Keeping It 101: A Killjoy's Introduction to Religion

Extracurriculars: Ru-ligion Ru-vealed! the T on Religion & Drag Race

April 22, 2020 Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst and Megan Goodwin Season 1 Episode 108
Keeping It 101: A Killjoy's Introduction to Religion
Extracurriculars: Ru-ligion Ru-vealed! the T on Religion & Drag Race
Lesson plan!
Thesis! Religion and queerness are not mutually exclusive
Primary sources!
Keyword: queer
RuPaul is NOT not a problem (but Drag Race is more than just RuPaul)
Category IS: Ru-ligion, OR, Jesus is a biscuit and I let him sop me up
Category IS: Religious costumes, OR, it's just drag! (OR IS IT)
Category IS: Religion as oppression, OR, NOTHING HAPPENS, AMERICA
Content warning: conversion therapy and ex-gay ministries
Category IS: RuPaul's religious eleganza extravaganza! plus keyword: ball
The prosperity gospel of RuPaul Andre Charles
The charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent of Drag Race
Keeping It 101: A Killjoy's Introduction to Religion
Extracurriculars: Ru-ligion Ru-vealed! the T on Religion & Drag Race
Apr 22, 2020 Season 1 Episode 108
Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst and Megan Goodwin

In which we spill the T on "Drag Race," the prosperity gospel of RuPaul Andre Charles, and why queerness and religion aren't mutually exclusive.

Not a Race Chaser? Definitely check out the show notes for this episode - we have a bunch of images and videos to help you follow along. And after all, if you're not gagging over the lewks these queens are serving, you're only getting half the story, squirrelfriend.

Keywords: queer/ness, ball culture

Homework: it's our longest episode this season! So you know we assigned way too much. Start with Drew Konow's "Contouring for Christ" and Melissa Wilcox's Queer Nuns.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In which we spill the T on "Drag Race," the prosperity gospel of RuPaul Andre Charles, and why queerness and religion aren't mutually exclusive.

Not a Race Chaser? Definitely check out the show notes for this episode - we have a bunch of images and videos to help you follow along. And after all, if you're not gagging over the lewks these queens are serving, you're only getting half the story, squirrelfriend.

Keywords: queer/ness, ball culture

Homework: it's our longest episode this season! So you know we assigned way too much. Start with Drew Konow's "Contouring for Christ" and Melissa Wilcox's Queer Nuns.

Ilyse:   0:17
This is Keeping it 101, a killjoy's introduction to religion podcast.  

Megan:   0:22
What's up nerds?

Ilyse:   0:23
 Hi. Hello. I'm Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst a professional and professorial killjoy living, working, and raising killjoys on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Abenaki people. I'm a scholar of Islam, imperialism, racial ization of Muslims and the history of religion Located at the University of Vermont.

Megan:   0:40
Hi. Hello. I'm Megan Goodwin, the other unapologetic feminist killjoy on keeping at 101 Broadcasting. Get it From the Land of the Wabenaki Confederacy, the Abenaki and the Aucocisco Peoples. I'm a scholar of gender, sexuality, white supremacy, minority religions, politics and America, located at Northeastern University--slash currently, my couch--and I coordinate Sacred Writes, public scholarship on religion, a Luce funded project that helps scholars and nerds like yourself share their expertise with folks who don't talk and study and think about religion all the time.  

Megan:   1:16
Hey, it's an extracurricular episode. Schools fun and all, but it's after school when the magic of learning really happens. I said that religion isn't done with you, and I made it really scary by talking about hospitals. But it's also fun, like how when you watch RuPaul's Drag Race all the religion death drops right at you!

Ilyse:   1:33
In our very first extracurricular episode, we're talking RUvealing RU-ligion in our collective favorite show, RuPaul's Drag Race, both because it's fun and to underline the point of keeping it 101: Knowing how to talk about religion, how to see it enhances your ability to see the layers of what's going on. 

Megan:   1:55
So hold onto your butts, nerds. We have a lesson plan for you.

Ilyse:   2:02
So today we're gonna talk RuPaul's drag race, henny, and all 12 seasons & All Stars are fair game. We'll try to keep it snatched & tight and on target, but if you aren't a drag race fan, you could still hang on. If you are well, you've done already had yourses. We don't have real answers. This is a for-fun Ru-view of mostly great television and where religion shows up in it both in obvious ways, like contestants talking about religious affiliation, faith & religious violence like conversion therapy, but also in less obvious ways, like how many contestants families' were deeply religious. How religious symbol pops up in costuming, and--and I love this one--how RuPaul's prosperity, gospel and spiritual but not religious Gu-Ru life permeates the program,

Megan:   2:54
Even though it's extra credit, we've still got a thesis for this episode. I mean, after all, the killjoy motto is that it's important it's vital to criticize the things that you love. For this episode, our thesis is that American pop culture likes to do this queers on one side, religion on the other dichotomy that doesn't actually represent the history of American queers, or the history of American religions. So we think the show gives us that complexity of religion and queerness being all tangled up in contemporary America, whether RuPaul's Drag Race actually meaning to say a smart thing about religion or not, religion is everywhere, even in places in pop culture that we wouldn't necessarily expect, perhaps like queer-centered reality TV. Professors can't turn off their brains, and you should enjoy the show on as many levels as we do! So if you're at home, grab a glass of wine or tea or mineral water and may the best podcast host WIN!

RPDR:   3:46
Drag Race Theme

Megan:   3:51
Podcasts being a notoriously visual medium, it is hard to talk about drag without being able to look at the performers, so we're going to strongly suggest that when you're listening to this episode, if you can, you sit with the show notes so you can scroll through and see what we're talking about. Because it is one thing, for example, for us to talk about Mimi Imfirst doing a campy, campy version of the Virgin Mary in a Christmas episode. It is another thing entirely to watch her carry the Baby Jesus--which might or might not be a canned ham?--down the runway. So we'll get you some clips, will get you some video, and you can get a sense of just why we might be so obsessed with the show. 

Ilyse:   4:26
But we want to start out like we normally start out, even though this is an extracurricular episodes. So it's time for primary sources!

Megan:   4:33
Primary Sources!

