Attracting a cult following and even creating its own language, RuPaul's Drag Race is now a UK mainstay. If the show has ignited your interest in LGBTQ+ stories, look no further than these books for your next drag-spiration.
When the people who created RuPaul’s Drag Racefirst pitched the show to networks back in the 2000s, they couldn’t get a green light – drag just seemed too underground, too edgy, even if the queen of charisma, RuPaul, already had his own popular talk show on VH1.
It was only after LogoTV, an LGBTQ+ pay per view channel, eventually went for the idea that in 2009 Drag Race first hit screens. A lot like America’s Next Top Model, it was a reality show that invited a cast of young, hopeful contestants to take part in (sometimes demeaning) weekly challenges in order to compete for a shot at superstardom. In Drag Race’s case, this meant the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, and to win, queens were invited to lip-sync for their lives.
After countless seasons, and a decade later, RuPaul’s Drag Race can be credited with catapulting drag from a side art to a mainstream phenomenon. Drag Race is shown in over 70 countries – including most recently, with the debut of RuPaul's Drag Race UK – and DragCon, the show’s accompanying convention, invited tens of thousands through its doors in Los Angeles, New York and Europe.
Having been to DragCon myself (to research my book, Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture), and spoken to its guests, I can tell you not everyone there was LGBTQ+. One couple from the American South told me that their only two weekly rituals were to go to church and pray, and to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race.
In this sense, Drag Race has introduced a hugely broad audience to LGBTQ+ people’s stories, and for that, we have to thank it. But there are many, many more stories of drag queens and kings, gender-nonconforming people and camp icons out there waiting to be discovered. So, as RuPaul’s Drag Race has now sashayed to the UK (had to!) for three successful series, we've gathered a selection of books to keep learning about and celebrating drag culture and the LGBTQ+ community.
Orlando undoubtedly brings us onto The Drag King Book – one of the most rare and wonderful photo essays to ever grace the earth. Del LaGrace Volcano is an intersex photographer from America, living in Sweden, who in the '80s and '90s captured this incredible collection of portraits of drag kings, women and genderqueer people dragging up as men and/or performing masculinity. There are over 100 images in the book, and the introduction is provided by the incredible trans queer theorist Jack Halberstam (author of a number of books that are also worth checking out). As the synopsis promises, the book asks a vital question: “Why have drag kings not been as numerous or as popular as their drag queen counterparts in popular culture?”
Building on Sontag’s essay with a smart, sexy and poignant update for the modern day is academic Madison Moore’s book Fabulous. By tracing what “fabulous” means through art, music, fashion and other forms of pop culture, Moore begins to establish that being fabulous it is not just, well, fabulous, but a political mode of resistance. It is a concept that encapsulates how some of the most marginalised people in society – namely queer, femme, trans and non-binary people of colour – harness creativity, drama and self-belief as a form of empowerment. Just look at voguing balls as a prime example. “It’s about making a spectacle of oneself in a world that seeks to suppress and undervalue fabulous people,” writes Moore, fabulously.