For more than a decade, the RuPaul’s Drag Race judging table has been both the epicenter and gatekeeping system of queer culture and identity in mainstream pop culture. Debuted back in 2009, the American reality competition tv show follows its creator, drag queen and culture icon, RuPaul and his guests, in search for “ America’s next drag superstar.” Now, on its thirteenth season, the show has become Logo TV’s highest-rated television program, airs internationally, and with three spin-offs, RuPaul’s Drag Race’s success is accelerating like a rigged Pride parade float heading for the sun.
Despite its triumphant mission to bring queer culture into living rooms across the globe, there have been criticisms for how the show misinterprets, stereotypes and in a few cases ignored its responsibility to support transgender representation – This leads us to Avery Ware and The Very Reverend Dr. Juanita Bind’em.
Ware, a Notre Dame College History Professor and social critic, and Bind’em, a Black queer HIV positive artist, educator, and abolitionist are the co-hosts of Drag From The Left, a podcast where they “ dish all things drag and pop culture through a radical leftist perspective.” Designed to help create a “conscious audiences” that is equipped with the appropriate cultural, historical and social knowledge on topics such as Black Lives Matter, LGTBQIA history and general basic human rights, DFTL is a navigational system for queer representation in media.
Last January, our founder, Alexis René Moten, caught up with the dynamic duo to talk dreams, politics and overcoming adversity.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
CJ: Let’s start with an ice breaker. What is the last dream you can remember?
JB: Whew, Chile! (laughs) So, Juanita has been known to have these horrifying nightmares since I was a little, itty-bitty kid. I used to hurl myself onto the floor at night. I stay with my grandma and recently she came downstairs from the third floor to wake me up because I was screaming in my sleep. She thought something was horrible happening to me. Sometimes I can’t remember the dream but, this one in particular I remembered. I had just watched Midsommar, chile. There is a scene at the end when they put that man inside the bear. Somebody was stuffing me. I was butt-ass naked in full drag. Titties, hip pads, it was a womanly body, it was weird. And I was inside a bear and I was screaming.
AW: It’s giving very much Jonah and the whale.
JB: Maybe I ate too much spicy food that night. But I was naked, inside a bear, with titties.
CJ: And hip pads.
JB: And hip pads.
CJ:What about you Avery?
AW: I actually shared this with Corin [Personal stylist], he was in the dream, a lot of our friends were. It was still a pandemic, present day, in the United States of America and we were going to a party. We would never do this in real life during a pandemmy but, in the dream we were going to a party. There were a lot of gays and a stripper that invited us to a movie night at her home. From the time of the party to the time of the movie night I was in a coma. I woke up the day of the movie night and my friends were like, ‘ girl, you been sleep for two weeks.’
JB: Dreams are so odd but with the current world we live in any dream I have is a shot of relief in comparison.
CJ: How does the dreamer survive this era?
JB: The beautiful thing about dreaming, we talk about this on the podcast, is the ability to create something. We are in completely unprecedented times and I think that speaks to the power of transformation. We can craft whatever we fucking want. We can do what we want, be whatever the object of our imagination is and make it come to life.
AW: I agree. I’ve been writing my dreams down. The pandemic sucks and we definitely want to be respectful to the lives lost and people still grieving those lives. But for the dreamer this might’ve been the time to create the world they want to live in. I just retweeted a tweet [ about this] earlier today. The young lady said, ‘ I’m writing myself into the dreams I want.’
JB: Yeah, put yourself in your stories. We have so much time to do so. Isolation allows us to have these beautiful, deep, cathartic moments with ourselves. It’s been a year now since we’ve been tied into this shit. If at any point in the last 365 you have not had some type of internal dialogue-I swear people in comas are having some type of something.
“We did not go far enough. We should’ve kept going (laughs). I’m going toward a place that is more free, more loving, more accepting, more affirming because it makes me feel good.”
– juanita bind’em
CJ: Dreams, Fantasy and Science-Fiction are typically associated with LGBTQIA representation. Why do you think it’s been limited to these genres?
JB: (Laughs) Because it is not fantasy. It is completely real in reference. It’s fantasy because it’s aloof and it’s not theirs. The people who are making it are not from inside the community so, it does feel like a fairy tale. For me it is legitimate mythology. It’s Gods, Goddesses, monsters and demons. I live my life by it. It’s scripture. I think they make it up because they adore everything that we are.
AW: What’s made up is the bigotry. Queer people have always been around. Bigotry is what has been contrived and the infrastructure that allows it to thrive. Our magic has always been there and will always be there.
JB: Things are different now. Slavery, they said follow the North star. We did not go far enough. We should’ve kept going (laughs). I’m going toward a place that is more free, more loving, more accepting, more affirming because it makes me feel good.
AW: I’m with you. I’m going to get there in the spiritual and the mental. I’m going to get there. Y’all can stay here if you want to but, that’s where I’m going.
