'drag race' queens of color deserve more
Now that season ten is over, will its queens of color fall by the wayside?
RuPaul’s Drag Race season ten has come to a close, and with it we’re saying goodbye to a competition filled with both drama, laughter, glamour, and camp. Luckily, although the season is over, we’re left with another generation of talented queens who will join the incredible roster of alum. As many fans know, the real race starts after Drag Race. There is a reason that queens like Blair St. Clair and Monét X Change both released new music videos on the night they were eliminated — they know that although one race is over, another is just starting.
The post-show careers of Drag Race queens can vary pretty dramatically. The most notable example of that is probably Trixie Mattel. Although she now has a season win under her belt and a crown on her head, Trixie’s success skyrocketed after her initial run on season seven. Although she didn’t make a big impression on the season, her YouTube show UNHhhh with fellow season seven queen, Katya, garnered her a massive fan base that even led to having a similar show on Viceland. Both the YouTube and Viceland shows were produced by World of Wonder, the production company that makes Drag Race, or their digital media branch called WOW Presents.
This rise to fame, sometimes with less velocity, is a common trajectory for the funny white queens of the show. They get to be funny after the show, and given a platform to do so. Queens of color, on the other hand, have a more complicated path after the show.
When one looks at the most quoted moments from Drag Race and the surrounding culture of the show, a large majority of them were supplied by queens of color: Shangela, Kennedy Davenport, Coco Montrese, Latrice Royale, Chi Chi DeVayne, Jasmine Masters, Aja, Phi Phi O'Hara, Gia Gunn, etc. Often times, however, the only success that these queens get is being turned into memes. They’re rarely given the platforms that their white sisters are given. If you follow the surrounding Drag Race community, you’ll know that there are certain queens you just see around a lot, either in World of Wonder content or in videos from other media outlets. These are queens that have a consistent presence and most of the time, these queens are white.
One quirky white queen that garners a lot of attention, Katya, even spoke about this in an interview. When Katya and Trixie appeared on the talk show, Hey Qween!, they participated in a segment called “Look At Huh,” where the host Jonny McGovern puts a picture of another person (usually another Drag Race queen) and asks the guests to talk about them. Fresh out of All Stars 2, McGovern brought up a lot of Katya’s costars — including Coco Montrese. In the middle of their discussion Trixie says that Coco provided them with some of their favorite quotes from the show ever.
“I think it’s very unfortunate. It’s an unfortunate trend that we’re able, as viewers, to really enjoy these quotes and these behaviors, while they don’t benefit,” Katya said. “That’s exploitation, right?”
Bob the Drag Queen, season eight Drag Race winner, recently tweeted about the disparity in support between white and black queens.
“NOT ALL, but a lot of the most popular queens fall into the thin white category,” Bob writes, citing the fact that no black queens except RuPaul have over a million followers on Instagram. Although there are a few non-black queens of color who have large followings on Instagram, it’s usually because of other their fan bases from other communities: Kim Chi is popular in the beauty community and Adore Delano is popular for her music.
There are probably a handful of queens who have reached comparable levels of prominence to the quirky white queens crew. Bob the Drag Queen and Bianca Del Rio are a couple, but they were winners. In fact, they’re the only two winners of color since the show developed the audience that it carries today. Besides that, the one queen that comes to mind is Shangela. Especially since her return onto All Stars 3, the sugar-free queen from Texas has been a queen on everyone’s mind. But how hard has she worked to get there? She has been on Drag Race three times and been successful, she has multiple iconic lines, and she has made a solid career off of being on Drag Race — which is rarer for queens from the early seasons.
It’s not impossible for queens of color to make it into the spotlight, but it’s clearly a lot more difficult. Instead of queens of color growing their career from the jokes they make, they’re often tied and relegated to them. Kennedy Davenport even expressed some sadness in All Stars 3 that despite her success on the show, she doesn’t get the same fan reactions that other queens get.
We have evidence that the season ten queens will fall victim to the same pattern. The white and salty Miz Cracker, a season ten fan favorite, talked about having one of the longest meet and greet lines at DragCon 2018 behind previous winners like Bianca Del Rio and Sasha Velour. In addition, Miz Cracker was one of the queens announced to have an upcoming WOW Presents show called JewTorials.
So, what happens to the queens of color from this season? Many have given us hilarious moments and quotable lines. Monét X Change with her sponges, Monique Heart with her State of the Union speeches and brown cow print, and The Vixen with her “no, too vague,” line from Untucked.
Without a doubt, the most quoted part of season ten is Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s iconic exit line from the first episode of the season, “Miss Vanjie. Miss Vanjie. Miss... Vanjie.” What happened to Vanessa is a perfect example of what often happens to queens of color in lieu of growing a career. Fans have used her line constantly since the first time they heard it and it’s even been put on many, many t-shirts. While these moments produce capital for other folks, and the show itself, the queens of color don’t really benefit.
It is possible that we’ll see a different fate for the season ten queens than we’ve seen for their predecessors. In fact, Jasmine Masters was another queen who had been kind of reduced to her funny quotes. Although she’s not really remembered for her season, she got a bit of attention afterward because of her hilarious YouTube videos, and for a long time, that’s all she received.
But what can give us hope is the fact that Jasmine has actually had a lot more of a presence recently. She was recently in a video for Access alongside Trixie Mattel, where she discussed the season ten queens, and also in a video for Billboard where she explains her word “jush.” Jasmine has also been given a long overdue show on WOW Presents Plus, the paid subscription service from World of Wonder.
If Jasmine Masters, one of the most undervalued drag queens in Drag Race history, can finally start growing her platform after all this time, we can hold out hope for the season ten girls, too.
- RuPaul's Drag Race