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Film and TV

Ru Paul’s Drag Race: the changing role of gender in drag culture

Razor sharp lip-syncing skills, a fiercely fabulous look and the ability to give good face – these are a few of the requirements for being a drag superstar. The question is: do you really have to be a talented boy playing a fabulous girl to own drag today?

Another year, another season and Rupaul’s Drag Race has once again kept audiences mesmerised and polarised until the grand finale. Over the past nine seasons, we have seen fishy queens, ratchet drag, pageant girls and Club Kids style drag. This season, our screens were graced by the first transgender contestant to make it to the finals – the multi-talented Peppermint.

While drag is an art form traditionally based on men taking on a female persona or character via make-up, fashion and performance, Rupaul’s Drag Race provides a platform that challenges that tradition. Week after week, Rupaul refers to the contestants as ‘his girls’ or ‘ladies’ yet many contestants including Derrick Barry and Charlie Hides choose to perform under their male names rather than drag pseudonyms, showing that the rules of engagement around drag are indeed changing.

The show has featured transgender contestants before including Carmen Carrera, Gia Gunn, and Sonique – all of who revealed their transgender status after their seasons concluded. However, Peppermint is in a unique league as one of only two contestants who have openly competed as transgender women the other being Monica Beverly Hillz who was eliminated early on in Season 5.

“And that was very validating. I was like, oh, this is it. I get to be a woman, and they are cheering me on. This is how I have to do it.”

We were a few episodes into the season when Peppermint shared her trans status – an announcement that was met with great support from the show’s contestants, judges and Drag Race fans. A fierce competitor with poise, grace and undisputable talent, we quickly learned Peppermint was born to perform and spread her own brand of trans awareness along the way.

“For a while the best way for me to live my life as the woman I wanted to be was to create a drag persona and live through that,” Peppermint told cosmopolitan.com. “I used drag as my disguise to kind of transition underneath. Certain things that were on my drag list were checked off and I travelled the world, I’d made all the money, I’d had all the jobs and I still wasn’t happy. That’s when I was kind of forced to deal with what I hadn’t dealt with for so long.”

Although being acutely aware she was different at a very young age, Peppermint (Agnes Moore) didn’t understand what drag was as a child. However she recalls feeling empowered by it during a school dress up day where she strutted her stuff in a wig, fur coat and beret. “They were screaming and hollering, and I won,” she said. “And that was very validating. I was like, oh, this is it. I get to be a woman, and they are cheering me on. This is how I have to do it.”

Peppermint may not have won the crown, but she certainly reigned supreme throughout the show’s season winning her incredible support including that of Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox and Transparent’s Trace Lysette.

Empowered, acclaimed and celebrated, Peppermint has proved that drag has less to do with gender identity and everything to do with a distinct sense of self.

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