When the announcement was made that RuPaul's Drag Race was getting a British version, the response on social media was rapturous. But as the search for queens got underway, criticism from the country's tight-knit drag community started to seep into the conversation. In critics' sights was the limited gender spectrum that has so far been presented on Drag Race, as well as comments RuPaul made (and later apologized for) in The Guardian in March 2018. "Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony," Ru said, "once it’s not men doing it."
In December, cis female drag performer Lacey Lou wrote in an article for Gay Star Times: "The lack of representation of groups such as drag kings, cisgender women [and] transgender women... make [Drag Race] damaging and out of sync with what’s actually happening in local communities. We don’t need RPDR in the UK, not as it is right now... Drag competitions should be based on talent, not on genitalia."
Tom Rasmussen, an author and non-binary queen told The Guardian: “A lot of the UK’s very best drag can be found in basement bars... The polish which a show like RuPaul’s Drag Race venerates is at odds with a lot of contemporary drag, as well as UK drag’s basis in working-class, regional culture.”
James Telford, manager of one of London's leading drag venues, The Glory, would also like to see so-called "bio queens" and trans and non-binary performers included on Drag Race. "The diversity in the drag scene is really thriving right now," he says. "Women are becoming big drag hits, which is refreshing, and a lot of my current faves are [cis] females. We’re seeing a lot more drag kings too. Our venue celebrates that kind of diversity, as well we should. I actually think that gender clash brings more creativity.”
So if the British version diversifies, who might we see on the show? Perhaps some of these greats:
In 2016, this female drag artist won Miss Sink the Pink, one of London's most popular drag competitions, and is a favorite across the UK. Bee told Dazed and Confused a couple of years ago that drag enables her to "project my own internal vision of myself."
Chiyo Gomes is a drag king, who describes themselves as a "Stray Mutt. Afrolatinx trans body attempting to f**k shit up." Gomes told The Independent in 2018: "Drag is just drag. It’s an art. King, queen or in between. We’re this cute little bubble of magic in the queer cabaret world. Drag is performing confidence, owning a stage, presenting an aura like no other. Gender is irrelevant.”
Lilly's Instagram account describes her as "a Neo Drag Queen Burlesque... Performer, working in London who enjoys British passports and controversial S.E Asian Stereotypes." Lilly has done everything from miming "What's Your Fantasy" by Ludacris while dressed as an Ewok, to tackling racial stereotypes and the fetishization of Asian women, while soundtracked by Tina Arena's "I'm in Chains." Never predictable, Lilly is distinguished by her ability to swing between hard-hitting political commentary and an almost childlike approach to humor.
This cis female performer is a staple of the London underground, thanks to stunning drag performances, DJ sets under the moniker Chaka Khan't and her job as a promoter at "pure nonsense heauxmeauxsexy disco pRty," Mints. Yoko was also featured in Damien Frost's stunning photography book documenting London's "alternative nightlife," Night Flowers: From Avant Drag to Extreme Haute Couture.
Challenging notions of what drag bodies should look like, Venus Dimilo's name is a nod to the ancient Greek marble masterpiece that's famous for its lack of arms. Venus herself has a congenital condition called thrombocytopenia absent radius, which means she was born without forearm bones. Venus uses her body to her creative advantage. "The strongest reaction I’ve probably ever had," she told Barcroft TV, "was my T-Rex performance. What it is essentially, is a T-Rex who can’t masturbate because they’ve got short arms… It’s probably the loudest and most positive reaction to anything I’ve ever performed."
Ms. Kevin Le Grand
Trans queen Kevin Le Grand is a boundary-pushing performer, known for cheekbones you could cut glass on, her love for the word "bastards" (pronounced in a prominent Northern English accent) and combining natural beauty with an exaggerated grasp of the grotesque. When Ms. Kevin Le Grand is performing, it's impossible to look away, even when you think you probably should.
Frustrated by a lack of racial diversity in the British drag scene, in 2017, Zayn Phallic founded KOC, which is, of course, pronounced with a hard C and stands for Kings Of Colour. When not performing, Zayn emcees for the cabaret (which also includes Chiyo) and participates in KOC workshops to help wannabe kings hone their skills. Zayn's individual performances are marked by '90s nostalgia, a six-pack that won't quit and enough swag to rival all five members of One Direction.
Woman, dominatrix and drag queen, Holestar started back in 2003, inspired by 1982 Julie Andrews flick Victor Victoria "and seeing too many queens be vile about women." She's released a super '80s pop EP called Queen of F**king Everything and co-founded a documentary about the British drag scene called Dressed As a Girl.
Looks-wise, non-binary, Toronto-born femme Victoria Sin is what would happen if Cher and Jessica Rabbit had a baby. But Victoria has a mission that goes far beyond such surface; they want to challenge and dismantle gender preconceptions altogether. Sin's drag started when they moved to London for the first time. They describe the scene there as "genderf**k drag: it’s not about looking like a man or a woman, you can be in drag as a bin bag or as a monster.” In a post on Instagram last year, Sin stated: "I am celebrating femininity divorced from womanhood, essentialism, and patriarchal and colonial expectations."
Artist, DJ and "drag witch," Amber Cadaverous plays with horror movie imagery and icons, and started her drag journey after falling in love with RuPaul's Drag Race. In 2016, she told TheDrag.com: "Drag is post-gender. Drag is whatever you want it to be. Not everyone wants to dress as a woman, but instead like a pink blob or an alien... People find a lot of solace in it: trans kids, non-binary kids, for example... What we do [in the UK] is a lot more androgynous... You don’t have to be a man to do drag—drag is becoming who you want to be."