JB: Someone I organize with said, ‘ people don’t want to get free. I don’t think they want to be free.’
AW: [People] are comfortable in oppression.
JB: They don’t want to be free! The world we live in is violent. To change that will cause friction and when people are struggling to get by, I wouldn’t want to throw my deuces either. But, we have to. It’s time to whoop some ass.
AW: I think people are comfortable sitting on oppression because it is scary. It’s scary to think what the revolution will require, what freedom will require for us to get there. And I think a lot of people know that not all of us will get to see it. So, it’s a scary thought but, it’s necessary.
JB: Are you willing to be around for that though?
JB: Someone was talking to me about a zombie apocalypse and I will tell you right now that I will find the most beautiful cliff and jump. I’m not about to stay around. I had to fight capitalism, patriarchy, racism, I’m not about to fight no zombies, too. I am leaving.
AW: I used to watch those shows like, ‘what are we fighting for here?’ JB: And for what? But, I’m ready for a revolution. My machete is ready.
“Equity literally means meeting the needs of the most marginalized, giving them what they need so that they can perform, live and be at the same level of everyone else.”
CJ: How has RuPaul’s Drag Race impacted how we view queerness in the media? What benefits have come from the show and what mistakes have been made?
AW: I’ll start with the mistakes. RuPaul and RuPaul’s drag race has such a monopoly on drag and drag culture. When a person or one entity has a monopoly on an entire art form it usually comes with some consequences. For drag race, they show different forms of drag but, it champions only one form: the female impersonation from cis-gendered men. Any other form is viewed as less than or devalued. We’ve just had our first openly transgender contestant on the show. [Previously,] Peppermint was openly trans but, she was only allowed to be on the show under certain criteria. Couldn’t have boobs, couldn’t be in the work room without presenting themselves as a boy. So, [the show] holds this monopoly over drag that is capitalist in nature and follows British Columbia scripts of sexuality, gender and race. This is one of my biggest critiques of the show.
JB: I’d like to add that nowhere else in television can we digest so much queerness and gayness in a one-stop shop. We get so much of it. The looks, the shade, the dance, the nods to [Marsha P. Johnson]. It’s what we want and there’s difficulty when there is a scarcity of that. We often have to put up with not getting everything that we need because it’s the only place we can get us from. It’s interesting to watch how diversity and inclusion can be self-serving and tell a limited narrative. Last season with Jackie Cox, when they had Jeff Goldblum as the guest, they just had to do that narrative, ‘ wait, isn’t islam a homophobic religion?’ Like, girl, we weren’t talking about that. What religion you got? What views they got? We can talk about patriarchy, capitalism and faith in terms of the structure of it but, I don’t think it’s fair to attack the wholeness of someone’s spirituality.
CJ: Does Representation matter?
JB: Representation matters but I think at this point representation is the bare minimum. Diversity is me sitting at the table, inclusion is my ability to speak and to add, equity is when the things that I add are used and can dictate the culture of the space. Honestly, when equity is achieved the baseline would not be me sitting at the table, it wouldn’t be awarded because then the room will have already been reflective of what the community looks like. To keep in drag race culture, Peppermint was on the show and Peppermint was in the finale. That was representation but, what would’ve been great was if they’d created an atmosphere in which Peppermint could walk into the room and represent who they were the whole entire time.
AW: You know that saying ‘the bar is on the floor’- representation is that bar. Diversity is base level, it’s who is in the room. Inclusion and equity in different ways are how we listen and apply the voices of that room. Equity literally means meeting the needs of the most marginalized, giving them what they need so that they can perform, live and be at the same level of everyone else. If that is not the standard, representation will never be enough. It’s great to be reflected in the media. When I first saw Moonlight, it was the first time.
JB: Yes and it’s not even my story. But I saw me.
AW: Yeah, that’s great and I know there are so many of us that agree. Black queer people. But that just can’t be it.
CJ: What did you think about Inauguration?
JB: In the words of the late, great Aretha Franklin: Gowns. Beautiful gowns. For me, immediately it felt like nothing had changed and it was a waste of my time. I had better things to do and in that moment the better thing to do was to take a nap. I am due rest.
AW: I didn’t watch it.
CJ: What advice do you have for future self?
AW: No fear. You are going to tackle everything like God, in the form of Beyoncé came down, handed it to you and said, ‘Avery, this is yours.’ JB: There was a time, about 6 months before a Covid, a friend would be working on something big and they wouldn’t quite make it, a little part of me would be happy that it didn’t. It wasn’t because I wanted my friends to fail but, it gave me permission to do nothing. I did little things but I hadn’t had a magnus opus. I didn’t get rid of the dead skin. I had to check myself that if I am putting this energy into the world it’s getting somewhere, ya know? I had to figure out what that was. I was thinking medium and I want to think extra large. I wear a XL in boy clothes, I want to sit in this body, fill up, take up space and not be so small. I don’t want to see scarcity. I want to see abundance.
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