A Homonormative Mess: RuPaul’s Drag Race & Neoliberal Militarism

Raja on RuPaul's Drag Race in an outfit appropriative of Native American culture.

Note: Before you read any further, this article is not written to insult members of the U.S. Armed Forces. It is, however, written to express disappointment with RuPaul’s Drag Race’s seemingly unequivocal support for the questionable enterprises our troops have been directed to engage in abroad.

I love RuPaul dearly, but RuPaul’s Drag Race dedicating an entire episode to U.S. militarism was disappointingly assimilationist and tacky for a number of reasons. Firstly, trans women & men are still not allowed to serve in the U.S. armed forces even after the repeal of DADT. Also, praises were sung for being able to strut about in drag in America, but unmentioned is that the chances for persons assigned male at birth being murdered due to assigned gender non-conformance is so damn high (an estimated 1 in 6 trans women of color will be murdered). And this outfit Raja is wearing is appropriative of Native American spiritual culture, and is borrowed from cultures and peoples that the U.S. historically worked to erase. The fact that this outfit, like the rest of the themes of the episode went unquestioned underscores my dissatisfaction with (commercialized) gender non-conformity on its own being an effective tool for anti-oppressive liberation.

I’d remiss not to mention that too often, sexual orientation subsumes gender identity into politics that only protect cis-gender people. Similarly, the homonormative “LGBT” movement tends to be completely ignorant, if not hostile, when it comes to race & issues relevant to (queer) people of color. This is due to unchallenged racism which is often written off as irrelevant due to the effective second class status rendered by sexual orientation. Yet, without challenging racism within the LGBT community (or homophobia and transphobia, which are beginning to be challenged in many communities of color) the movement will fail because it does not represent all its members. This is also the case for trans issues in the “LGBT” community, the worst off again being trans women of color, who do most of the dying but get the least political and legal protection, even within the movement that claims to include them.

The only way to prevent hot messes like this outfit from being commonplace and unquestioned is by continuing to educate and fight for the rights of ALL queers. Given how sexuality and gender liberation have developed in the West, the cornerstone of this will likely involve centering respect and rights for people who trans and/or intersex, people of color, and those who are disabled and/or impoverished, and non-heterosexuals. This must be the center of any project to ensure more rights for people as a whole and ensure them to everyone, taking into account oppressions (and relevant/resulting consequences resulting from generations of oppression) due to identity, body and economic class.

RuPaul’s Drag Race cast members saluting the troops may be an honorable enterprise – especially considering the racial & economic makeup of the troops. Unfortunately, the way this episode was presented to the audience, glorifying U.S. militarism and materialism, demonstrates that the brand of drag-as-entertainment presented on the show is actually easily subsumable within homonormative marketing – gayness as a neoliberal enterprise, emphasizing conformity into a niche market over liberation – as warned against by trans activists in the 90s and written extensively about by queer theorist Lisa Duggan in the early 2000s.

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Acknowledgements: Still from RuPaul's Drag Race airing more...
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