Ilyse:   4:35
All right, I have a long history with RuPaul's drag race. I know that a lot of y'all out there are new to the bandwagon, and I'm here to tell you I'm an O. G fan. I started watching the season it came out. The only episode I have not watched in real time was the first episode ever of RuPaul's drag race. I am still mad at Ongina's elimination from Season one. I have thoughts Capital T about the other Tyra's win in Season two. Thank you, thank you. I have Raja and Manila swag that dates from their season and the Absolut vodka tour. I, dear listeners, I have watched every episode of Drag U

RPDR:   5:23
That really was a rough spot.  

Ilyse:   5:26
So I have a very long history with the show, in part because I've been a big fan and a big supporter of drag since I was a wee human. I I love this show as a show. I love this show because I think particularly in the early seasons, I don't think this is true now. But I think in the early seasons it was doing the thing that drag does, which is participate in pop culture while skewering it. So if you look at the early seasons--and you can, they're now available streaming, I think seasons one through five on Amazon Prime, if you have access to that--the early early seasons are simultaneously bolstering the careers of drag queens and asking us to be really reflective about the reality TV competition genre. And so I think that kind of camp, that kind of comedy and that kind of playing with boundaries of gender, of sexuality, of representation, all of that hits all of my nerd and entertainment spots. So I'm OG fan. I have opinions on pretty much every queen that's ever walked through there. I hilariously made--when my son was born, he was born very early on a Thursday--this when RuPaul was on Thursdays--and he was born at 2 a.m. on a Thursday morning and I made a nurse. Let me borrow her laptop so I could watch the live episode that night while I was nursing. I'm told that the story still told on the maternity ward of, like this, this weird mom just really wanted to watch a drag show, but, like, bite me. I had my like 900th abdominal surgery to have my son, and I was gonna watch my drag shows.  

Megan:   6:59
No, wait. Importantly, what was the episode?  

Ilyse:   7:04
Girl? I was on a lot of drugs. Let me think about it. It was 2017. Sasha Valour's season. Okay, okay. And it was the third or fourth episode of that season. I think? So, I'd have to genuinely think about it. But I have and I will--I will actually post this. I don't usually perfection like it on the Internet--but he was such a potato, it doesn't matter. I have a picture of me with my IV in with, like a tiny, swaddled NEW, brand, like hours old human being and like RuPaul on a laptop behind it.  

Megan:   7:34
I love that.  

Ilyse:   7:35
So huge fan, and we'll talk about why in a minute. But I feel like I have both the scholarly and historical depth to offer you some thoughts on where we see religion in RuPaul's Drag Race.

Megan:   7:48
Yeah, I think that's accurate. If anyone were going to offer scholarly analysis of religion on RuPaul's drag race, I think you might be uniquely qualified. And you're charismatic and very nervy and talented. So perfect my primary sources that Ilyse is my drag mom. It was, I am. I'm still giggling about this because Ilyse's partner, Hey Kev, to this day is surprised that Ilyse introduced me to this show and not the other way around, because and I quote, "Megan usually brings the weird." Well, then I was in that mister, but I was I was not into the show I have an allergy to most reality television, and despite the extends of queerness of this and the fact that he had been mocked several times by beloved gay men for not having watched the show, I just never got into it. And then the first year I was at Bates and was unpacking a lot of things and also had very recently finished grad school & my dissertation and was trying to write a book & I was just really stressed out, Ilyse suggested that I, you know, maybe maybe check this out. And because I am a completist nerd, I went and found the very first season, which at the time, you--I did not acquire it legally because you couldn't, and I was--I was just immediately hooked. It is ridiculous and funny, but also genuinely moving in a lot of the places. And it taught me a lot about fashion and an aspect of queer culture, that despite being a scholar of queer theory, I knew very little about, and I have just I have loved it ever since.  

Megan:   9:22
Quick pause for a keyword alert listeners.  

RPDR:   9:24
It's our secret word of the day!  

Megan:   9:26
You might have noticed I just used the word queer about six times in quick succession. When we're talking about queerness, we are talking about folks who are or feel oppressed, marginalized, excluded based on their sexual identities, their gender identities, their gender performances, their sexual acts. Basically, queerness is short hand for non-normative sexuality, queerness is sex that happens outside the boundaries of "respectable," uh, socially rewarded heterosexuality. There's a lot more to be said there, and we've had some requests for more episodes about religion and sexuality and season two so stay tuned for that. When I'm using the word queerness I'm using it in a personal way, I am myself a queer person, but also as a way of gesturing toward the rich history of queer theory. We are making some recommendations about things that you can check out today, but I also want to know that we often use queer as an umbrella term to encompass the richness and complexity of human sexuality. So LGBTQ folks, LGBTQIA folks often but not always identify as queer. Not all lesbians, not all Trans folks, not all intersex folks would feel comfortable with this umbrella term. Some people experience queer as hate speech. I myself use it because I think reclaiming hate speech can be really powerful. And I like the drawing together of these different manifestations of sexual complexity into a cluster that helps me think about what we have in common. But not all gay people, lesbian people, trans people are going to feel comfortable with queer, and I want to acknowledge that as well.  

Megan:   11:17
I am also still mad about Ongina's elimination, she was robbed. I'm mad at what they did to Manila on all stars. There's there's a lot to be angry about here, and that is maybe, ah, space we should talk about before we happen to the analysis. All right? Ilyse is my drag mom, I love this show, But like any good killjoy, I have notes. I have thoughts.

Ilyse:   11:39

Megan:   11:40
And yeah. Yeah, and we want to be a responsible, like cultural analysts comma historians here and acknowledge the RuPaul is not not a problem. RuPaul has said some seriously transphobic stuff. RuPaul. Apparently, it's fucking fracking now because 2020 wasn't weird and just violent enough, and yeah, yeah. Ah, RuPaul : I have notes, but also Ilyse, you're the history so help us think about this.

