Just when we thought our weekly dose of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 12 was enough, Netflix suddenly made its special spin-off “RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race” available for streaming.
The show is pretty straightforward: Each episode features three celebrity guests who participate in “Drag Race” challenges, including a lip sync for their life, er, charities. They will also be mentored and put in drag by “Drag Race” alums like Trixie Mattel, Bob the Drag Queen and more.
Aside from the usual scenes we’ve seen in the last 17 seasons (about to be 18 because of “All Stars 5“), what makes “Celebrity Drag Race” stand out is its discussion on dismantling heteronormative ideals and finding oneself through the art of drag, especially for the cis-het men who joined the show.
In the first episode, “Riverdale” actor Jordan Connor talked about feeling nervous to get in drag for the first time because he’s always been known as a football jock. But when he transformed into his drag persona Babykins La Roux and later won the episode, he said the experience was empowering.
“I feel so empowered as a man and as a woman, and I want to spread that everywhere I go. Everyone should do drag once in their life. It’s incredible,” says Connor while holding his scepter. His mentor Trixie Mattel was both surprised and happy that a cis-het man has spoken so highly of drag as an art form and an avenue for self-discovery.
Gender-fluid actor Nico Tortorella (Olivette Isyou) said they were happy to see his straight co-contestants Connor and comedian Jermaine Fowler (Miss Mimi Teapot) discover their inner femininity. They also noted that this is one of the reasons why they’re advocating for the dismantlement of gender norms and stereotypes.
This narrative was also seen in episode three featuring singer Alex Newell (Madam That Bitch), “Schitt’s Creek” actor Dustin Mulligan (Rachel McAdamsapple) and “American Ninja Warrior” host Matt Iseman (Bette Bourdeaux). Both Mulligan and Iseman are cis-het men who were excited to discover another part of themselves once they get into drag—especially Mulligan who is a self-proclaimed “Drag Race” super fan.
By the end of the third episode, Mulligan got emotional because it was a dream come true for him. He even posted on Instagram when the episode aired, reminding everyone that wanting to get into drag didn’t make him less of a man. While Iseman was appreciative of his mentor Kim Chi for letting him discover a newfound confidence through drag.
While drag is mostly done by members of the gay community, it’s also common to see straight men transforming into queens. One famous example is Scaredy Kat from “Drag Race UK.” In a BBC interview, he said he was terrified that he wouldn’t be accepted by other competitors because he wasn’t gay. (He was also asked if he was bisexual or pansexual, but he isn’t comfortable putting a label his sexuality just yet.)
There is also a debate surrounding cis-het men and women “appropriating” drag because of the popularity of “Drag Race.” But it does beg the question on who can and can’t do drag. Should it be reserved for gay men and some straight men?
“Celebrity Drag Race” isn’t the first show to highlight cis-het men and women’s newfound appreciation for drag. There are multiple “Drag Race” makeover episodes focused on that. But what it’s done well is emphasize that gender is a construct and that there’s nothing wrong with choosing to tap into one’s feminine side. It tries to squash the notion that makeup and dresses are exclusively for women since in fact, some cis-het men can enjoy wearing them too.
The last episode of “Celebrity Drag Race” comes out this week. But so far, the show, despite not having a lot of big stars, has exceeded fans’ expectations in terms of the contestants’ performances and stories. It’s just as fun and heartwarming as a regular “Drag Race” episode, minus the drama-filled eliminations.