Graphic by Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
After thirteen seasons, RuPaul has finally let his first cisgender, heterosexual performer on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Her name is Maddy Morphasis, and she is a cishet man that does drag! At first glance, this is exciting. Drag has finally permeated mainstream culture.
For much of its run, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has had mostly cisgender gay men on the show with the exception of a few trans and non-binary contestants. “Drag Race” was revolutionary in its own right, making a once niche form of performance the forefront of queer culture. It inspired many queer folks to get into drag, while simultaneously uplifting the voices of those within the show.
Drag queens are some of the most common queer performers, and they have been all of the contestants on RPDR. Drag kings and other queer performers have yet to be on the show. Yet RuPaul has allowed a cisgender, heterosexual man on the show. It’s frustrating having to watch what could have been a drag king’s chance to show off their performance and skills be given to a cishet man, a demographic who already dominates much of the mainstream culture.
It is not a unique phenomenon. Landon Cider, a California-based drag king and season four winner of “The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula” (who has coincidentally also cast a cishet man along with other queer women and trans performers!), auditioned for three seasons of RPDR but was never cast. Landon Cider isn’t alone. Many queer women and trans performers have given up on RPDR completely mostly because RuPaul hasn’t and might never consider them for the show. Creme Fatale, Sweet Pickles, and others have been criticized for being cis women doing drag, specifically, drag that exaggerates their femininity rather than masks it. Sweet Pickles even made an Instagram reel that poked fun at her critics.
RuPaul has been open about not wanting to cast drag kings and other queer and/or cis women drag performers. To be fair to RuPaul, it is his show, and he can cast whomever he pleases. Maybe this cishet performer is the gateway to allowing queer women performers on the show. Who knows! Also, to be fair to Maddy Morphasis, a quick scroll through Instagram will show gorgeous looks put together by someone who is talented and understands what they’re doing in regards to drag! Still, Maddy Morphasis’s entrance on the show feels like a blow to queer women and trans men performers who have tried their hardest to get on the show.
It’s hard not to think that there is some nefarious reason as to why RuPaul cast a cishet man instead of the many other queer performers out there. Mostly, it’s a struggle with visibility. I didn’t know about drag kings or cis women drag queens until I familiarized myself with drag. It’s hard not to be on the offense about Maddy Morphasis’s casting because so many drag kings and women performers have lamented about how invisible they feel and how they often feel left out of the scene. It doesn’t help that RuPaul has publicly stated that he doesn’t want to cast drag kings or cis women. Was Maddy Morphasis just here to taunt them? Was her casting RuPaul’s response to people asking for more variety in casting? Was it to get more attention on the show?
Admittedly, I stopped keeping up with RPDR after season nine because I felt it lacked diversity and, specifically, lacked performers who redefined what it meant to do drag. This isn’t to say that the queens featured on RPDR aren’t talented, but there was not enough diversity in casting to keep me interested. I was tired of watching the same storylines play out on the show, the same dramas unfolding with different queens each season. It also doesn’t help that RPDR only streams on Paramount Plus in the U.S., making it difficult to keep up with the newer seasons.
Maddy Morphasis’s arrival to the show has many layers. On one hand, it’s great that drag is being accepted as a valid form of performance. Anyone can do drag if they want, it is no longer limited to certain people. On the other hand, her casting rightfully makes people angry, specifically trans and cis women drag performers who have fought for visibility for years. However, I don’t think the onus falls on Maddy Morphasis for taking a spot on RPDR’s roster. Performers need to make their money somehow, and Maddy Morphasis seems to genuinely understand the role she plays taking said spot. The onus really falls on the producers and showrunners of RPDR. These things require nuance, and, hopefully, there’ll be a time when more types of drag performers can actually share their stories and experiences on mainstream TV (“The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula” is a good start!).