The Period of “Bad Taste” on Drag Race
By Nadia Trudel
RuPaul's Drag Race is an Emmy award winning show that premiered in 2009 and has since become an international phenomenon. The show follows RuPaul on his quest to find “America’s next Drag Superstar”. The series includes various challenges that participants must complete, ranging from sewing and dancing, to celebrity impersonations. As well as challenges, runways, and typical reality show drama, the show includes social commentaries on controversial topics that most shy away from. While some may argue differently, RuPaul says drag is political, and this is made evident in the show.
With this being said, some of the drama and social commentary happens behind the scenes. The latest controversy surrounding the show arose in January of 2019. Manila Luzon, a returning contestant, posted a picture of herself on Instagram, wearing a red couture gown with a large, fake bloody pad on the front. The photo has since become the most liked picture by a drag race contestant, with over 355 thousand likes.
The caption reads, “Ru said my ORIGINAL Curves & Swerves Runway look was in “bad taste” and production told me to wear my back up. I was really looking forward to wearing this gown that I think celebrates a perfectly normal human experience! Many of my fans are young women who may feel pressured by society to be embarrassed by periods. It’s empowering to teach young women about their bodies, encourage them to celebrate them and to question people who tell them not to”.
While it’s easy to lash out at RuPaul and the producers of the show, they are not the source of this problem. The root of the issue is the stigmatization of women’s bodies, which is not a new phenomenon. With the show priding itself on being subversive and raunchy, RuPaul’s alleged statement that the dress was “in bad taste” seems out of place.
While having a history of airing jokes about fisting, eating feces, and periods, this comment seems contradicting. It also begs the question of why making fun of periods is okay, but showcasing them in serious and artistic ways would be “in bad taste”. Drag Race’s fan base consists primarily of queer people and straight women, with straight men as a minority. If politicians are any indication, straight men seem to be the most offended by women’s bodies and their functions. Which begs the question of who in their audience was Drag Race worried they would offend?
Femininity, the queer community, and drag are inextricably linked. In the eyes of RuPaul, for a show that is meant to be “a big f-you to male-dominated culture” ₋₋ and prides itself on making social statements meant to celebrate women ₋₋ it is selective about the aspects of femininity it supports. The statement about menstruation being “in bad taste” is so vagina-phobic, that it feels like a parody of a gay man who thinks vaginas are gross. It portrays a subtle, underlying kind of misogyny, which ₋₋ despite popular belief ₋₋ is present in the queer community. Evidence of this underlying subtle misogyny, can be found on gay dating apps where description bars have captions like “masc4masc” or “No fats, femmes, or Asians”, which are very revealing of the community’s bigotry. To be a “feminine” gay man (or by extension a “bottom”), is often criticized and the butt of the joke. This is true not only of the “straight world”, but also of the LGBTQ+ community, which is supposed to be a safe, supportive and loving environment.
Nevertheless, I have to remember that this incident is only a part of “the problem”. “The problem” is represented in every ad for menstruation products. In addition to being strange and silly (why are the women in the ads always playing sports?), the ads often promote periods as something that should be kept secret, through promises of discretion. To make matters worse, these ads use mysterious blue liquids to demonstrate the absorbency of their product. After all, it is truly important to show consumers the real use of the product ₋₋ to soak up your mysterious blue liquids!
Despite the fact that blood is often featured in media in unnatural and revolting ways ₋₋ “menstruation blood” is still deemed as too disgusting to be aired.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the controversy unfolded at all. Television is just another extension of society’s problems. Although online communities have been discussing Manila’s dress non-stop, the mainstream media has not covered the story, despite it’s growing coverage of the show. Unfortunately, this seems to be a missed opportunity for a large audience to think about how we perceive women’s bodies and menstruation ₋₋ to further the conversation and make positive change.