Pronouns in Drag Culture: Rupaul’s Drag Race and other Crazy Controversies

by Kat Brydson //

Welcome to the crazy world of drag culture. I’ll introduce this to you with a scenario: You’re at your local Taco Bell, enjoying your crunch wrap supreme, when a group of male-presenting folks walk in and keep referring to each other as “she”. If you didn’t know that they were drag queens, you would immediately go, “WTF?” But drag culture doesn’t have to be this confusing, and in order to understand it, it’s important to approach it with a fluid and open mindset.  So I invite you to confront and break down some of those internalized rules surrounding gender as you read, and to remember they are not something to be ashamed of, but a product of the society we live in.

Let’s start off broad: drag is an acronym for dressed resembling a girl, and drag queens are predominantly people who identify as male and present themselves in a feminine manner while in drag. They often have separate names for their drag personas and their everyday selves. For example, popular drag queen Monet X Change refers to themselves as Monet onstage, and is Kevin Bertin offstage and in everyday life. However, some drag queens are so used to their drag names they don’t even answer to their names given at birth. 

By this point you may be thinking to yourself, “Ok. I understand some drag queens use different names for their drag personas, but what pronouns should I use when talking to or about a drag queen?” The answer to this is that there is no golden rule for the pronouns to use when referring to a drag queen. However, many people believe that pronouns should reflect the current state of a person. For example, Monet X Change would use “she” pronouns when in drag, and “he” pronouns when out of drag. However, this line is not at all concrete. When I tune into Ru Paul’s Drag race, queens switch off between he and she pronouns when talking about their competitors or the show’s host, Ru Paul, which has left many viewers confused. A good rule of thumb that I’ve adapted is the idea that, for folks in everyday life and drag queens alike, pronouns are a preference. Some drag queens may prefer “she” at all times, have no preference, or prefer to be called “he” when out of drag. When in doubt, ask!

When acknowledging pronouns in the context of drag, It’s also important to acknowledge the history between drag versus transgender culture. Historically, the drag community was filled with predominantly gay cisgendered men. However, as our society becomes more progressive in our understanding of gender, the media is starting to acknowledge the trans, nonbinary, and even cisgendered women in the drag community. It took Rupaul’s drag race until its 13th season to change its iconic line from “Gentlemen, start your engines, and may the best Woman win” to “Racers, start your engines, and may the best Drag Queen win” ! It’s also vital to acknowledge that many drag queens are entertainers, meaning their drag isn’t always an integral part of their gender identity. This must be kept separate from when a transgender person comes out and asks people to use a different name and pronouns, which is not a performance and is an integral part of their gender identity. 

As popular as drag culture has become, it remains a controversial topic. Some believe it invalidates the trans experience, some believe it perpetuates stereotypes women face on a daily basis, however I believe drag is an art form. It’s an avenue for anyone to explore gender presentation in a performance scenario rather than everyday life setting. Drag Queens help us understand that gender is both a social construction and a performance. 

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/drag-and-pronouns_b_3384512

https://transequality.org/issues/resources/understanding-drag

https://www.out.com/celebs/2020/2/24/drag-races-miss-fame-use-theythem-pronouns

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