Zhang, E. (2016). Memoirs of a gay! Sha: Race and gender performance on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Studies in Costume & Performance, (1), 59. https://doi-org.proxy.library.brocku.ca/10.1386/scp.1.1.59_1
This article was written by Eric Zhang, who is a graduate of New York University’s MA Visual Culture: Costume Studies programme. Zhang’s research primarily looks at the visual representations of Asian American women and queer men. In this article, Zhang focuses on the subjects on race, gender and sexual identity by providing an analysis of several contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race, using moments from different episodes to provide supporting examples.
Zhang’s primary argument in the article was that several former Asian- American contestants on the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race use their drag personas mixed with costumes and performance techniques to provide an ambivalent rhetoric of race and gender both onstage and on television. Zhang also quotes an article by Butler who states that Drag Queens engage with and use the art form of drag as a way of embracing and exaggerating racial and gender stereotypes and challenging earlier formed ideologies of gender as a performance.To support his argument, Zhang first provides a brief history of drag as an art form. In terms of Asian-American gay men, Zhang references an article by Chong-Suk Han noting that gay Asian American men’s experiences usually involves gendered and racialized meanings, and that in western society, Asian gay men have been pigeon-held by the notion that they are more feminine. Zhang thus argues that Asian men use drag as a form of stigma management. Zhang continues to support this claim by focusing on four former Asian-American Drag Queens contestants: Jujubee, Manila Luzon, Raja, and Gia Gunn.
When discussing Jujubee (of Lao descent), Zhang discusses how she used her language more than her visuals in her performance to represent her Asian identity. Using examples from the show, Zhang states that by Jujubee uses her native language to place emphasis of her connection to immigrant background as well as to her overall ethnic identity. Zhang then proceeds to discuss Manila Luzon (of Filipino descent). Zhang notes that Luzon’s use of Oriental-influenced costuming and over-exaggerated accents provide an uneasy and ambivalent relationship to questions of racial and ethnic identity. Zhang focuses his discussion of Raja on her persona outside of the show. Like Luzon, Raja (of Indonesian descent) incorporates South Asian styles into her usually androgynous costuming while her performance styles, blend several different southern and east-Asian styles into her performances, to provide a blurring of gender and racial identities. Zhang mentions how Gia Gunn’s provided commentary on stereotypes of race and gender, as she differentiated her background in the Japanese art form of kabuki and her Japanese background from her definition of drag as female presenting, and how she disapproved of one of her competitors doing male-presenting drag, thus providing commentary on how she uses stigma management to maintain her acceptance in the gay community.
Zhang concludes the article by stating while these queens present different ways of race and gender, they are also mediated somewhat through the producers of Drag Race and the medium of reality television in general. Zhang in closing argues that the queens embody racist stereotypes and their personal identities through costuming and performances to identify or disidentify with their own personal life experiences.