RuPaul’s Drag Race is professional wrestling in its purest form. FACT. Okay, opinion, but hey it’s 2017 (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)
While my boyfriend and I may have drunkenly discussed this theory many times, it appears the internet is none the wiser. Only NPR covered this theme back in 2014 and it barely got the recognition it deserved because it’s so obvious, right?
DRAG IS PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING. PROFESSIONALLY WRESTLING IS DRAG. IT’S ABOUT YOUR MOM MARTY, WE’VE GOT TO GO-
Anyway, here are 15 reasons which categorically prove that professional wrestling and drag will somebody merge into a gender-fuck fighting extravaganza yaaas mama (sorry).
1. The Gimmicks
The first time Raja walked in the workroom rocking a flat chest and cyclops felt hat that covered her face, I understood that I knew nothing about drag. Alexis Mateo, the glitzy glamorous Puerto Rican, who had entered before Raja looked dryly at the camera in one of the cutaway’s and said “club kid” in a voice that denoted she didn’t care much for this school of drag.
In its 9 seasons, RuPaul has gone through an evolution much like the WWE. We don’t just see ‘fishy’ or ‘glamorous’ divas entering the competition anymore. We see all kinds – performance artists, genderfuck, queer, horror, comedy clowns, gothic, robotic Stepford wife bitch.
Similarly, professional wrestling used to prescribe to a specific aesthetic. The 80’s wrestling school used to be about roided out veiny tan dudes who had to be 6’2″ and 250lbs up but hey, even B+ player tiny 5’10” 210lbs Daniel Bryan got to be champion for a bit
Your gimmick is what makes or breaks your drag and your look, whether created or natural, is integral to your gimmick. You either live your character or your character is you. In RPDR there have been contestants who have carefully cultivated their character and fully realize the transformation e.g. Ben De La Creme. Then their queens whose gimmicks are just another facet of their personality but they are essentially themselves e.g. Katya, Alaska, Sharon. They are that person, and that person is them, makeup or not. RPDR tends to favour queens who have a character they can jump into but is similar to themselves, rather than a queen whose shy and quiet and whose character is the opposite of that (I’m looking at you, Michelle Visage). Queens have to ride a rollercoaster of emotions as they figure out how to be-themselves-but-different-but-change-but-stay-the-same.
Similarly, in wrestling people whose characters reflect themselves to some extent is what makes them popular to their audience – their authenticity, or ‘the realness’ as RuPaul might say. CM Punk is a bit of a prick in real life so can play a ‘heel’ (bad guy) easily and John Cena is a weird homophobic American robot so can easily portray that on stage.
Alaska is Alaska when she’s in drag // Ben Dela Creme talked about ‘Ben’ in the third person in Season 6 Finale and is very different in and out of drag.
Naomi Smalls – When Ru asks who she as a drag queen and she can’t say anything other than ‘I’m Naomi Smalls’ // Roxxy Andrews – Roxxxy Andrews not able to change characters in the final challenge of Season 5.
2. The Makeup
One of the things you’ve got to keep in mind about professional wrestling is that while a lot of the 80’s ideas have gone out of the window – one of the things that never changed is that professional wrestlers have to be beautiful. Men and women alike need to look like they’ve just walked off the set of a movie and somehow these supermen and women walk among us – this allows us to suspend disbelief for a moment and go ‘okay I can go along with the man flying off the top rope because he looks like he does it when he wakes up the morning after accepting an academy award.’
Makeup plays a minor role here, but overall in wrestling, it’s about your look – more than once you’ll hear wrestlers being described as having promise because they’ve got a good ‘look’ i.e. Tall, strong looking, good looking, stereotypical of the ideal.
Makeup and drag is a contentious point in RuPaul’s Drag Race. As the main staple of most drag queens arsenal if your makeup isn’t PERFECT before you get on that show you might get read. But there are different schools of thought, does your makeup need to be the best in the business, does it make you a better drag queen? Or can you get by on luck, natural looks and your makeup is secondhand to your charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent?
Similar to wrestling, if you have talent then having ‘okay’ makeup is not a problem, RPDR is not a fashion show and neither is wrestling – if you can get a crowd going and get them to feel that magic then who gives a shit if your eyebrows are wonky.
Bob the Drag Queen’s make up isn’t transformative but his drag is very ‘real black women’ but it has been commented on as lacking in expertise. BUT, it’s worth noting that it’s difficult to find darker shades of makeup to contour similarly to light skin.
3. The Outfits
One of my favourite things about wrestling that is full on pageantry bitch is when wrestlers change their gimmicks.
They change from being either a ‘heel’ or a ‘face’ and suddenly your best pal, the one the kids all look has come out in scary black wrestling attire and has grown some kind of moustache. It’s confusing, the person you liked is gone and they have changed, and change is bullshit and it’s the kind of simple psychology that is so obvious and in your face but it works.
Drag queens can change who they are on a dime, but still, have tangible continuity running throughout their outfits so you know it’s still them. They know what works, but they know have to versatile and change and this KEY to winning RuPaul’s Drag Race. Because even if you’re the greatest and what you do, they want to see you change and show vulnerability – something wrestling fans want from wrestlers, growth and change.
Except Bianca Del Rio is Season 6 who wore the same dress like 17 times but who cares because it’s Alyssa.
One of the things you may not have clocked even if you’ve only watched wrestling briefly is all the wrestlers tend to shave their armpits, legs, chest – everything. For a number of reasons.
- Pulling your body hair out when you roll around on that mat is painful
- Sweaty armpit and chest hair looks gross
- Maintaining the illusion these are super humans, not regular Joes with gross armpit hair
In our post-modern ‘gender is a construct, tear it apart’ world being feminine (and for the most part drag queens are attempting female illusion/fantasy) doesn’t mean being shaved. However, RPDR is still a fairly standardised view of drag so most queens don’t walk the runway with hairy pits.
Notable exceptions include Thorgy Thor who rocked hairy legs but never braved them down the runway, which is a shame, I’d love to have seen a glitzy gown with some hair legs peeping out and seen Michelle have a nervous breakdown.
5. Heroes and Villains/Faces and Heels
Like every good TV show, you need heroes and villains. WWE has script writers and talent agents who work with wrestlers to develop their stories, although rookies tend to get what they’re given and told to ‘make it work’. This could be mean that after grinding for years of your life to finally get to the great heights of the WWE only to be given the character of a dancing jive-talking dude whose name is the Funkosaurous.
RuPaul’s Drag Race works like any other reality TV show though, I think NPR summed it more eloquently than I could.
The show itself operates under the rules of any reality television show, by trading traditional writers for story producers. (Meaning the show crafts the narrative after it films, rather than before.)
But the result is the same, storylines are crafted out of second-glances and arguments that lasted 20-minutes can dominate the show and serve as the classic Good vs. Evil construct. Sound effects and out-of-context cutaways used to serve the purpose of a storyline rather than tell the authentic experience of what actually happened on the show. Like the WWE, RPDR is trying to construct a narrative that will keep viewers hooked, make them rage online in forums and on social media and, most crucially, pick their favourites and defend them to the death.
RPDR is giving it’s queens the kind of ‘heat’ (wrestling terminology for a bad crowd reaction) that most ‘heel’ (wrestling terminology for an evil character) wrestlers have tried to cultivate for years. On the opposite side of the spectrum, queens who might not even be the saviours of the universe types like John Cena or The Rock will enjoy the ultimately ‘good’ role they’ve been cast with.
RPDR is masterful at creating these story arcs and feuds, mostly because unlike most reality shows – it’s not striving for reality. Drag is self-aware, it’s a reflection of pop culture, counter culture, cult classic and the zeitgeist all at the same time – even the fishiest queens are never attempting true female illusion. Because of this self-awareness, RPDR can play with the fans expectations and poke fun at the reality TV format because it’s viewers are wise to the game. WWE is also masterful at this ‘meta’ storylines that turn the tables on the fans because wrestling is fake and is, therefore, ‘predictable’ to some the writers at WWE are great are changing a story on a dime to change the crowd’s expectations.
Unlike wrestling, drag queens are ‘real people’ who didn’t sign up to have their career ruined for the sake of ratings – however, RPDR loves a ‘rudemption’ arc and All Stars is another masterful stroke that is professional wrestling storytelling at its finest. Queens can rebuild their reputation and have another shot of the crowd, whilst we all sit and wait and hope they go fucking mental and smash a mirror.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart – Sharon Needles vs. Phi Phi O’Hara
The classic upstart vs. the traditionalist that sparked one of the greatest feuds in RuPaul’s Drag Race history and shot Sharon Needles to legendary status and segmented Phi Phi O’Hara is a crazy person (well Phi Phi kind of did that to herself a bit too).
Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority – Jinkx Monsoon vs. Roxxxy Andrews
We all love an underdog story and it’s easy to tell. WWE may have told the first true underdog story with Daniel Bryan and Jinkx was definitely the first (but not the last) drag queen to win with barely any fashion kudos from the judges under her belt.
6. Legacy – Knowing Your Herstory
RuPaul’s Drag Race has been praised for bringing subversive drag the masses and educating lots of people who, otherwise, would have no clue about the challenges and demands that professional drag queens face in the world.
From workroom talks about gay rights, marriage, people being kicked out their homes or their families not even knowing they were gay let alone in drag, these issues are brought into the open and lay separate from the drama that the show creates. The idea of ‘sisterhood’ amongst queens by offering support, make up and even helping with outfits is integral to the drag community – however, it should be noted this sometimes doesn’t extend to the more ‘kooky’ queens – see Milk vs. Gia Gunn in Season 6.
This idea of ‘sisterhood’ is similar to the wrestling ideology of ‘brotherhood’. Human trash person Hulk Hogan was famous for saying ‘brother’ constantly during promos and it’s something that stemmed from lockerroom talk amongst wrestlers. The ‘locker room’ is also another idea that correlates with the drag idea of ‘families’ or ‘houses’. Something Paris is Burning legendary documentary that chronicled the New York drag and ballroom scene of the 1970’s explained more eloquently than I could.
Like the House (or Haus) mother of a drag family, the ‘head of the locker room’ looks out for the ‘boys’ in the back. In his infamous podcast CM Punk spoke to Cult Cobana after his dramatic exit from the WWE after feeling like his talents weren’t being respected (see Adore Delano walking off All Stars 2 because she felt unable to deal with the judging) CM Punk talked about how he didn’t leave for a long time because of ‘the boys in the back’. As a veteran wrestler, it was his responsibility, although not in an official professional capacity, to look after the rookie wrestlers and make sure they were understood how they could get better.
This solidarity amongst queens and wrestlers is something that exists in any art/performance art community, born out of a need to protect each other from the potentially judgemental outside world. The talent and passion and respect is something that ties them together and bonds them in a way that doesn’t exist in many other career paths.
7. Step Your Pussy Up vs. Grabbing The Brass Ring
The comedy queens vs. beauty or ‘pageant’ queens is something RPDR parodied in a musical challenge. The juxtaposition between comedy and pageant queens is something that was a mainstay on the show until around Season 7 when pageant queens knew that they had to ‘step their pussy up’ in order to stay in with a chance of winning.
Like professional wrestlers, drag queens can no longer be one note, being a gorgeous fishy fashionista or a stand-up genius may work well on the club circuit but those HD cameras and picky judges favour nobody. Queens now have to have a great look, put on a great performance, be funny, be vulnerable, be versatile, kind, quick-witted and understand how to capitalise on their media presence with expert precision and marketing know-how. They have to ‘step their pussy up’ they have be a better drag queen in order to maintain the spotlight and capture an audience.
Nobody better exemplifies this than Alaska Thunderfuck. In Season 5 in the shadow of her much more famous boy/girlfriend Sharon Needles, Alaska wilted under the spotlight and instead spend most of Season 5 in the clique of Rolaskatox instead of stepping out as a drag queen in her own right. In All Stars 2 she came to play with a killer wardrobe, better makeup and a fully realised character with performances and wit spilling out of her at every turn. However, she controversially sent home fan favourites in favour of keeping her old friends on the show when, realistically, they should have been sent home. Then, she threw a major hissy fit in front of the cameras that was in direct contrast to her cool, calm demeanour.
Suddenly, Alaska, who had been doing amazingly well even amongst the hyper critical super fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, was painted as a dramatic, bribing, snake in the grass. And what did Alaska do, tweet an apology? Write a blog post explaining her complex feelings at the time? No, she posted an amazing video that PRO WRESTLING BABY YAAAAAAAAAS.
Painted as a heel? Then act like a heel in a way that wins everyone back to your side, oh and then post another video where you actually donate your winnings to a charity.
IN SHORT, Alaska stepped her fucking pussy up to become one of the most intelligent queens of any season.
So, whats grabbing the brass ring?
“Grabbing the brass ring” or getting a “shot at the brass ring” also means striving for the highest prize, or living life to the fullest. It is not clear when the phrase came into wide use but has been found in dictionaries as far back as the late 19th century.
Professional wrestling is was bought of carnivals, hence all the ‘carny’ terminology that litter wrestlings landscape (heel, face, smark, mark). Vince MacMahon has famously used the term ‘grabbing the brass’ ring as a metaphor for when a wrestler seizing the opportunity that wrestling, specifically the WWE, has given to them. Because like RPDR, Queens aren’t made famous, they make themselves famous, they treat the show like one long show to prove to the world they are worthy of lasting fame. In wrestling, you may be given a terrible storyline, or a terrible character to perform, even though you know that if you had the choice you could create a better gimmick for yourself.
But the WWE doesn’t want people who complain, they want people who demand the attention, who demand the performance, who create a fantastic storyline out of a trash one. In WWE you have to step your pussy in the exact same way. The main difference is that the audience interaction plays a major role in this ‘grabbing of the brass ring’ you have to have them on side, whereas in RPDR, as the show is pre-taped you just have to focus on getting Ru on your side.
8. Lipsyncing for Your Life IS PRO WRESTLING
We come to the greatest example of professional wrestling in Ru Paul’s Drag Race. This is performance art at its finest. The lipsync for your life.
Simply put, the two worst performing queens of the episode face off in a lipsync to determine who goes home. Whoever puts on the best performance, according to Ru, gets to stay and whoever does the worst, has to go home. It’s as close to saying ‘okay lads just beat the shit out of each other’ as you can get in a show that’s essential about people dressing up as ridiculous women.
Here are some of the best examples of Lipsyncs for your Life where they have been so close that as fans, you literally feel like someone may DIE if they go home because of the intenseness of the competition.
Tatina vs. Alyssa Edwards – All Stars 2 – Shut Up and Drive
Roxxxy Andrews vs. Alyssa Edwards – Whip My Hair – Season 5
Dita Ritz vs. The Princess – This Will Be – Season 4
I will go on record (lol who cares I KNOW) and say that a great lipsync for your life would rival any 30-minute Wrestlemania main event.
What can we learn from this ridiculous parallel?
People who enjoy drag should watch wrestling and people who watch wrestling should watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. There’s already an excellent YouTube series called ‘Nobodies Watching Wrestling: Drag Queens Review’ which combines the two into an excellent format. If we’re going to enjoy performance, drama, soap opera and storytelling at its best then it shouldn’t matter what format it’s in, whether it’s dudes wrasslin’ or drag queens dancin’.