Ilyse:   12:09
I, you know, I want to think about RuPaul as both a product of his time and as someone who has fundamentally changed how people think about talk about and interact with very particular sets of queer cultures and like, obviously, that's drag. But when I think about the span of RuPaul, I want to both critique the ways in which he has been transphobic. I want to listen to the ways in which some of his colleagues and closest friends and folks who are trans around him disagree with those kinds of opinions. But, like hashtag, I believe people, right? So when someone tells you that this is offensive, I believe you. But I also want to think about like the waves of RuPaul, right, like nineties D J in New York, VH1 late night host was like, literally revolutionary. And that that show had it like 100 episodes or so was itself, like That's it. This would have left a mark historically in terms of where we see, particularly drag and gay men and that particular set of intersections of queer cultures on TV. But that this RuPaul's drag race is in its 12th season plus all seasons of All Stars, Drag U and all the holiday specials that they've done, plus all the podcasting--I think it really can't be understated, the kind of influence RuPaul has had. All of which is to say, RuPaul's legacy and impact are both related to RuPaul and separate from RuPaul. 

Megan:   13:47
Yes, yes to that. I want to, as someone who thinks a lot about queerness in the United States and who also does a lot of interacting with the queer youth--as I know you do as well--remind younger fans of the show that RuPaul's Drag Race is actually older, then same sex marriage in the United States. The people who are putting the show together A) are always more than RuPaul and B) have been in this fight for a really, really long time. So this is not to excuse or push away any sort of transphobia. This is not to say that there is not some serious feeding into a more conservative establishment than maybe we would always like. But a thing that I continue to deeply appreciate about the show is that because of or in spite of or some messed up, mixed up complicated mixture of both of those, this is a space of unrepentant queerness at a time when a lot of LGBTQ folks have been pushing for straight people to say, Okay, you're just like us and you're safe. There is something risky about drag. There's something risky about gender bending and refusing to lean into gender roles that keep us safe. So the fact that the show is still happening that it's still saying "queerness is bigger than just who you love; it's how you are in the world," that really matters to me. And so don't like--don't be fracking, RuPaul, please stop fracking. But also I'm not ready to quit on the show, even though the host and the name of the show is a complicated and flawed human.

Ilyse:   15:25
Here, here.   

Megan:   15:33
Primary Sources!  

Ilyse:   15:35
The library is open because reading is what FUNDAMENTAL!

Megan:   15:38
Oh, there's so much to talk about here. We have four major categories--it's a ball, darling--that we want to touch on. Drag is infamously a visual medium, so we're gonna lean pretty hard in the show notes to show you what we mean  

Ilyse:   15:54
But we've got a few categories that we think are worth our time. So Category one category is: religion on the show or Jesus is a biscuit and I let him stop me up.  

RPDR:   16:07

Ilyse:   16:14
So in this little category, I think that we want to talk about just how prevalent religion is, and I'm sure you've seen it, even if you haven't known you're seeing it. Megan. I think if it's okay with you, I'm gonna do a little bit of a shock and awe and just list a bunch of folks and names that have referenced their own religious background on the show and for whom that's not like a passing mention, that's like it becomes a plot point in an episode or an arc in in a season.

Megan:   16:43
There are close ups involved. 

Ilyse:   16:45
Yeah, there are close ups involved. There are talking head monologues that are going on there are like, Oh, that girl got her thing. She got her talking head so like we know this is her elimination episode, like we have it on lock here. So here's my little shock & awe if that's kosher!

Megan:   17:00

Ilyse:   17:01
In this shock and I want a list for you all of the Queens and their season and what I think they're doing in religion, that y'all can go and look it up, but a sentence or two as to a framework, because we assume that not everybody has seen this show, and that is on you to go look it up.  

Megan:   17:17
Do your your homework!  

Ilyse:   17:19
So what I mean by religion here is that these queens are saying that they were raised religiously, that religion is important to them. They're referencing their families in some cases the reference in their own religious background. And I think that what matters to me in this is that religion is not something that is separate from these folks' lives. So even in our like silly category is Jesus is a biscuit. That's a moment that Latrice Royale in Season four has in the work room. When she walks in and they start singing, Jesus is a Biscuit and I let him stop me up there's multiple episodes where this becomes a catchphrase of sorts. I don't know what to do with that. Besides, like hey, guys, this is religion happening right now, like there's some like particular Southern Black church stuff happening, and it's happening in a way that's participatory. That's really like, Ah, focus point for that camera and it becomes a way in which that we get to know that queen and contestant better. But it also becomes this interactive space. So I don't think everyone singing Jesus is a biscuit and I let him stop me up is having a moment of like, Yes, I come to the Lord now, but it's amazing to watch Queens like putting on their pads to shape out their bodies. Do this work around Jesus as if it's nothing. And I think for me, actually, the point is as if it's nothing. This is just part and parcel

Megan:   18:49
Well and to ask for it, right? Yeah, like it's not just Latrice keeps bringing this in. It's a catchphrase, Yes, but you can tell it's a thing that she's been saying for a long time. It's not something that she's it's not an "ooh ah ah sensation," right? Like she's not pushing a single. This is who she is in the world, and it's so much of who she is in the world that you have other queens asking her, and I quote to take them to church--Latrice, can you take us to church? And she does a "Whoa!" And everybody's singing even as they're asking, What is a biscuit?

Ilyse:   19:21
Yeah, exactly. So that's why I want us to ground. I want us to ground in this, Okay, so one of the early season folks who stands out to me is Raja, who also goes by Raja Gemini, who is an American citizen but was raised for part of their early childhood in Indonesia, has talked on their social media and on other podcast specifically RuPaul's. What's the tea with Michelle Visage about having a father, who was a devout Muslim who was actually like part of the ulema in Indonesia and then later leaves the religion converts to Christianity. And so Raja has this like very fascinating Southeast Asian background that is at once both inflected by and no longer part of her own religious identity because she identifies as a witch. And so there's this really fascinating, like sloppiness of religion. But it's all there and part of the way that Raja presents her drag. So that season three go look her up, she won that season. I like her  

Megan:   20:17
also. How did I not know that Raja was a witch? The fuck I didn't do my homework. I apologize to listeners.

Ilyse:   20:22
It's like all over her. Instagram, right, like she's gotten altar and like, is always pulling tarot cards. Y'all, my instagram is like 100--Don't try to find me on there--It's like private for my family, but like it is just me looking at drag queens.

