For this week's blog post, inspired by my previous post about running and the sheer amount of Drag Race I've been watching recently, I've decided to combine a couple of my favourite things and talk about what RuPaul's Drag Race has taught me about mental health. Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride!
I've had a lot going on recently and haven't felt up to watching anything that's intense or involved. I discovered Drag Race about three months ago and since then I've managed to watch all eleven seasons - and am now not allowed to watch it without my husband as well (he missed the first two seasons but now he's as addicted as I am)! It's a good show to watch when you need something light-hearted and easy on the eyes, a bit like junk food for the brain, but it also highlights important issues for the LGBT community (including, unfortunately, RuPaul's irritating lack of understanding when it comes to trans competitors on Drag Race, for which he has since apologised but which he should have had understanding of in the first place).
Obviously, being a psychologist, I've been watching with interest as groups of (mostly) gay men bond over the art of drag, with some of them coming out in very different eras, and of the experience of various types of trauma. Here is a relatively light-hearted look at some of the things I think are interesting from a psychological perspective! You don't need to have seen any Drag Race to read this, but it might help!
If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?!
Can I get an 'amen' up in here?!
For those who haven't seen Drag Race, this is the phrase that ends every episode. Whilst I don't necessarily agree that you can't love other people if you don't love yourself, I think caring about and loving yourself is a worthy goal in and of itself.
A lot of the narrative around Drag Race is about loving yourself, and it can be really interesting and inspiring watching the queens help each other through difficulties with confidence. Some of the challenges involve sewing, dancing, acting or singing - and it's unlikely that any one person is going to be perfect at all of those things. What's important is having the confidence to go out onto the runway and work it out - and the competitors genuinely often seem to care about each other.
Helping your fellow queens in the main challenges is one thing, but a lot of the competitors have gone through some incredibly challenging life events. Discussions of alcohol addiction, homelessness, domestic abuse and trauma are rife in the workroom, and from what you see on television everyone is extremely respectful of other people and their difficulties. Having a non-judgemental environment to discuss how you feel can help you to process trauma and help you to heal - and of course, help you to love yourself again.
No tea, no shade
To be a competitor on Drag Race you have to be able to take shade from your fellow queens. That means being aware of your own faults, and also being fairly quick-witted so that you can have a good comeback to anything you think is a bit too shady!
Of course a lot of the comments from the other competitors are a bit shady, because they're playing to win. But when RuPaul makes comments about the queens, it's because he genuinely wants them to improve and be better. Sometimes they struggle to take constructive criticism, which makes for some of the best 'drama' on the show. But ultimately, taking on board the judges' comments does seem to help them to improve their chances in the game, and often helps them to win challenges in future episodes. And with $100,000 up for grabs, it's a good idea to be able to take that criticism and turn it into a winning formula!
Being able to tell whether critique comes from a place of care or a place of jealousy or game-playing can be difficult in real life, but I think most of us could use a few lessons in how to take feedback more gracefully. There are lots of examples of how not to do this on Drag Race, as well as some competitors who do use the feedback to grow -watch Untucked if you want to see some of the worse examples!
Know where you came from
Whilst a lot of the competitors on Drag Race are in their early 20s, RuPaul makes it clear that it is unforgivable to not be well-versed in drag history and tradition. Ru's visibly shocked response to one queen who says they haven't seen Paris is Burning shows how important he feels it is to know about the struggles your community has been through - which again, makes his comments on trans competitors particularly galling. Nevertheless, we could all do with understanding a bit more history.
When we assume that we're the only people who have ever struggled, or that other people don't have it as bad as we do, we risk alienating the people around us and ignoring the very people who are likely to be there to help us. RuPaul also talks a lot about how LGBT+ people get to (or have to) make their own families, as their biological families aren't always open to their coming out and being who they are. Whilst I hate that this happens, I completely agree with finding your people and being around those who accept you for who you are - that is the best way to be completely and authentically you.
Some of the queens on Drag Race have horrible stories about conversion therapy and spiritual exorcism, about family members not accepting anything about them, about community members literally trying to pray their sexuality out of them. It's awful to hear, but I think it's important to know that these things still happen to people every day. It reminds us of what we need to continue to fight against.
This post was just a bit of fun, but I have really enjoyed writing parts of it. If you're a Drag Race fan, let me know in the comments!
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Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects