Is the Queer Community ready for Drag Race Australia? (Probably Not)

Earlier this year, the producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race told Variety the hit reality show had seven international editions in the pipeline.

If social media has its way, Australia will be home to one of them.

The Australian drag industry has long faced challenges from widespread venue closures and more recently, local artistes have also suffered a loss of audiences to lucrative club tours from American Drag Race stars.

An Aussie edition of RPDR could help level the playing field and offer the local drag industry a badly needed post-COVID-19 injection of audiences and cash.

But if it plans to successfully navigate Australia’s already problematic queer landscape, the show has its work cut out for it.

The initial US product later prompted queer American commentators to complain that Drag Race had “fucked up drag”.

In Australia, the stakes are much higher.

Queer culture has deeply ingrained issues with transphobia, addiction, racism, misogyny, body positivity, elitism and ageism.

If Drag Race serves to heighten any of them, the effects on the Australian queer community could be catastrophic.

Drag Race has a large and devout Australian following.

Gay bars and clubs have gained healthy profits from viewing parties and streaming platform Stan has the entire RPDR library.

Drag Race is also the most successful media gateway for straight audiences into queer culture.

The reality show has become a global smash hit by offering a window into a cherished institution of the queer community and queer activism.

While it’s global queer fanbase is arguably its most loyal and passionate, the show has also become symbolic of queer identity and culture for a much wider audience.

The results have not always been healthy.

RuPaul’s own transphobia, the heavy imbalance in “villain edits” given to BIPOC contestants, the mental health challenges faced by contestants in the manipulative production atmosphere and the shockingly toxic fanbase are all well catalogued.

Before Australia presents its first season of Queens on the international stage, it needs to be considered how Australian queer culture will be presented and what the effects will be if the show gets it wrong.

Media commentary and social media threads about Drag Race Australia are already rife.

One long twitter thread envisioned Courtney Act leading a judging panel including Bianca Del Rio and Karen from Finance, with celebrity visits from Kylie Minogue, Dame Edna Everage and Chris Hemsworth.

It begs the question: when did Australian queer culture become so… bourgeois?

While Chris Hemsworth has no doubt fired the fappenings of Australian Queen’s, there’s a great deal more to becoming a gay icon than being a thirst trap.

Drag Race is known for its overwhelming embrace of young, skinny, white drag artistes.

That sits painfully at odds with the realities of local queer culture.

While fans of the program have kept tours by Drag Race stars turning over for years, it’s clear fandom hasn’t led to a greater understanding or investment in Australian drag and its history.

Drag Race Australia could easily follow a glossy route, exclusively featuring branded, young celebrities like Courtney Act, Joel Creasy, Anthony Callea, Ian Thorpe and Troye Sivan as queer figures of consequence.

If that’s our future global image, Australian queer culture is in trouble.

The rich history of Australian activism, drag and queer entertainers needs to be thoroughly explored and insightfully celebrated if Drag Race Australia is to work for the queer community.

Icons like Peter Allen, Robert Helpmann, Carlotta, Reg Livermore, Paul Capsis, Robyn Archer, Magda Szubanski, Shauna Jensen and Tony Sheldon must be front and centre amongst the contestants they paved the way for.

Celebrity judges can’t just be Hollywood thirst traps and cross over popstars from Neighbours.

The world needs to be shown Mojo Juju, Casey Donovan, Josh Quong Tart, Debora Cheetham, Alfie Arcurie, G-Flip, Jesswar, Cub Sport and Alex the Astronaut.

Indigenous brotherboys and sistergirls need to be ever present and celebrated as heroes for their painful work to daily overcome dire social prejudices.

This inclusive image of Drag Race won’t instantly rope in the lowest common denominator.

We have Australian Ninja Warrior for that.

But it does bring up the well-trod, queer community, partisan split.

Flashing nothing but hard, young bodies with corporate sponsorship may silence a vast portion of the gay community, but it’s the quckest way to get attention.

See also: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

It’s time Australian queers recognised the damage caused by that methodology and began the process of recovery.

Failing that, Drag Race Australia will end up an expensive, toxic battleground, damaging local drag and adding luxury upgrades to RuPaul’s 60,000-acre ranch in Wisconsin.

Drag Race Australia will mark a turning point for how future generations of LGBTQIA+ Australian’s see themselves.

The queer community has a responsibility to ensure the show fairly represents all of us.