Megan:   20:35

Ilyse:   20:36

Ilyse:   20:36
So then you've got DiDa Ritz on Season four who talks about her family being like her mother was a minister.. Sahara Davenport, in season two, similarly talks about coming from a line of ministers. Latrice Motherfuckin' Royale in Season four with Jesus is a biscuit. The other Tyra in season two--the winner of Season two--Tyra Sanchez, who actually is a consistent runner in that season, talks about "praying up." That when she goes back to her hotel room that night, she prays up for an answer of what to do in the next day's challenge.. Jinkx Monsoon Season five, the winner of Season five, talks in her very first introduction, talks about herself, as Seattle's premier Jewish narcoleptic drag queen. And I'm not sure that Judaism plays a major role in how she presents herself, but there's definitely that, like vaudeville, Catskills borsht belt shtick that happens with Jinkx Monsoon. In season 8 Naomi Smalls is a transracial adoptee who talks about the religion of her family, but it's not in a "My family was oppressive," kind of way. It's in a like "This brings me a lot of love and joy, and my mom is my biggest supporter." There's folks like Shea Coullete in nine Eureka in Seasons nine and 10 who talk about being brought up in religious households. Miz Cracker in Season 10 talks about being Jewish. Monique Heart, also in Season 10, fully identifies as a Christian talks at one point, & we are gonna talk about this later in another category, but talks at one point about having been--and you'll forgive me I don't actually know how youth ministries work--but having been working with youth around ministry as a leader of a "pray the gay away" scenario. We can see internalized hatreds there, but like later overcomes that but still strongly identifies as both a queer person and as a Christian. And then in season 11 Mercedes Iman Diamond--we knew it was her elimination episode because she hadn't been doing very well, and then all of a sudden she gets like a lot of air time talking about being the first Muslim on the show, and later we will talk about her again. So, like, that is a mere smattering that was like what I could jot down on a Google doc before we got on the pod here. But I really want us to think again that this is almost every season I've represented in short order, and so religion's there: It's part of the way that people are narrating their own personal experience, and it's part of the way that Queens are relating to each other. And now I'm done with my part. I have shocked and I have awed. It is your turn, Megan!  

Megan:   23:09
I am both shocked and awed and again, thanks deeply appreciative for your deep and abiding love for this crazy nonsense, really, I think arguably culturally important show. So the other piece of religion is good, or at least neutral in the show for me was seeing places like Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 talking about drag as embodying the feminine divine. She talks about it as a religious experience of getting in touch with something that is both sacred and female, which, you know again makes my tiny little witchy heart very happy. Valentina coming in and saying that she doesn't have a drag family. She doesn't have a drag mother. The Virgin of Guadalupe is her drag mother, she says, and she prays over her consistently. So that was--that was a moment that that struck me. You mentioned Monique Heart. She is both emphatically Christian, and her mother is Pastor Heart. And again, I just I feel like we need to end "Jesus is a biscuit" talking about Latrice Motherfucking Royal because it is not just that she herself is Christian. She infuses the season with a very kind of specific black Southern Christianity that is joyous and celebratory and inclusive of everyone in the room. Whether or not they have any sort of personal religious conviction.

Ilyse:   24:32
Yeah, yeah, yes. Next category category is contestants with religious costuming or it's just drag. Or is it?! DUN DUN DUN. 

Megan:   24:39
It's Just drag. It's not. It's never just drag.

Ilyse:   24:43
In Season three, the first episode is a Christmas Challenge, and in that episode, you know you could, like make the argument that anything that has a Christmas challenge is inherently, somehow religious. Now don't come at me, "Keep Christ in Christmas" people who are definitely not our fan base. But in that episode in particular, one of the queen's, Mimi Imfirst does a riff on the Virgin Mary. Her drag is a campy Virgin Mary, complete with what can only be described as a ball of rags that she holds in her arms as she goes down the runway, which is clearly supposed to be Jesus. So that made me giggle. And then you've got in Season five, another episode that stands out to me is when Jinkx Monsoon again--Seattle's premier narcoleptic drag queen--prances down the runway and very dramatically does a reveal where she holds a fan down below her face, and she's wearing Dia de los Muertos makeup. So on the one hand, I'm uncomfortable with the cultural appropriation and the ways in which drag can often be in that space of cultural appropriation. But I'm also curious about the ways in which that sugar skull imagery is itself part of broader Americana and Mexican religiosity in particular. Ginger Minj, who was a season seven person but in All Stars 2 shows up in the snatch game as Tammy Faye Baker, who I don't like--I don't even know how to describe her--an evangelical televangelist.

Megan:   26:17
Well, all she did was sing, okay? For listeners who are fans of drag race. But our may be too young to remember the eighties. No judgment. Tammy Faye Baker was the wife of a very famous televangelist used to be a much bigger deal in much more mainstream to watch conservative Christian preachers on network TV praying over folks and also raising an awful lot of money in the 1980s. So Tammy Faye Baker's husband, was eventually, I believe, convicted of financial exploiting quite a few people. Tammy Faye Baker, who sang on the show and notoriously publicly wept in a makeup dripping down her face way, defended herself by saying that all she did was sing. So you get a crying, over the top, campy Ginger Minj in like one of my favorite Minj moments ever. And I'm a I'm a big fan of the Minj.

Ilyse:   27:11
Yeah, I love thinking about all of the church TV I watched.

Megan:   27:15
What the HELL was your childhood--what WAS it?!

Ilyse:   27:15
I didn't have cable right. And, like I was only allowed to watch PBS except on the weekends when clearly my parents needed a fucking minute and I'm an early riser. Always have been. And, like, it's 6 a.m. What the hell's on TV? Right? So, like, I would watch a lot of that Save the Children stuff, and I'd always be like, I don't understand what this Jesus person is, but all right, whatever, like the TV is on the TV is my. I knew who Tammy Faye Baker was, even though I did not understand what she was selling and hilariously in Season four, Sharon Needles, the winner of that season says, has a tattoo of Tammy Faye Baker had said she thought Tammy Faye Bakker was selling her makeup--right makeup. To continue on this shock & awe, friends, the--in Season 11 Shuga Cain comes out as the Virgin Mary in her finale look complete with like a halo and I guess, like a riff on the Met Gala. But like a stunning, very religion inspired look. Raja Gemini again season three's winner at the season five finale reunion showed up, I think, as Kali, but as a as a Hindu deity, which again, like I don't know what to do with the cultural appropriation there, but at the same time, like the makeup on, It's fantastic. It was stunning. And then, yeah, I'll stop there. I feel like I feel like I'm listening a lot. 

