Top Model is modelling.

By now, we know reality TV is far from ‘real’ (and if not, go listen to Willam and Alaska’s excellent Race Chaser podcast), but for some reason, we treat Drag Race as the be and end all, complete with a set of fan-made scorecards. In doing so, we’re are killing off the lightheartedness of the show, and drag’s unique, distinctly queer ability to be incredibly meaningful and dumb at the same time.

All seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race are available to stream on Stan.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and is that girl you knew he was. Follow him on Twitter.