A little over a week ago, the first season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK came to an end. I say “the first season”, as the show has been renewed for a second season, which will air next year (hurrah).
If you didn’t catch any of the episodes – which streamed weekly on BBC 3 – then you truly missed out on a treat. The show followed the same format as its American counterpart – a collection of drag queens battle it out to be the top queen of the season – only this series was loaded with heaps of British charm, plenty of British slang, and some very important conversations about the LGBTQ+ community.
But before I get onto that, let me just sidestep a little, to tell a story.
While working our way through Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, my husband and I engaged in a conversation about ‘coming out’ – specifically how we knew we were gay. My husband said that he always knew he was gay and it was something which he just accepted from an early age.
For me, I said it was different. I didn’t come out until I was 19 years old and for the majority of the years leading up to that point, I didn’t really acknowledge being gay… or really know that I was gay.
My husband found this to be quite odd. How could I not know?
It is here that I must point out there is a 12-year age difference between me and my husband. I was born at the beginning of the 1980s, so grew up throughout the ‘80s & ‘90s. He grew up during the mid-90s & into the ’00s.
When I was at school, kids didn’t talk about being gay – only in a derogatory way – and there was no education about homosexuality or same-sex couples. If anyone did show signs they might be gay, it was simply written off as a ‘phase’ and something they would grow out of.
For me, I don’t believe I acknowledged I was gay simply because I didn’t know anyone who was, so I had no one to compare myself to or even have a way to ask questions about the subject. To the best of my knowledge, the only people who were gay were the occasional celebrities who appeared on British television. These celebrities were often depicted as camp stereotypes – something which didn’t seem like me at all.
So, I went throughout my youth not realising I was gay. I didn’t really have any interest in the opposite sex, and I didn’t know why. Anytime that I did start to notice an attraction to someone of my own sex, I just chalked it up to being ‘a phase’.
Being a kid who didn’t know he was gay, and had no ‘straight’ feelings either, was quite confusing. I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking back now I can see it was a bizarre period – especially when going through puberty.
Anyway, the conversation between me and the hubby covered this subject and I tried to explain how such a situation could take place. I tried to make it clear how I could go through a huge portion of my life not knowing who I was, even if I couldn’t quite get my head around it myself.
After much discussion the conversation came to a natural end and we didn’t really talk anymore about it. And then we reached episode 5 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, and something very important happened – during the episode, one of the contestants, Davina de Campo, entered into a discussion with her fellow queens about what it was like during her school years, because of Section 28.
For those who are unfamiliar with Section 28, this was a UK law that was put in place to ‘prohibit the promotion of homosexuality’. It was in place throughout a huge chunk of my childhood.
This is what Davina said:
“Growing up was really hard. Like growing up for everybody is hard, but then you add on being gay it’s just a whole other level – particularly for the time I grew up in.”
“Section 28, enacted in 1988 up to about 2000 – it stops the promotion of homosexuality. Now for most teachers that meant it could not even be spoken about, so it just erases gay people completely. There was no discussion around it, so you have no understanding as a gay person that there can be a different way of living, because you never get told that – that never happens.
“Whereas for a straight person, you are constantly fed ‘you are correct, you are right, you are valid’. You don’t get that as a gay person.”
As soon as Divina uttered these words, I turned to my husband, pointed at the screen and said: “That! Everything I was trying to explain about growing up during the ‘80s and ‘90s, that is what it was like. I didn’t know I was gay because it simply wasn’t allowed to be spoken of.”
And my husband instantly understood.
In just one short discussion, which lasted only a couple of minutes on screen, Divina was able to put into words what I’d spent an evening trying to explain. And in having that conversation with her fellow queens, I knew that Davina had not only helped me find the right words, but she had also helped countless people around the UK to have a way of explaining what life was like when they were young.
If Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK had not been commissioned, then this conversation would not have taken place. Now, whenever this topic comes up again, I can provide a clearer understanding of what life was like when I was a kid – or I can simply show them a soundbite from this episode.
In the UK, Section 28 is no longer a thing. It was abolished in Scotland in 2000 and across the rest of the UK in 2003.
However, there are countless ‘Section 28s’ going on in other parts of the world. They might have a different name, or they might take on alternate form, but there are countries that still enforce this way of thinking, and they stop kids from getting to grips with who they are.
Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK has opened up the narrative and has helped make sense of what has happened and what still happens. And yet, this is just one of the great conversations to come out of this show.
Throughout its run, Drag Race UK has helped to redefine what it means to be a drag queen; it has explored issues on marriage equality; it has highlighted the problems with addiction; and it has demonstrated that putting on a dress isn’t a threat to anyone (nor is it the beginning of the fall of civilisation).
This season of Drag Race has been one of the best – if not THE best. It stands out as an excellent piece of television, and has demonstrated that we can all learn and find new ways to express ourselves, if only we can find the time to listen to other peoples’ experiences.
If you have not watched the show before, this first season of Drag Race UK is the perfect jumping on point.