Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #9: RuPaul’s Drag Race, Seasons 2-7

RuPaul

***NO SPOILERS*****NO SPOILERS*****NO SPOILERS***

I was introduced to RuPaul’s Drag Race by my step-daughter, who said her proudest moment would be if her brother ever appeared on it.
I don’t know why it isn’t more of a (female?) phenomenon in the UK, because it combines everything you could want from a hard-fought reality show, as well as providing for all your comedy, high fashion, emotional backstory and killer bitchiness needs.

Sharon Needles. Need I say more?

Sharon Needles. Need I say more?

RuPaul Charles is a drag queen (read ‘Drag Superstar of the World’). Out of drag, he is a very tall, slim and slightly geeky black man. In drag he is an amazing glamazonian with blonde hair, model-looks and sequined designer gowns. We are not talking Danny La Rue here.
The programme is sort of a Great British Bake-Off for drag queens, of which America seems to have an unending supply. At the start of the series, 12 men dressed up as women pitch up in a large workroom and are giving various tasks to do. At the end of each week, one is sent home until the season finale crowns the Next Drag Superstar.
RuPaul is the Mary Berry in heels and a corset presiding over it all, helped by a panel of C-list judges. He offers inspiring advice and killer put-downs in equal measure.
It is as hilarious, eyebrow-raising and gross as it sounds – as well as inspiring and touching.

Courtney Act

This is Courtney Act. She. Is. A. Man

In the UK, we see drag queens as little more than pantomime dames. In Drag Race, where drag is an art, it is obvious they are so much more than that. There are the comedy queens, of course, but there are also the pageant queens, in foot-long false eyelashes and over the top prom dresses, the fishy queens who look so much like women (fish=woman, you don’t need to know why) it is unnerving, the East Coast queens in their weird, edgy drag that usually involves sticking bits of hairdryers all over a bodystocking and talking about My Art and the plus-size queens with their Large and In Charge ethos.
The tasks are either silly, hilarious or just ewww.

The queens have to dress non-drag men up as fellow queens, take part in mini-Broadway shows or exercise videos, record a song (promoting whatever single RuPaul has just released), dress puppets up as fellow queens or guess the colour of a load of beefy assistants underpants.

Stacey Lane Matthews

Stacy was chunky but not very funky

At the end of every show there is a catwalk, where they have to strut in their best drag to a different theme each week, ranging from Gold Eleganza to Executive Realness. After telling each queen how she had let herself – and, more importantly, Mama Ru, down, RuPaul selects the bottom two who will have to Lypsynch For Your Life.

Cue over the top dance moves, splits (‘she dropped it like it was hot’), and wig swinging (in one memorable Lypsynch, one queen dragged off her wig only to reveal another wig underneath). Ru delivers her verdict, telling the losing queen to ‘Sashay away’, which she does with her head held high and a few bitchy words for the camera back in the workroom. You don’t get that on Strictly.

Stacey Lane Matthews

Stacy Layne out of drag. Or is she?

The show’s production values are as trashy as the queens’ outfits. Sponsors get any number of mentions, the stages are tiny, the audience, when they have one, is about a dozen people. Everything is held together with hundreds of catchphrases you will soon find yourself incorporating into everyday life, such as remember – don’t fuck it up, or no tea, no shade, no pink lemonade and can I get an Amen in here? Oh, and a phrase for every situation – don’t blow your nose on the fabric, baitch!

Stuff I think about when sewing on my sequins:

  • You need a suitably draggy name – try Pandora Box, Sharon Needles, Milk, The Princess, Ginger Minj, Shangela, Penny Tration and Jujubee for size.
  • You have to be gay. You don’t have to be, but they all are.
  • You have to be able to read – give someone a dressing down in the most bitchy way possible (usually preceded by donning a pair of plastic glasses and announcing ‘the library is open’).
  • You have to say fuck a lot. All the queens swear vilely, all the time.
  • You have to know how to tuck (go look it up) – a meaty tuck is to be avoided at all costs. You also have to cinch (to avoid hogbody) and pad. It’s a whole new world.
  • You have to have a tearful back story. Actually, this isn’t true. Some of the queens have lovely, supportive families, but they are in the minority. Most were bullied at school for being gay and effeminate, many have parents who can’t accept their lifestyles, some are totally estranged from their families. Ah, the shade of it all…
RuPaul season 6 lineup

The Season 6 line-up – fave series so far. Every queen was a winner (except Laganja Estranja, obvs)

Is it better to feel the fear – or take a detour?

