Few things make me as happy as RuPaul's Drag Race. Not an episode goes by that doesn't leave a huge smile on my face, a tear in my eye or a combination of both. It's fabulous, gorgeous (and shady) but also kind, brave, uplifting, life-giving, accepting and joyous. I don't think I've ever "wooooo yeeeeaah"d so much at a television show in my life. From the killer outfits, insane dance-moves, and wildly funny comedy routines to the heart-warming/breaking conversations in front of the make-up mirror about the costly fight to live lives of truth and authenticity, the ladies of Drag Race never fail inspire.
So this week's Fast Five is dedicated to those incredible artists, creators, and entertainers in the world of drag who live their truth with bravery, humour and style.
In the immortal works of Ru, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love someone else, can I get an amen?" Amen, Ru.
Filmed in the 80s, Paris is Burning captures the extravagance of New York drag ball culture and the communities and individuals who were a part of it. The balls were elaborate and complex - contestants competed in a huge range of categories which ranged from femme realness, to vogue, to high fashion catwalk. More than simply showcasing the extravaganza and beauty of this scene, Paris is Burning is as much a commentary on the intersection of gender, sexuality, race, class and the struggle to fit into a world that not only rejected you but violently so. This was what the 'realness' categories were all about - being able to blend in while walking down the street looking like a 'real' man or woman. As one of the Queens said, getting home at the end of the night without blood on you was a good night.
Paris is Burning also teaches us that Madonna didn't invent vogueing, the girls of Broad City didn't invent saying "yuss Queen", and the women of Paris is Burning were throwing shade long before millennials thought it was cool. It is another reminder that so many trends of popular culture, whether it's dance, art, fashion, is stolen from people who have painstakingly carved out and created their own place in a hostile world. This is an important documentary and if you haven't seen it I would recommend seeking it out.
2. Kim Chi
Kim Chi is one of the contestants in Drag Race's 8th season and she's incredible. An instagram star before going on the show, Kim Chi is known for her INCREDIBLE make-up, masterful costume design, not being able to dance and the fact that her mother doesn't know she does drag. One of my favourite Kim Chi looks was during a personal biography challenge where she dressed as her mother. It was not only beautiful but reflected the pain and sadness of not being able to show your family your true self.
3. So that brings me to the GLAM part of the Fast Five. We all know that many Museums have problems of representation in galleries and exhibitions. Representation matters. What stories, voices and identities are included in these spaces matters and I think our organisations need to do a hell of a lot more. Organisations are trying - Rainbow storytimes is an awesome Pride Week initiative held at libraries in Wellington and Auckland which sees Drag Queens reading stories to children that celebrate diversity in all its forms.
4. And what about museums? As we become less and less silo-ed in our thinking and practices I think we need to get away from seeing certain stories and voices as only speaking to one community. Talking about gay, lesbian, trans history isn't just a Pride Week thing. It's an all the time thing. We all know this but I think as institutions we still have a long way to go in making this a reality. I think we have a duty to do this by showing histories, identities and lived experiences side-by-side, butting against each other, not as isolated pockets of society or time.
5. And now the city I live in. This 2013 piece by David Herkt show us the importance of remembering diverse histories not only because it's the right thing but because to silence is to deny the complexity of our collective selves and histories:
Cities all have human histories, but the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered stories from the past often remain hidden – and Auckland is no exception, even today...Moving through Auckland City today, there are no public monuments to queer people. There are no books or websites that tell us about our particular past. Time in Auckland City appears to be a very, very straight thing.
We also have forgotten the long and proud history of Auckland drag and transgendered performance, with stars like Noel Mackay in the late 1950s and 60s, and venues like Mojo’s on the corner of Queen and Wakefield Streets in the 70s, whose performers like Diana, Sheila and Jackie were memorialised in the images of Taranaki photographer Fiona Clark, and where sailors from ships would queue on the back stairs for other ‘entertainment’ purposes…And if we do not know these places, people and events, how can we say that we know our city?
And now, can we all just stop to appreciate this moment when last year's winner of Drag Race, Violet Chachki, came on stage to present the new winner their title coz it's fucking amazing: