Disability Representation on Rupaul’s Drag Race

I am one of the biggest fans of Rupaul’s drag race.  I’ve been watching from the beginning, and marveled at the metamorphosis of a low budget, niche LGBTQI+ show into the worldwide phenomenon it is today.  I love it when friends discover RPDR (either on their own or through strong encouragement from me) so we can talk and talk about every second of airtime.  The show and what it represents gives me life!

Me with Sharon Needles, winner of season 4

RPDR is, by design a show that gives a much needed platform to marginalised groups of people – first and foremost the queer community.  The UK is more used to drag in the mainstream (which is, in very reductive terms, female impersonation) as comedy – think Dame Edna Everage (though Australian, was featured heavily on English television, and was played by Barry Humphries) or Agnes Brown from Mrs Browns boys.  Though decades apart, both characters play the funny man in a dress, the ‘pantomime dame’ that draws a laugh as the artists alter-ego gets away with jokes that no other comedian ever could.  Lily Savage, best known these days as actor Paul O’Grady, was an English drag queen that perhaps best intersects the worlds of US and UK drag, particularly as he is a gay man who, much like Rupaul himself, also continues to have a fantastic career out of drag. Some people find drag and drag race to be problematic, and even a super fan like me will attest to a fair amount of warranted controversy. Like any other artistic medium, drag is something that needs to move with the times, and there have been times when certain long held beliefs have been called out, and rightfully so.  I don’t expect to cover every aspect of drag, or drag race in one post, but just to give a brief overview for those who may not have watched or want to learn more.  Believe me, there will be many more drag related posts coming.

We are currently on Season 11 of the US show, and I’ve just finished watching episode six.  Anyone who knows both me and the show will have already guessed that I am here to talk about Yvie Oddly.  An African American man from Denver, Yvie entered the workroom (as her name may suggest) emanating her out of the box style.  There are no direct comparisons to be made, as each queen is an individual, but she is giving a lot of Sharon Needles in style and attitude.  She is cool as hell, and doesn’t give a stuff what people think about her.  She’s giving her drag and living her fantasy and I for one am here for it.  She was one of my front runners right from the previews.  So what could make me love her more?

My last post before my break away was all about my treatment for a rare condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.  Those who are part of the disability community have probably heard of EDS, because it is now becoming more widely diagnosed, not because suddenly way more people have developed this genetic condition, but because it is being seen for what it is and not misdiagnosed by Doctors who don’t know what they’re dealing with and who very often make the situation 100 times worse through improper treatment and often even just dismissing patients, particularly females, but that is another story for another day.

Me, a wheelchair user with EDS

Last episode, Yvie told the audience about her EDS diagnosis after she had to take it easy on a dance challenge to avoid injury. (I believe she has EDS type 3, hypermobile EDS but I’m not sure this has been confirmed.  There are currently 14 types of EDS on record)  EDS is a connective tissue disorder, and one of its distinguishing features is very unstable joints.  This is because a lack of collagen in the body make the connective tissue very weak.  Connective tissue (or ‘ligaments’) are a big part of what hold our joints together and keep them stable.  EDS patients are very prone to dislocations, sometimes full dislocations but often partial dislocations, or ‘subluxations’.  For someone who knows they have the condition and has been properly instructed in how to do so, a subluxation usually entails popping the joint back where it should be and resting.*

It was in this episode that Yvie showed us not only a fair few of her ‘party tricks’ that EDSers are often able to perform (some with pain and risk) but also the other side of the double edged sword, the injury that can come simply from doing everyday tasks.  While Yvie was doing a dance routine, she went over on her ankle and hurt it quite badly (likely a subluxation, though this has not been confirmed).  She powered through, which is possible to do, usually at personal cost.  I once spent an entire weekend with a fractured collarbone and a fully dislocated arm because I couldn’t get childcare.  The risk of such things, more than anything, is doing permanent damage to the body.  Because of the collagen deficiency, our connective tissue can become like an ‘overstretched spring’ and never really be quite right again (leading to more pain and greater risk of injury).

Despite spending a great deal of this post going into the finer points of RPDR and EDS, my take home point is about disability representation.  RPDR has been pretty good up to now about showcasing intersectionality within the LGBTQI+ community, showing BAME individuals, people of different faiths, different body types, different gender identity and expression, but up to now we have not had a competitor who is openly disabled, whatever stage in their journey they may be at.

Yvie Oddly

Yvie was seen in the episode of untucked freaking out just a little.  Being openly about your disability and being completely cool with it are two different things.  I’m a very proud disabled person, but if I were in my 20’s at the peak of a very physically demanding career and looking round at old birds such as myself who, at 36, are full time wheelchair users, I’d probably be scared to.  This is not a future anyone plans for.  All I would say is thank you for being open, and not framing your disability as a weakness, while still asking for reasonable adjustments so you’re not in pain or at risk.  Thank you for rocking a cane on the runway and showing the sexy side of disability.  No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but today you are fierce, and will continue to be fierce whatever tomorrow brings.  Time to crown a disabled queen I think, not because of her disability, but because she’s fucking amazing!!

*I am not a Doctor and am speaking only from personal experience and what I have learned about my condition along the way.  If you have any of the issues described, please contact a medical professional.

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