Why This Christian Film Prof Loves RuPaul’s Drag Race

Listen. It’s time to talk about this. It’s going to take some space, though. So buckle up, this is a lengthy post.

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Perceived problems with a Christian prof watching Drag Race

  • Drag Race is populated by many members of the LGBTQ community who openly and freely talk about their relationships, gender, and identity.
  • Drag Race openly shows and discusses content not deemed appropriate for all ages.

Also:

  • Drag Race openly shows smoking, drinking, and occasionally use of drugs
  • The show also talks about the open sexualization of the performers for audiences

According to Christian content watchdog Common Sense Media, “The show supports the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community, while simultaneously sending the message that drag queens must be overly sexualized in order to succeed. It also promotes self-acceptance.” [italics added]

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Perceived reasons for a Christian prof to watch Drag Race:

  • Drag Race is populated by many members of the LGBTQ community who openly and freely talk about their relationships, gender, and identity.

At the very least, understanding a social group that has been at odds with many facets of the Christian community is an important way to reach out.

I work in the theater community. I work with people from the LGBTQ community on a regular basis. The LGBTQ community is my family and my friends. It is my community. I am also a Christian. The Christian community is my community. That has not always been easy. But being in theater has provided opportunities, whenever possible, shine a light about redemptive love to everyone I encounter.

As an advocate for the LGBTQ community and a Christian—things that are not necessarily at odds —I am glad there is a mainstream show where members of this community can be open, honest, and caring about their struggles, successes, and selves.

There are many people who identify as Christian and LGBTQ or an advocate. More and more people are writing on this topic. In fact, several of the queens on Drag Race including Ginger Minj, Latrice Royale, Alyssa Edwards have hinted or explicitly talked about their Christian culture and beliefs.

  • Drag Race openly shows and discusses content not deemed appropriate for all ages.

True in many ways, like a great deal of television, but “appropriate content” is an idea worth revisiting on several levels.

Certainly some content is not appropriate based on age and maturity (oh that we could measure maturity like we measure age…), but that’s true of many kinds of content. Consider violence. Or, as Common Sense Media’s description notes, consumerism. Now consider many films deemed appropriate by Christian media advocates, like Enchanted, which rated a 4 for positive role models, a 3 for violence, and only a  3 on the consumerism scale for Common Sense Media. Since the main character “wins her love” by borrowing his credit card to go shopping for more socially appropriate clothes….I would argue a full five. I guess content is pretty subjective.

Explicit content can serve a purpose.

There are pitfalls of explicit content all over the media landscape. Theater as a social tool has often pushed boundaries with the intention of challenging audiences to rethink norms. This has been take too far on many occasions, and is often gratuitous. But has also done much good in representing people whose stories could previously not be told, and serving as a prophetic voice. As author Flannery O’Connor has put it, “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large, startling figures.” As many have pointed out, the Bible itself is full of explicit content.

Explicit content is important to monitor. So is implicit.

I feel so strongly about understanding the importance of implicit ideologies, the “hidden messages” of media, that I wrote a book intended to help viewers figure it out.

This includes drinking, drugs, and sexualization.

RuPaul’s Drag Race certainly has some explicit messages I personally don’t align with (the sexualization is a whole other post; people on display is always a complicated topic). Frankly, The Bachelor has many more.

The same could be said for implicit messages. However, despite both explicit and implicit messages I don’t agree with, there are several implicit messages I feel very strongly about because I agree with them so deeply:

  1. Identity requires honesty. We all perform every day. Drag explodes notions of identity. Mama Ru herself has talked about this often. The performers on Drag Race quite literally take off their masks. They “get real” in the workroom and to the confession cam. And they draw lines between what is a performance and what is not. The emotionally healthiest people on the show are those that have learned to navigate those lines intentionally. Often it is after years of messy experience. The honesty and bravery the show celebrates is not to be taken lightly. It is one of the reasons the show has become so meaningful to so many, myself included. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, it’s hilarious. Yes, for those of us who love costumes, makeup, singing, and dancing, it’s fierce as @#$%. But it’s also brave and honest. As a Christian, I celebrate that.Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 11.50.55 AM
  2. People should be loved for their intrinsic value as beings made in the image of the Divine.

