‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Takes Aim at Critics of Early Queer Education

·7 min read
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/MTV
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/MTV

If Season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race hadn’t already reminded us several times of why its stature in popular culture is critically important, tonight’s episode would’ve done the job just fine.

I occasionally find myself slightly fatigued by this season. We have, after all, been here since the first week of 2023, which was six years ago. That is, until Drag Race smacks me across the face with an opera-length glove, informing me that it’s a miracle that I get to watch this show at all.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was a kid, and even then, I could never have imagined seeing queerness radiate so visibly on a television show, much less imagine my teachers taking part in it. And that point had never been driven home quite so powerfully as during this episode, when five K-12 educators entered the workroom to receive drag makeovers done by the queens.

Granted, all of this season’s politicism might be tiring for some. And I get that! It is clearly postured as instruction for any viewers who aren’t already entrenched in the issues facing the queer community. Many of us—myself included—are watching this purely for entertainment purposes. Luckily, there’s been no shortage of all of that gooped up drama and shady in-fighting either, thanks to a remarkably strong cast.

Tonight’s episode found Drag Race operating in peak form. Finally, we found a sweet spot, straddling the show’s contemporary desire to school naive viewers with the early seasons’ crackpot, audaciously draggy challenges. I went from cackling to crying and right back again. Moreover, it resulted in the strongest Top 4 in years, demonstrating that the show can function as a political lightning rod, without losing its status as a beloved reality television staple.

The makeover challenge is an oft-forgotten thrill. It doesn’t have the ubiquitousness of Snatch Game, or the electrifying excitement of the Lalaparuza Smackdown. It has, however, created some of Drag Race’s most memorable, cult-favorite moments. This is the challenge that originated #IKilledJudyGarland (and its incredible callback a decade in the making). It also gave us Wintergreen, Peppermint’s Season 9 drag daughter who sent Kesha into hysterics.

There’s just something thrilling about seeing queens rise to the challenge of making over civilians to look like they have a drag family resemblance. Call it too many hours in front of the television watching What Not to Wear growing up, whatever. But unlike the other, more notable repeat challenges, the drag family makeovers use each and every one of the skills in a queen’s arsenal: comedy, outfit construction, stage performance, makeup application, and character creation. Forget “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent,” we now have “COSMC.”

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In the past, Drag Race contestants have had to make over elderly gay men, military vets, their mothers, influencers, and the cast of Little Women LA—just to name a few. It’s a shock that it took the producers this long to get to, simply, teachers. But hey, could there have been better timing?

Teachers ended up being the perfect choice for makeovers in the current political and social climate. With Florida’s infamous (and hotly contested) “Don’t Say Gay”’ bill going into effect last year—as well as dozens of other anti-LGBTQ laws targeting schools specifically—getting five queer-friendly educators into the workroom to discuss their professions was illuminating. How anyone could watch these sweet souls and think that they’re corrupting the youth of the world just by being unafraid to teach kids about the realities of life is disheartening, to say the least.

When Anetra and her makeover partner, a young kindergarten teacher by the name of Mrs. Mahoney, told Ru about their plans for the runway, Ru asked what she hopes her students might learn from her experience on the show. “Be brave,” Miss Mahoney said. “Don’t let your insecurities get in front of you, just be willing to have fun and try.” That theme, of encouraging students to be their true selves in and out of the classroom, was echoed by all of the other educators in the room.

Luxx Noir London’s partner, a first grade teacher named Mrs. Reyes, was asked by Ru what she thinks her students will think of her new drag character, Asia Azul. “[I hope they’ll say], ‘That’s my teacher up there!,” Mrs. Reyes responded. “‘She’s not going to judge me. She’s going to accept me for who I am.’” Mrs. Reyes herself is a mother to a family of queer kids (a fact it took Luxx an embarrassingly lengthy amount of time to deduce), and seeing her transform from one of the more shy makeover participants, into a brave and outspoken ally for both her family and her students, was a life-affirming gift that only a show like Drag Race can bring.

All of that allyship—save for Mistress’ partner, Mrs. Tang, who herself is a queer teacher—brought the queens closer with their assigned teammates. Ultimately, it may not have brought the laugh-out-loud hilarity of something like a veteran suggesting that they inadvertently offed a gay icon. But the teacher’s familiarity with the queens and the show helped to create strong family resemblances. That is, after all, the main crux challenge. Although, the teachers were down to get silly, giving a pretty gnarly lip sync to RuPaul’s “Champion” (now available on iTunes).

Sasha Colby and her new sister, Ferocity Colby (aka Mrs. Marchbanks), stunned the judges by strutting their padded asses down the runway all-smiles, complete with matching snatched ponytails. Mistress and Madam Thang could’ve won alone on Mistress’ dragified play on “Mrs. Tang.” Their choreographed confidence on the runway was just the cherry on top. And while Anetra and Mrs. Mahony, now “Alektra,” were also fabulous, the judges couldn’t resist Sasha and Ferocity’s bubbly assurance.

Over and over, the judges reiterated that their decision came down to the most minute details. But Luxx was an easy decision to fall into the bottom. I love Luxx for her self-importance and conviction, but it ultimately hindered her ability to consider her assigned educator’s strengths better. Loosey LaDuca, on the other hand, had no problem finding a family resemblance, it was just lamentably drab in its execution.

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This meant that it was Luxx’s first time in the entire competition in the bottom two, which is already an impressive feat in itself. I admire Loosey for not just giving up on the spot, but against Luxx, she stood no chance in the lip sync to guest judge Hayley Kiyoko’s “For the Girls.” The remaining contestants in this competition would do well not to underestimate Luxx’s command of that stage, because if it comes down to a lip sync, Luxx could easily pull a trick out of her tiny, tiny sleeve.

Now, after what feels like a couple of decades (not a complaint!), we finally have our Top 4: Sasha Colby, Anetra, Mistress Isabelle Brooks, and Luxx Noir London. Undoubtedly, this is the strongest collection of top competitors that Drag Race has boasted in years. Each one of these queens is an incomparably unique performer, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I can’t quite remember the last time there were four queens remaining and the competition felt like anyone’s game.

Seeing queens of all shapes and shades of queerness making it into the finale is such a wonderful feeling, one that was driven home by this episode’s challenge and its intention to highlight how important it is for visible queerness. Before any eliminations ever happened, Anetra asked Mrs. Mahoney in the workroom if she thinks that homophobia or transphobia is something that can be unlearned. “Definitely,” she responded. “I think [people] just have to be willing. And that’s the hard part.”

“Kids don’t come out of the womb hateful,” Anetra said, continuing Mrs. Mahoney’s point in her confessional. “It’s something that they learn. So if we can instill love and kindness in kids now, it’ll show up in our future.” Thankfully, if these five brave educators are any indication, there’s plenty of hope for the youth of tomorrow.

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