An old style telephone surrounded by takeaway food menus

This is about social anxiety – those hidden fears and neuroses that blight your life and make you feel like a brain-crippled, un-normal, low-functioning fool.
I didn’t know, until I heard a radio phone-in, how many other people have Things. Thought it was just me and a couple of close, confiding friends.
Everyone else has no problem ordering a drink, opening the door, talking to a teacher, going to a bank. They – the happy, carefree, normal people – just get on with stuff like this.
But a 5live phone-in last year was unexpectedly flooded with people who successfully hold down difficult jobs or manage busy lives while coping with Things.

An old housemate had a Thing about hairdressers. By no means shy, or lacking in confidence, what he used to hate about it was that you are held captive and can’t escape while they question you. He used to beg me to come in with him and tell the barber he was a deaf mute so I could do all the talking. He would regularly make appointments then cancel them. Eventually, he bought a set of clippers from Argos and I trimmed his hair in the kitchen (this is when military-style crew cuts were in fashion).

A pair of sharp hairdresser's scissors

Would you trust me with these? I wouldn’t, but I don’t have the Thing about hairdressers…

A colleague’s wife had a Thing about people coming to the door. It freaked her out, unsettled her for days, so much so she used to ring him, sometimes in hysterics, whenever anyone knocked at their front door.

Made no sense to me, who has no problem yanking the door open and telling whoever it is to shove their taunting double glazing leaflets somewhere they’ll be appreciated – like Antartica.
But ask me to pick up the phone and call for a takeaway and you will end up very hungry.

A telephone and lots of takeaway food menus

Yes, sometimes I would rather starve

I have a Thing about phones, and calling takeaways in particular. Just can’t do it, and I don’t know why. The phone often crackles and you can’t hear what is being said properly, you might mess the order up, you have to give your name and if you mumble you have to repeat it.

Using the phone is hell – I would rather drive to the takeaway, order in person, sit on a draughty bench surrounded by drunken yobs reading last week’s local free sheet for half and hour then drive home while it all goes cold or spills out over the passenger seat.

I have always regarded this as a weakness, a failing that limits me, sets me apart from the rest of the population and which I should try to overcome. I make myself use the phone, and when I do, it is always fine. Although I hate it, I always end up with the right order.
But I still dread it as much the next time.

There is a theory, the Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway theory, inspired by the book by Susan Jeffers. I read this book years ago and can’t remember anything about but the inspiring title. You can work through your fears, it implies, until they aren’t fears anymore.
But can you? If you have a Thing about making phone calls, or parking the car (another of mine, let’s not go there), the theory is, if you make yourself do it often enough, and without mishap, then it becomes easier and easier until the fear is gone. Yeah, sometimes I can pick up the phone and get on with it, but it doesn’t make me feel stronger, and the next time I loathe it just as much. And it has always been this way for me.

Same with my housemate with the hair. He now has a standing appointment with a city-centre barbers which is too loud and busy for chit-chat. He says it makes it a bit easier – but not much. He still occasionally cancels when he can’t face walking in there.
In the twenty-five years I have known him, he still hasn’t got over his Thing, despite facing it time and time again. (I don’t know about the colleague with the wife. I changed jobs. Maybe she is cowering in the hall right now while he bangs on the door having forgotten his keys.)

MOT certificates and a MOT refusal certificate

I. Would. Just. Rather. Walk.

I have a Thing about garages. The kind where you get your car MOTed and it costs you £1,000 and there is nothing you can do, luv, because they have already stripped it down, y’see and it is going to cost you 500 nicker just to build it back up again, luv.
I have had a LOT of bad experiences with garages. But not my current garage, which is run by two laid-back blokes who have cheerfully stuck my car back together with duck tape before now, always manage to jolly it on through its MOT and are always up front and honest. My car has been going to this garage for fifteen years now, but MOT time still sees me with my head in a bucket of sand while reaching for the bus timetable deciding I don’t actually need to drive anywhere anyway.

My husband does the garage stuff. He books it in, drops it off, even when it is of extreme inconvenience to him. He braves the oily workshop and talks about alternators and crank-shafts and stuff. The amount of stress and anxiety this saves me is mammoth. I know I shouldn’t be avoiding it – I should be feeling the fear and doing it anyway – but the relief that I don’t have to any more is indescribable.

Is this a bad thing? Is this the thin end of the wedge? If I avoid every Thing I have anxieties about will I end up a prisoner to them, stuck at home with a broken-down car, slowly starving to death as I try to harness the mental strength to order a curry? Or will I just feel better able to manage everything else in my life?