If you can’t love yourself….you’re not alone. We all need some grace. While I don’t hold the same theology as RuPaul, my theology compliments it in many ways. We have to know our own worth. Our worth is not based on external factors (or even the good things we’ve done if you follow St. Paul’s admonition to balance faith and works).

And it is true, in order to fully accept others we must realize both our own faults and our own worth. Level the playing field. We all want to be loved. We all need forgiveness.

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Fan art by Travis Falligant

The last defining factor is always the state of the viewer’s own heart. Should I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race? Let’s put it in the same category as food. Is this food offered to idols? Is it food that Gentiles eat? I have no desire to make a sister stumble. It’s a major part of why I teach and write, so I can extend that conversation. But does watching RuPaul bring me closer to the Divine? (…For those of you picking up on my play on words, condragulations.)

Flannery O’Connor also once said, “I once received a letter from an old lady in California who informed me that when the tired reader comes home at night, he wishes to read something that will lift up his heart.” She responded to the thought with, “I think that if her heart had been in the right place, it would have been lifted up.”

Where we are, the state of our heart, impacts how we take in the culture around us:

6e131f81fe7184018d0d1524bb3dd1easecular, Christian, or otherwise. I believe in holiness. I believe my job is to grow in the Fruit of the Spirit. I could list how I watch each queen for their Charisma, Uniqueness, and Talent, but also for their Fruits of the Spirit (Jinx Monsoon—meekness; Alaska—gentleness; Bianca Del Rio—joy).  Understand, that’s how I approach the show. I bring to it my own theology. I bring how I have been growing in the Fruits of the Spirit, and I don’t depend upon movies and television to be my moral teachers. I evaluate them based on the truth I know, instead of seeking their tumblr_mjxgnocpVQ1qgb5p1o1_500perceived truths. They are media I consume purposefully, thoughtfully, and intentionally. I, again as Dr. Patton would say, “lead the dance” with my interaction. I remember what place television should have in my life: to entertain me, and allow me to see people and places I otherwise could not—always keeping in mind that entertainment is a business first, and in some ways always a sham.

In that regard, Drag Race is more honest than most television shows. It knows it’s a sham, just as the performers do. No show on television more openly understands its place as entertainment. This is all performance. It’s all just drag. What is real, anyway? Identity is a hoax. If men can compete to look that amazing dressed as women, what else has the capacity to fool us? All entertainment, at some level, is a deception we willingly enter in to. That fuzzy line between life and performance is explored on Drag Race in a way it can’t be anywhere else. The show doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is, and it does so by showing all the ways performers pretend. It’s open to debate. It embraces discussion from different points of view. Drag Race has become the phenomenon it is not only because it is entertaining, but also because it is so compellingly about honesty.

So, in response, I have to be honest. Much as I find fault with most reality television shows, and much as I do have some reservations (frankly, I do about everything on television), they are outweighed by the factors I mention. I have been a tried and true fan of Drag Race for years. I’ve been watching it for a long, long time. But I have refrained from talking about it openly. I have, well, kelp my love for RuPaul in the closet.

In this small way I understand a taste of what it means to fear being accepted. To fear not only rejection but retaliation. I’m writing this post because fear is no way to live. In fact, I believe perfect love will cast it out.

If the day comes that tuning in to Drag Race makes me stop growing in the Fruits of the Spirit, it will be time to stop watching. And I hope someone I know and trust lovingly tells me so. Honesty is beautiful. No tea, no shade.

Until that day, I’m #TeamValentina #TeamShea #TeamSasha forever #TeamLatrice .

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About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
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