This is a recap of Rupaul’s Drag Race episode 1407. Spoilers below.
I spent the week catching up on Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera. This six-episode podcast narrated by Trace Lysette and executive produced by Trace and Morgan M Page tells the story of Miriam, a trans woman who dared to dream of stardom — and found herself in a reality TV nightmare.
There’s Something About Miriam was everything one would expect from an early 2000s reality TV show centering a trans woman. Ostensibly a dating show with the goal of exploring modern masculinity and sexuality fluidity, it undermined its supposed noble intentions with cruel jokes and a terrible central premise — none of the men would know Miriam was trans until she’d chosen one to love.
Rather than the fairy tale ending on cishet shows like The Bachelor, Miriam received mockery and the show received a lawsuit.
The first season of Drag Race began five years after There’s Something About Miriam. Instead of premiering on mainstream British TV, it premiered on the gay-centric Logo. And yet throughout its early seasons, Drag Race didn’t separate itself far enough from other reality TV when it came to transness.
We can excuse the show in 2010 for reflecting 2010, but trans people didn’t gain our humanity when (some of) the mainstream decided we were people. When Miriam was on TV in 2004, she was a person. When Kylie Sonique Love came out in Drag Race’s season two reunion show, she was a person. When Monica Beverly Hillz came out while still competing on season five, she was a person. When Peppermint talked about being trans on season nine only for RuPaul to release an interview after her season denouncing future trans queens, she was a person.
Reality TV is reality TV. But what these early moments share is that our transness was only valued when it could either be a joke or a shocking reveal. It’s why Peppermint is so often erased as the first — if we must obsess over firsts — out trans woman queen to appear on Drag Race. She was too matter-of-fact about it. Just like the multitude of non-binary queens who have discussed their various relationships to transness over the years and have been erased just the same.
The reason I wanted to start recapping Drag Race on Autostraddle wasn’t because I needed an outlet where my cuntiness would be mildly more accepted. It was because seeing trans icon, drag icon, and Drag Race icon Jinkx Monsoon perform a year into my transition genuinely changed my life. It was because despite the hack jokes like “You’ve got she-mail,” binge-watching the first 12 seasons of Drag Race showed me a wider expression of transness than I’d ever seen on TV.
Trans people have always snuck ourselves onto TV, into the spotlight, toward the glamour we deserve. We can argue about RuPaul’s own contributions to the queer community and whether he’s done more good than harm — I would argue emphatically yes — but even if he’s just a faggoty Maury Povich, his platform has mattered. This show that I complain about each week, with all its frustrations, has mattered to so many people. It’s mattered to me.
And that’s why I’m writing all of this instead of my usual recap. Because this week something happened on Drag Race that has never happened before. During Untucked, Ts Madison, a famous trans woman, talked to the queens and then DeJa, a non-binary person, asked if anyone has considered (medical) transition and Bosco, a transfeminine person who announced her own medical transition last week on Twitter, discussed where she was at in her journey and then Jasmine, a trans woman, came out on TV while holding the hand of Kerri, a trans woman well into her transition.
This is far different than those other coming outs. This is far different than the tearful loneliness of being the only one, having to explain your identity to a roomful of people who may or may not understand, to a world that understands even less.
The kind of representation provided by Kylie, by Miriam, by Christine Jorgensen shows people the possibility of transness. But moments like this show an even greater possibility — the possibility for community.
I understand that the obvious headlines for this season of Drag Race were the first out trans woman and the first straight person — never mind that neither of these things are even true. But even real firsts are so limited. Kylie herself couldn’t really show the scope of her talent until there had been others. As good as Peppermint was on season 9, she was even better on Broadway. What’s truly special about this season aren’t its firsts — it’s how many of us are in the room.
I’m not sure if this moment in Untucked with Jasmine coming out while leaning on Bosco and holding Kerri’s hand will have the reality TV staying power of Kylie coming out or Monica coming out or Miriam disclosing as a twist or Zeke Smith being outed on Survivor. But for me, as a trans woman, it was a reminder of why I’m watching this show. For me, as a trans woman who came out never having knowingly met another trans woman, this is what I want from representation. For me, as a trans woman who now has a community of other trans people who get me through each day, each week, each month, each year, this is so much more important than any firsts.
Throughout Harsh Reality, the cis producers of There’s Something About Miriam keep talking about how much progress we’ve made and how the show was a product of its time and how trans people are totally accepted now. It comes off as laughable, as if their own contributions to setting the bar so low, should be cause for celebration today. The fact is the media still treats us cruelly. So much progress has been made — because of people like Miriam and the early Drag Race trailblazers and so many other people who never achieved fame but achieved so much more — but a monumental increase in visibility has not been matched by the same increase in our perceived humanity.
More and more, it feels like all we can count on is each other. That was the case twenty years ago and maybe it’s not so bad if that’s still the case today. But unlike two decades ago, we can now see that demonstrated on TV. That’s not everything, but it is something. Media is always going to tell stories about us. I’d rather that story no longer be one of solitary bravery. When baby trans girls watched Kylie come out, they knew they weren’t alone. When baby trans girls watch Jasmine come out, they know she is not alone. Within that small difference is a world of possibility.
We deserve to be ourselves — we also deserve a shoulder to lean on and a hand to hold.
Teleport Us to Mars!! Here Are Some Random Thoughts:
+ I’m so sorry if you’re disappointed to not get a usual recap. I just had a lot to say (clearly) and couldn’t resist. I promise I’ll get back to being a raging bitch to Daya next week.
+ This episode had no bottoms, because with Kornbread going home they needed to add an episode. But it really was stellar work all around. Sure, the safe queens weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible either.
+ Not only did Jasmine steal the show in Untucked, but her ridiculous southern accent in the challenge also solidified her as Alyssa Edwards’ second coming.
+ As if I needed any more reasons to love Bosco, she brings up Folsom.
+ The runway theme was chaps and the looks were so good! And not just because I’m horny for butts.
+ Lady Camden won the winner’s lip sync and after three stellar weeks she finally got her $5,000. Her fake out runway trip to reveal the Freddie Mercury mustache???? Lady Camden has never been among my top favorites and she keeps pointing out that she should be.
+ During the acting challenge, Lady Camden’s character professes her lesbian love for Angeria’s character and yet they didn’t kiss?? When will we have Drag Race’s first genuinely hot lesbian kiss? Now THAT is a first worth talking about.
+ (Before someone comments with some kiss played for a joke, I’m talking full on Courtney Act and Adore Delano in the “Jump the Gun” video steamy make out.)
+ Queen I’m rooting for: Willow
+ Queen I have the biggest crush on: Kerri and Bosco
+ Queen I want to sashay: The queen who couldn’t even win during her winning week. See I can still be a cunt. :)