The Queen of All Queens: RuPaul

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Drag queens manifest all those stereotypical feminine traits, which are deemed “normal”…when attached to a biological female that is. Drag queens make the distinction between real and fake, natural and unnatural, aesthetically very challenging. They accentuate all the “normal” characteristics: acts, clothing, and make-up, sexual gestures, which we would usually associate with a person of the opposite sex. As a result, drag queens, as well as drag kings, are hugely stigmatized and marginalized but why?

Drag queens reveal gender as a cultural code, explicitly exposing through accentuating “normalcy” just how fictitious these hegemonic “norms” are. I feel the reason people are often hostile towards the aesthetics of the drag queen or drag king is because their acts are so strongly associated with homosexuality. In reality, there do exist drag queens that are married with children and visual aesthetics can be so misleading, it would naive to assume they could reflect a person’s sexuality. In fact, one could argue that by a man taking on a feminine persona or vice versa whilst maintaining their biological attributes, proves a certain level of masculine/feminine confidence which states: “I’m better at being feminine/masculine than females/males themselves, yet I still have a penis/vagina”. In a way, they’re getting the best of both worlds…albeit the homophobia that is.

Judith Butler’s concept of “gender performativity” suggests that: “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a hugely rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (p.33). In other words gender is not a manifestation of an inherent essence, there is no “core” gender. Instead, gender is “performative”, it’s not who we are rather what we do. For Butler, the drag queen is the ideal example for proving instability between sex and gender as well as the performative nature of gender identities. But has society, fashion and culture realized gender as a performative? Let’s take a gander.

RuPaul (1960-) is perhaps the most famous and glamorous drag queen in the world. He is also a writer, actor, model, singer and author. RuPaul has fashioned himself into a gender-bending genius, using his undeniable intellect and body in a quest to liberate people’s notions of gender identity and beauty.

RuPaul’s make-up artist Mathu Andersen, an innovation to the industry in his own right, created his style and outlandish look RaPaul calls the “Glamazon Look” together with his costume designer Zaldy. This hyper-feminine look gained RaPaul a solid place in the beauty world, thus putting into question those images deemed “ideal” feminine beauty. Here is a man who looks just, if not more feminine and beautiful then all those other “ideal” faces, which dominate fashion/beauty advertising. RuPaul is also noted in the drag world for being indifferent about gender-specific language: “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don’t care! Just as long as you call me.” He or she RuPaul is a truly unique character, pushing the boundaries of “normalcy” beyond redemption.

Born a boy named RuPaul Andre Charles, he grew up in San Diego acquiring a taste for femininity, heavily influenced by the styles of his mother and three sisters. After confronting drug addiction and poverty RuPaul moved to New York in the 1980’s and became a popular attraction through his various flamboyant acts on stage. As well as drag performance RuPaul became renowned for his musical pursuits. His debut album, “Supermodel of the World” was released in 1993. The single “Supermodel (You Better Work)” a tribute to the divas of the fashion world placed in the top 30 on the Pop Charts whilst the music video was nominated for Best Dance Video at the 1994 MTV video music awards. Cue the drag’s sudden ubiquity. All at once RuPaul was everywhere

Fast forward twenty years and RuPaul is still a dominant figure within the entertainment industry. In America, no less, he is a household name. RuPaul’s achievements are spell binding. To name a few, RuPaul became the first drag queen supermodel after being signed to MAC cosmetics often appearing in full drag with the tagline, “I am the MAC girl”; he has appeared in Hollywood movies, had his own talk show and even performed at a Gay rights rally in Washington D.C., on the same spot Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech!

More recently, RuPaul hosts and mentors a reality TV show entitled, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (2009-) the ultimate in drag queen competitions. The competition follows unbelievably beautiful and talented drag queens all fighting for the title-and tiara-as the next superstar drag queen of America. Each week, the contestants are given trials and tasks, one drag queen being eliminated at the end. The show pays testament to Butler’s gender performative theory. The drag queens explicitly expose how femininity can be acquired through particular types of walk, talk, make-up and clothes. These are man but are the epitome of what is deemed an “ideal” feminine beauty. It’s truly mesmerizing.

The drag queens proved so mesmerizing in fact, fashion brand Marco Marco-famed for their outlandish costumes-featured the contestants of RuPaul’s “Drag Race” in their spring to summer fashion collection in 2013. It pays tribute to the rules and “norms” of the fashion world becoming more open-minded. It also attests to the performative nature of gender. The show featured both drag queens and “normal” males and females, blurring the lines of the gender binary. It proves that drag queens and gender bending is becoming more and more upcoming and mainstream. Marco Marco has an ongoing-list of Hollywood’s elite in his repertoire including Fergie, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and Shakira. So by implementing drag queens into Marco Marco’s campaigns is definitely a big deal. Check out the show above.

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As mentioned earlier Mathu Anderson, creative producer on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, creative director on “Drag U” (a spinoff of Drag Race) and the make-up artist and stylist of RuPaul, is also living proof how far acts, make-up and gestures can transform the ideas of gender. Check out his Instagram where sporting lipstick and beards is a current and “beautiful” thing!

References:

Paul, R (1995). Lettin’ It All Hang Out: An Autobiography. Hyperion Books

Eakin, M AV Club ( 2013) RuPaul on “Supermodel (You Better Work),” Kurt Cobain, and Drag Race [online] available from< http://www.avclub.com/article/rupaul-on-supermodel-you-better-work-kurt-cobain-a-105239> [28 February 2014]

Malena, M IMBD (2012) [online] available from< http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0750412/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm>[28 February 2014]

Cotton Candy Mag (2011) COOL CAREERS: CELEBRITY COSTUME DESIGNER [online] available from< http://cottoncandymag.com/money/cool-careers-celebrity-costume-designer/>[28 February 2014]

Villagomez, A Next Now Next (2013) 13 Reasons You Should Follow “Drag Race” Creative Genius Mathu Andersen On Instagram: Photos [online] available from<http://www.newnownext.com/10-reasons-you-should-be-following-mathu-andersen-on-instagram/11/2013/>[28 February 2014]

Avery, D Next Now Next (2013) “Drag Race” Queens Walk In Marco Marco Fashion Week Show: Full Video [online] available from< http://www.newnownext.com/drag-race-queens-walk-in-marco-marco-fashion-week-show-full-video/10/2013/>[28 February 2014]

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