Megan:   28:41
There's a lot. Well, I think you proved your point that there's a lot to talk about, even if you're not explicitly look of religion on the show. What else popped out to me? So Gia Gunn comes back on All Stars four. Gia Gun is a queen I love to hate and her intro look on all stars for was the Virgin of Guadalupe. But unlike Valentina, Gia is an Asian woman; she is not Latinx, so there was a lot of conversation back and forth about whether it was appropriate for her to be dressed in sort of Catholic drag. We see, again, some looks very close to my heart when we see Satan pop up on the stage so Katya in All Stars 2 does a whole Rosemary's baby thing. Mayhem Miller in--what is that? Season 10? ,

Ilyse:   29:21
Well, I think technically, that's like the HoliSlay special.

Megan:   29:24
I can't remember anymore. She does a Krampus that I love. And then Sharon Sharon Needles' whole gig--Get it? SHARIN' Needles--whole gig is like Satan, witchy, creepy, "Go back to Party City, where she belongs." So there's there's a lot of ambient, creepy witchyness I love. Gia Gunn, again, is a professionally trained Kabuki performer, and her talent on All Stars 4 was a Kabuki performance where, frankly, like I don't love Gia, but she should have won. That was stunning. Kabuki comes out of Shinto traditions, so she's pulling on roots in Japanese indigenous cultures. And then again in this like "it's just drag. But is it?" You get Raja in a really striking tribe slash nation, non specific Native costume, where the argument is a lot about, "Well, it's just fashion." But listeners. Is it ever just fashion?

Ilyse:   30:16
Yeah...No, it's not.

Megan:   30:19
No, it's not. It's not incorrect.

Ilyse:   30:27
We're not through all of our categories yet, nerds, but we are gonna move into fewer lists, fewer shock and awe and more critical analysis, which I know is why you show up to Keeping it 101! So here's the next category. Religion as oppressive or religious families oppressive or, to put a drag spin on it: Nothing happens, America, Nothing happens! I think the theme for this one is either that religion is a problem and we've got a few queens that fit into that. But I think I'd actually like to focus specifically on Monique Heart and Dusty Ray Bottoms. And Megan, I'm gonna kind of, like, ask us to go back and forth on this one because as the Americanist who works on religion and alterity and queer theory, I think that I can say what problem--is problematic about these stories, but I would love some more background on this stuff.  

Megan:   31:18

Ilyse:   31:18
So, as I said before, Monique Heart identifies as a Christian. As Megan said, she is the daughter of Pastor Heart, but also like lead these youth ministry sessions of praying the gay away and has, like a very intense--I believe it's an untucked episode in Season 10--where she walks the fellow contestants through, like how that shifted for her and how she eventually came out. And it's like a very raw and moving and also really painful experience as a viewer to think about frankly the levels of self hate. And, you know, I always come back to a colonized mind space where, like you can't quite break out of the oppression that you've imbibed and now are doing to your own body. And then another side of the same multisided die is Dusty Ray Bottoms in Season 11 who has a series of, like, really heartbreaking talking head breakouts about having gone through, being forced to go through conversion therapy and the ways in which, as his boy self has, like, broken up with his family as, ah, as a result, because it's it's straight up abusive. So I think I want to focus on those two contestants, even though there are many others who talk about the oppression they felt in their own family unit and within the construct of religion. So, Megan, can you talk to us more about conversion therapy & the religious space of that? Because I think I have a taste of it, but I don't actually know the full way to encapsulate it.

Megan:   32:48
Yeah, that's fair! For homework I will--I will give you some more background on conversion therapy because this is an important space of conflict and tension when we're thinking about queerness and American religion. But the very, very basic T on conversion therapy and ex gay ministries is this idea that all things are possible with God. This is, to the best of my knowledge--and if if listeners have more information to share her, please do--but to the best of my knowledge is is primarily, if not exclusively, a conservative Christian effort. And the underlying belief is that you pray hard enough, you believe hard enough, you work hard enough, you open your spirit up to God enough and God's grace enough then God will make you straight. Because it's coming out of, ah, specific reading of specific pieces of specific translations of the Bible that get read as saying, God only wants people to be straight. That is a much longer conversation that we can have on another episode. But conversion therapy and ex gay ministry go hand in hand in thinking that it's possible to basically pray the gay away. Different denominations, different groups do this in different ways, but you come in. It can be really intense. Entire communities pray over you. I believe Dusty Bottoms talks about going through an exorcism, right where they're trying to cast out gay demons. The idea that queerness is something that is cast out of your body rather than part of who God has made you to be is, as you might imagine, pretty violent for queer folks. And there are--there are entire industries that have grown up around this idea that you can change who you are, if you just believe hard enough. So much to say there; let me just say this is still very much an active conversation. Maine just this year this past year outlawed conversion therapy. There are still a lot of religious communities engaged in this, and there are a number of people both on drag race and well, out of it, who have talked about the kind of damage and violence and harm caused by a beloved, a trusted, just valued religious community, including usually their family, saying: "Who you are is wrong. We are going to treat a big part of yourself as something that needs to be excised from the community and excised from your own self. And if you can't do that, then there's no space for you here." It's pretty heartbreaking to read about watch. So I really appreciate the way that the show hones in on that real pain and that real damage and violence and at the same time allows space for the complexity of it. Because Dusty Ray Bottoms recognizes that his relationship with his family, it's toxic and abusive, and he needs to step out. And Monique talks about okay, "My family is religious, and this is who I am, right? I tried to pray the gay away." Monique Heart says: "nothing happens America. Nothing happens," but she's still deeply convicted in Jesus, like she is still engaged and ecstatic member of her religious community. So you get multiple kind of takes on what happens after you try to pray the gay away. Which again, I really appreciate about the show.

Ilyse:   35:59
Yeah, I think that that gets us to closer to where we were the start. That, like, if our thesis today nerds is that we often pitch queerness as opposed to religion and vice versa, vice versa. And we also see, I think clearness as secular and American spaces, perhaps as as not I think that happens. Also, all of these queens on their personal narratives and the way the producers engineer this stuff gives us a little bit more nuance in those spaces again, whether or not the show means to do it.

