Drag Race's queer religious representation
Also, the religious eugenics behind Sleepytime Tea
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Drag Race brings queer religion to TV
Season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race has started. I’m a huge Drag Race fan, even though now with all the international spinoffs, there’s too much to watch. It’s arguably the most high-profile queer text in the world, and has undoubtedly brought drag into the mainstream while changing the global drag scene forever.
In episode 3, season 15 last week, the queens had to make infomercials advertising a drag afterlife — the “Queerafter”. This challenge inspires a conversation between the queens about how growing up religious affected them as queer people. Contestant Malaysia Babydoll Foxx describes being shunned by her church, but finding acceptance in her family, whereas Mistress Isabelle Brooks tells how her Christian parents forced her out of home when she came out at 17 years old.
Sometimes faith is glossed over in the Drag Race franchise, but if you keep an eye out, you can almost always see religion lurking. Maybe it’s the reason for family conflict, or as inspiration for hope in the face of challenges. Some queens talk about how being in church choir taught them to sing and perform, or mention how they’ve drawn from their own tradition to inspire a look.
Given the hostility of conservative religious communities towards LGBTIQ+ people, it was surprising to me that when Drag Race directly tackles faith, it’s not always dealt with as negatively as I would have first assumed (although, this has also drawn criticism).
As it turns out, this is a deliberate choice by the creators of the show. In this Refinery29 video, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (co-CEOs of Drag Race production company World of Wonder) talk about why they offer a religious Sunday service during the annual DragCon convention (drag race contestant Ra’Jah O’Hara can be seen helping lead it) and why they think drag is a spiritual exercise. Drag Race doesn’t turn a blind eye to the harm caused to queer people in the name of faith, but its version of diversity and inclusion explicitly covers religious practice.
RuPaul’s own self-help, health-and-wealth philosophy has a religious tinge that features at the end of every episode (“If you can’t love yourself how the hell are you going to love anybody else, can I get an amen?”) and is on full display when he speaks to contestants one-on-one — according to Ru, the universe uses hardship to make us stronger, and everything happens for a reason.
Sometimes the show stumbles on religious discourse though, particularly for minority faiths in the US, like Islam — let’s not forget the notorious Jeff Goldblum stars and stripes hijab incident. In this Religion Dispatches article, Megan Goodwin and Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst take Goldblum (and the show) to task for what they see as rank Islamophobia.
Many queens on the show talk openly about being engaged in religious communities. Utica Queen is an active Seventh-Day Adventist. Miz Cracker is Jewish. Mercedes Iman Diamond is Muslim. Silky Nutmeg Ganache is a music minister in her church and stars in a World of Wonder webseries, Shantay You Pray.
It’s queer religious representation that isn’t prominent in other shows. Reality TV is considered a lowbrow cultural product, but at its best, it can be incredibly good at surfacing complex issues of religion, race, queerness and politics not often found in other formats. For that reason I think it’s worth paying attention.
The religious eugenics behind Sleepytime Tea
This article is a year old, but it’s new to me. Food & Wine reports that the popular bedtime drink Sleepytime Tea has historical connections to a UFO religion and its holy text, The Urantia Book.
The central idea of this particular religious text revolves the idea that there are many different sons of God who live on many different planets in a galaxy that consists of billions of worlds. According to their belief system, our world is just one of billions and it's called "Urantia." While this seems tame enough, Giller calls attention to some of the thoughts that are buried deep in the book, ones that she calls "some of the most racist ideas I've read in a long time."
Keeping up Appearances with Pope Benedict
It’s been 30 years since the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances went to air. The show was a fond favourite in my house growing up, so I was tickled to read that the recently-deceased Pope Benedict was apparently a huge fan too.
[Keeping Up Appearances actor] Dame Patricia Routledge said …: “There’s a rumour that Pope Benedict did an impression of Hyacinth’s telephone catchphrase, ‘Hello, this is the Bouquet residence.’
Sometimes, things you want to link to don’t embed
Tumblr links don’t embed on Substack, but here’s a video of a Jesus transformer. Instagram Reels don’t seem to embed either. I think I posted the original video a little while ago but I enjoyed this “Other Derek” lip sync I saw on Instagram last week.
I bet you thought I wasn’t going to post any tweets this week. Well here’s a bunch!
Another good tweet
ANOTHER good tweet!
There really is going to be a sequel to the Passion of the Christ. IMDB says it “focuses on the events that occurred three days between the crucifixion and resurrection when Jesus Christ descended to Abraham's Bosom to preach and resurrect Old Testament saints.”
RIP to me, a Protestant
Lastly, please bless a British person in your life
Substack has just released a new feature that shows me where all my subscribers are accessing this newsletter.
Did you know I only have 17 subscribers in the United Kingdom? That seems like not very many! Please recommend this newsletter to a British person today!