What a drag


Last night I was invited to a small house party to watch the season premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It is a reality show in the mold of  Project Runway, but for aspiring drag queens. I had never seen the show before, and it was quite a hoot watching it in the company of fellow gays. As we were watching, one of the things that really struck me was how niche one had to be to get all of the in-jokes and references. I was talking with a few other people there and we agreed that if you were, say, a 30 year old straight dude watching in Topeka you would probably be utterly lost by the spectacle. Whether it was the multiple references to Mommie Dearest peppered in RuPaul’s dialog, or the lexicon of drag gestures or diva swagger, one really needed years of exposure to the culture to be able to fully appreciate this show. Then again, perhaps it is fascinating for those in a different culture to get a glimpse at life on Mars, and attempt to understand and deconstruct the milieu. Of course this isn’t unique to gay culture, there are millions of subcultures that people are a part of, and most times several at once. To list but a few of my own: foodies, webheads/technogeeks, architects, polyglots, travelers. Each of these are subcultures with their own preoccupations and terms that can seem impenetrable to those on the outside. But in building these communities, and integrating their peculiar symbology and slang over many years, we obtain a cultural literacy that gives great pleasure whenever we see it employed. And this pleasure comes from being in on the joke and feeling no small sense of belonging, made all the more satisfying by sharing the laughter with others and feeling connected to them.