Megan:   36:33
Yeah, I also feel like we have to have the Islam moment on RuPaul's Drag Race, right? Hey, what about Mercedes Iman Diamond? 

Ilyse:   36:40
So as I said before, uh, Mercedes Iman Diamond names herself as the first Muslim on the show and talks through in like a pretty long talking head about the ways in which she couldn't access airplanes. She was on the no fly list, and it seems like she's so uncomfortable to talk about religion. And when she finally does, it's very much in this register of like, I don't want to explain what Islam is. I don't want to talk about terrorism. I don't want to talk about being on the no fly list and then when she does, she says like pretty simply, like, this is a part of who I am and then is like, I think, kind of unceremoniously like kicked off the show. It was not opulence.

Megan:   37:25
She did not earn everything.

Ilyse:   37:28
But Mercedes is also an immigrant. There was a complicated space, frankly, because she's like the African--like, quote unquote--the African princess. She's from Kenya, She's Muslim. She's on this no fly list. She's also names yourself as a disabled queen, having suffered a stroke early on and having to relearn how to walk and talk, and she often says, like she points out quite a few times in the season, like her makeup or her mouth feels crooked. So I think there's so much going on with her in terms of thinking about intersections of oppression. But I do want to just name that she is reluctant where we see people like Monique Heart or Latrice Royale out loud talking about their religion, Mercedes is not. Mercedes is is like, very clearly pushed by the producers to to talk about being Muslim and what that has meant for her career and for her ability to move through the world, um, seamlessly.

Megan:   38:27
One of the things that's been surprising and interesting to me on Season 12 which is the current season, is watching Jackie Cox identify as Persian and as Iranian. But I genuinely know nothing about her religious background or lack thereof. So Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was on, and Jackie Cox said her mom is an Iranian immigrant, it is so amazing to see AOC fighting with Muslim, uh, Congress people for the rights of immigrants. But at no point of Jackie Cox tell us, is her mom being repressed on the basis of race? Is her mom experiencing oppression on the basis of religion? We just don't know. And yet, like, maybe that's not my business. Maybe religion is not important to Jackie, but I think it's interesting that there's no discussion of religion whatsoever in this very deliberate for fronting of her Iranian heritage. So who can say? But that's clearly a decision that either she or the show or both are making.

Ilyse:   39:31
Yes. And I think a friend of us and rad scholar of Iranian Americans Neda Maghbouleh would would have a lot to say about that, right, like where Iranianness is both related to and separate from religion. And so we will put in the show notes a link to the Limits of Whiteness, which is a fantastic book about race and the construction of whiteness specifically around Iranian identities.

Megan:   39:53
Yeah, absolutely. Because it's the thing is, Jackie has draped herself and kind of Persian, Persianate culture, uses Persian phrases to address RuPaul, has Persian writing on her clothing a lot of the time. But I think if she had not done that, she would have just passed as as white, because again, Iranians, you know, typically white. So it's interesting to me the way that Iranian is being forefronted in racial ways in this season, but not in any sort of religious context.

Ilyse:   40:20
Yeah, absolutely. Alright nerds. It's our last category of this ball, and it's RuPaul's religious eleganza extravaganza!  

Megan:   40:30
Ah, hey Ilyse, what's a ball.  

RPDR:   40:33
It's our secret word of the day!  

Ilyse:   40:38
Girl! Ball is a reference to the drag cultures of usually New York City in the eighties, where there were different categories and then queens and and Kings, I suppose, walked to the balls and were ranked and awarded numbers and trophies and points and houses. If you don't know anything about this, you could watch Pose or you could watch Paris is Burning the famous and infamous documentary about the New York City ball scene in the late eighties.

Megan:   41:08
Yes, watch both. Get into Billy Porter. He gives us life.

Ilyse:   41:11
This category, which is religious--elegance extravaganza is also just RuPaul's got a nonsense, fore grounding of himself within religion. And I thought, I think it's somewhere between prosperity, gospels and spirituality. So, Megan, can you talk to us about that a little bit?

Megan:   41:29
Yeah. Yeah. Okay, so this is not my specialty, but prosperity gospel is a specific brand, again, of usually conservative Christianity that suggests if you court God's favor in the right way, you will be rewarded not just with spirituals success, but with material success. So if you pay into certain spiritual systems, certain spiritual leaders, for example, Creflo Dollar is a pretty good example here. God wants Creflo Dollar to have that jet--Or I think he has several jets, honestly. But also, if you pay into his ministry, God will also reward you with material success and RuPaul's system is not NOT that right? Like particularly at this stage of the show, you've got folks who are selected for the show spending tens and tens of thousands of dollars on costuming with the idea that okay, if they do well on the show, they'll be able to succeed after the show, right? They'll get bookings, they'll be able to travel. They will have more Instagram followers, and all of that will be monetized. But it's a real risk and it gets talked about less in terms of Oh, this is my job and more in terms of like, this is who I am. This is why I'm here. There are. And I think this is probably why Ilyse and I resonate with the show in some ways, a lot of overlaps with, like, academia. You don't do this because it's a job. You do this because it's a calling. And, yeah, the ways that you see queens impoverish themselves, endanger their health, not be ableto build up any sort of financial security because they've been working so hard to make it in the space is really kind of heartbreaking. But again, people are complicated. Drag race as an outlet has in fact, made it possible for one more people to just know about drag and care about drags. So more people are showing up a drag shows period, and to this queens that are on the show by and large, do get booked and are having much more lucrative careers than they would be able to have otherwise.

Ilyse:   43:31
Oh, yeah, I mean, the show has made--I assume there's like a drag race bubble--but this show has made drag shows mainstream in a really particular way. Where like, a lot of the favorites--and we can talk about the racist ways in which a lot of the fan favorites are skinny white femme queens. But we can talk about them also, frankly, like being able to launch solo, sometimes world, often US based tours. & that the show itself has also spun--there are spinoffs or, like regionally based like Drag Race Thailand and Drag Race u. K. This is a lucrative industry & these drag performers are coming up in it within RuPaul's understanding of this prosperity gospel that if you pay into the system, it'll pay out. But I also think that RuPaul is doing religion eleganza extravaganza just in some of his catchphrases. Quite frankly, like the "If you don't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else" idea that, like love, starts inside. Some of that feels like really great psychological therapy language. But a lot of it also sounds to me like again that border of self help and spirituality that is so prevalent in American late 20th century--I don't want to say celebrity, but in, like, pop culture. I'm thinking, frankly of, like, The gospel of Oprah by Kathryn Lofton.

Megan:   45:08
Very much that, Yes.

Ilyse:   45:10
I think I'm also thinking of RuPaul as a religion person around the language of self sabotage. So again it falls into that therapeutic language space. But it also is this really ups--I find it really upsetting, actually, the way that RuPaul has this catchphrase around "If them bitches ain't paying your bills, pay 'em no mind." where it's like, keep your head down. Work, work, work, work, work. You do you and the riches will come.

Megan:   45:37
Can we also pause for historical moment there? Because I'm given to understand that the if them bitches and paying your bills pay them No mind was actually lifted from Marsha P. And the P is for pay no mind. Johnson are transgender sex worker ancestor who threw the first brick it stonewall? Yeah, Just saying..

Ilyse:   45:59
Yeah, I think that what makes me so upset by that, aside from it being lifted, his--

Megan:   46:04
mopped as we like to say,

Ilyse:   46:07
--is that again, it's one of these prosperity gospel falsehoods, right that, like somehow you should be able to do it. You should lift yourself up by your bootstraps. There is no such thing as able ism, sexism, racism, misogyny. It's the same for everybody. And I think that, you know, RuPaul's own autobiographical information is really interesting in that, like he makes no bones about having grown up in the Brewster projects and made it his own way and had been homeless and had been addicted and then and then gets over it. But I think that language of like, well, I did it, so why can't you? That really mimics a certain like Horatio Alger legend, but also then places the blame for failure not on systems, but on individuals is gross. Yeah, I hate when she's like, Oh, you're letting yourself saboteur get the best of you and it's like, Well, maybe, but also maybe that selfSaboteur is like whole ass systems of centuries of oppressions screaming in your ear. That one always bothers me. But it's--for me, it always sounds really religious and really rooted in a very particular set of religious mythos of like you should be able to set your mind to do anything, and with the right amount of faith on the right amount of ritual, you can get it done. So if you're not getting it done, that's on you, henny.

Megan:   47:29
Yes, yes, to all of what you said, I think there are two things that I wanna pull out here. One RuPaul's "I pulled myself out of the projects out of the ghetto and have made myself this international superstar," which, like, is not untrue but does leave out the fact that you met a rich man on the club about 40 years ago, and now you all are making money off fracking, right? Like it leaves George out of this narrative altogether. There's a reason that RuPaul was able to survive for, you know, 10 years in between when the talk show was happening, and then when Drag Race came out. There's also like a real respectability politics piece of it, like it feels very Cosby to me, and I see it particular when she's harder on the Black Queens than she is on the white Queen's right? The way, again, that you said that whiteness, thinness gets privileged on the show.. Ah, I think really resonates when she's harsher toward the black Queens and call back to an earlier keyword. I do think that RuPaul is absolutely a perennialist. There is no separation in the way that she talks between therapy, language and religious language. And when she's talking about religious language, she's pulling from all of these different traditions. She's pulling on a specific, like Black church history and a set of mannerisms that maps onto that. But she also like, wears the Star of David? Will say things like mishbucha, so it's kind of that's all like we're journeying and there is an essence that we're tapping into and like part of that is maybe just reality television, and that sells its the marketability of spiritual but not religious. But also it is how RuPaul presents herself himself, themselves into the world.

Ilyse:   49:05
Yeah, I mean, they're most recent book is GuRU, which is like, like all things RuPaul. There's like a play on Ru happening which, like listen, I am here for getting paid and I'm actually here for all of the ways that she's made Ru a thing in this show because it is fantastically shameless, like make your money! But the language of guru--it just like encapsulates for me what's going on with religion and the ways in which RuPaul presents himself as the spiritual guide--not just drag mother--but the spiritual guide from obscurity to stardom, from poverty to wealth, from the darkness of toiling in your local club to the brightness of being a Ru girl. And so I think, yeah, I think she's tens across the boards for religious Eleganza extravaganza. I think you can't listen to the way that she interacts with the queens and is like the leader of her show, without thinking about a pastor, a guru, uh, charismatic religious leader. I think that that really is the archetype for me.

Megan:   50:19
Yeah, Okay. Well, who are we gonna see? A charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent should rename a winner.

Megan:   50:28
And the winner is Charo!  

Ilyse:   50:31

Megan:   50:32
No, it's true. RuPaul is the winner. RuPaul is getting paid.

Ilyse:   50:37
RuPaul only wins on RupPaul's show. Oh, Come on, girl you've been watching the show for a loooong time!

Megan:   50:42
It's true, well, Congratulations, Mother.  

Megan:   50:46
Charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, Question Mark?

Ilyse:   50:48
So I guess I want to talk about why we care, I want to, like, bring us back to why we've shocked and awed you with a bunch of queens that you have to go click through a gallery to go see why we're telling you that you should go watch the shows. And we have real opinions about which seasons are better than others.  

Megan:   51:03
We do, we absolutely do.  

Ilyse:   51:04
So why don't we care? Megan? Why do we want to show everyone the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent of RuPaul's Drag Race and specifically religion?

Megan:   51:14
I think that we want to center--to open up--the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent of this show to folks who may be, wouldn't think to watch it specifically because it messes with our idea of like what pop culture can do with religion and gender and sexuality. It messes with, for me specifically, these pop culture portrayals of religion on one side, queerness on the other. All of the Queens on the show who talk about religion are complex, interesting, messy humans who are never just saying like religion is bad or religion doesn't matter to me, and we see through the costuming, in the fashion choices, and the language used that even Queens who are not themselves religious are still influenced and shaped by these religious ways of being in the world. So I think it is a really beautiful, vibrant, interesting, irreverent, funny, problematic, rich, amazing way to think about religion.

Ilyse:   52:13
Yes, Gawd!  

Megan:   52:16

Ilyse:   52:17
Don't pack up yet. Nerds, You've got homework.  

Simpsons:   52:20
Homework? What homework?  

Ilyse:   52:22
So my major homework to you, aside from watching the show, of course, is that you go out and you support your local queens. So for me, here in Burlington, Vermont, I've got two specific shout outs to Nikki Champagne and emoji Nightmare BTV's own and regular drag queen story hour hostesses, because let's be real, all my drag shows these days were limited to libraries at lunchtime. And let me tell you that one of my best memories as a mom was when I had, like, a really new--my second kid was Super Super New--and we're in the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont, and we brought our older kid to drag Queen Story hour and we were literally doing the hokey pokey, and I get passed a baby that needs to be nursed, so I'm like nursing my child, doing the hokey pokey, and also, like, I am being led in the hokey pokey by Queens in full daytime drag. It is -- truly it's divine. So support your local queens go out, pay money to see their shows, give big tips when we're allowed back out in public. And if your queens or anything like mine, I know that a lot of the local drug houses here and queer bars are streaming drag hours, both like performances on Zoom and other platforms, & drag Queen Story hour. So if you have the ability to do so, support people whose incomes are part of this drag industrial complex and who rely on tips to make their money. The other thing I'll recommend is a book recommended to me by a fellow drag fan and faculty member and killjoy Sarah Osten. The book is Legendary Children: the first decade of RuPaul's Drag Race & the Last century of Queer Life by Fitzgerald and Marquez. It's like a quick read, and it looks really, really good. And then, finally, my homework is actually to check out a college buddy of mine and fellow academic Kareem Khubchandani, who is also known by his alter ego, LaWhore Vagistan. Professor Khubchandani is a scholar of queer nightlife in South Asia as well as a drag performer based out of Tufts University and Boston. He's recently one of the CLAG Center for LGBT Q Studies Fellowship for his first book, which is called IShtyle: Accenting Gay Indian Nightlife and I'm gonna link to some of their academic work and drag performances. He's my partner's former like one time roommate in college, so I have nothing but love for when all of my worlds collide in one space.

Megan:   54:47
Also, LaWhore Vagistan is just among the best drag names in the whole world. So good news.

Ilyse:   54:52
It's great. What do you got for homework, Megan?

Megan:   54:55
I have homework. Okay, well, one shout out to Black Stones in Portland, Maine, and also don't ask, don't tell night that gets hosted at Great Scott in Allston Mass. These are my go tos for drag performances and drag performers. I know Black Stones, at least, is doing streaming drag shows. You can absolutely support the local queens that way. If you're thinking specifically about religion and RuPaul, I want to point us toward Drew Konow's piece in Slate from a couple years ago that focuses on religion in Season 10. I also want to provide a couple sources that might help us think more about space for queerness and religious communities. So one, Michelle Wilcox's Queer Nuns. She is writing about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. These are drag nuns, get started in San Francisco are now all over the world, doing really important community service and using kind of religious iconography and then irreverent--what she calls a "serious parody" wIt's a smart way to think about both religion and drag--what religion and drag do. If you're thinking about conversion therapy and ex gay ministries, my go to there is Lynne Gerber's outstanding and outstandingly titled Seeking the Straight and Narrow, which is on ex gay ministries and Christian weight loss. Because get it: straight and narrow. Michael Warner's famous and very short essay, called Tongues Untied: Memoirs of a Pentecostal Boyhood, is a piece that I teach every single time I teach religion and sexuality. Anthony Petro, After the wrath of God, complicates our understandings of how Christian and other religious organizations were not only on the side of conservatism and condemnation during the AIDS crisis. Blair Imani is who I go to when I want to listen to someone thinking and smart ways about queerness and Islam. And I'm gonna finish by just reading you a tiny little piece from my friend and former student minister Kelli Joyce, talking about how she came to reconcile her lesbianism and her religious calling. So, Kelli says, when she was 14 she prayed that God would fix her so she could live the life she was called to. "When I realized I was gay," she said, "I tried to figure out how to approximate that calling in the context of singleness. Then God gave me the whole thing. Pressed down, shaken together, overflowing. I am blessed," she says. "And if you're reading this and wondering what kind of plan God could possibly have for you, a young gay Christian, let me tell you a better plan than you could possibly imagine. Life and love and joy and righteousness". It's part of a longer thread. I will link to that, but I can't read it without crying and it is--it is deeply amazing and humbling and overwhelming for me to get to read the kinds of accounts of folks who have both accepted their own complexity and embodied experience and been able to maintain a personal and loving relationship with the divine. So Kelli's amazing. You should be following her on Twitter anyway. Also, I'm just gonna send you a link to my religion. Sexuality syllabus. This is the thing I spend a lot of time thinking about. There are a lot of really great sources, and we're all home anyway. So, you know, learn you some stuff,

Ilyse:   58:03
all right! It's a lot of a lot of episode extra credit homework, but I think you all can handle it. Peace out, nerds.

Megan:   58:10
Do your homework. It's on the syllabus and keep it cute hennies!

Megan:   58:34

Ilyse:   0:00

RPDR:   58:34
Jesus is a biscuit. let him sop you up. Did she just say a biscuit? Yeah. What's that mean? Jesus is a biscuit. Let him sop you up. Sop you up. You sop up stuff with a biscuit. You--Y'all so white & Anglo Saxon? You never heard of sopping it up with a biscuit? No, No, Sissy. What's top of sopping it up means you'd like, Like take your syrup and your biscuit up. Whatever you sop it. I do eat that about stopping it up. Take the biscuit after when it's on. Don't pay and you go. That's stopping it. Yes, I'm not a girl.

Lesson plan!
Thesis! Religion and queerness are not mutually exclusive
Primary sources!
Keyword: queer
RuPaul is NOT not a problem (but Drag Race is more than just RuPaul)
Category IS: Ru-ligion, OR, Jesus is a biscuit and I let him sop me up
Category IS: Religious costumes, OR, it's just drag! (OR IS IT)
Category IS: Religion as oppression, OR, NOTHING HAPPENS, AMERICA
Content warning: conversion therapy and ex-gay ministries
Category IS: RuPaul's religious eleganza extravaganza! plus keyword: ball
The prosperity gospel of RuPaul Andre Charles
The charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent of Drag Race