Drag Race UK season 5 queens defiant in face of anti-drag backlash: ‘We’re not going anywhere’

The Drag Race UK season five promotional photos of Michael Marouli, DeDeLicious and Vicki Vivacious

When Drag Race UK returns to our TV screens for season five later this week (28 September), it will be doing so amid a rising climate of anti-drag hostility.

While right-wing politicians in the US are leading the anti-drag charge, with several states this year attempting to outlaw drag performances in public, the climate isn’t much better in the UK.

Last month, Drag Race UK season one star Cheryl Hole became the target of an anti-drag pile-on for simply appearing on BBC cooking show Celebrity Masterchef, while season one winner The Vivienne endured similar vitriol while competing on Dancing on Ice in January. 

The hatred is spilling offline, too. In June, The Vivienne was subjected to a homophobic attack, while her fellow Drag Race UK star Pixie Polite was threatened with a bottle just last month.

Aida H Dee, who leads Drag Queen Story Time sessions across the UK, has frequently been at the centre of anti-LGBTQ+ protests this year. In Parliament, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has attacked police officers who associate with drag queens.

Cheryl Hole has said LGBTQ+ people are nothing to be feared (BBC/Shine TV)
Cheryl Hole was attacked for appearing on Celebrity Masterchef. (BBC/Shine TV)

For the Drag Race UK season five queens, then, now is a crucial time: They’re being lifted into a position of overnight celebrity, with the power to change hearts and minds and a platform that could lead them to enduring anti-LGBTQ+ attacks. Speaking to PinkNews and other media, the queens share their thoughts on the current state of affairs.

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“It is horrible. It really is upsetting,” says Cornwall queen Vicki Vivacious. “So this is the time where I feel even prouder to be on this show. Because I’m like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s unite.’

“It’s about time that people [realised drag] isn’t negative, it’s a celebration. We’re celebrating who we want to be, and we’re just trying to encourage people to be themselves”, she adds.

Vicki’s strategy for drowning out any negativity is to simply not look for it or engage with it online. “I only focus on positivity, I focus on spreading love … life’s really short, and if you can’t be who you want to be, what’s the point?”

Drag Race UK season 5 promo image.
Meet the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season five. (BBC)

One of the most prominent criticisms of drag is that it is ‘woman face’, i.e. a practice that mocks women. For the Drag Race UK queens, that’s nonsense.

“I see my job as appreciation of women, appreciating beauty and celebrating it,” says Polish-born queen Alexis St. Pete. “There’s definitely nothing negative. It’s all love, and drag is just an art form, and it comes from such a deeper level of your life journey and than just, ‘I’m going to mock women’.

“You really think people in drag have spent thousands and thousands of pounds just to mock women?” Alexis asks. “It makes no sense!”

Her season five drag sister DeDeLicious agrees. “You’ll find a lot of queens will say that they’ve started drag because there’s a pop icon or strong women figures [who’ve inspired them],” she says.

“That’s what [allowed] myself as a gay person to feel like I could be myself, I could flaunt my femininity, which everyone has the right to. There’s no room for toxic masculinity anymore. So, get with it – or get lost!”

The Drag Race UK season five promotional photos of Alexis St Pete, Ms Naomi Carter and Kate Butch.
Drag Race UK queens on anti-drag attacks: ‘I’m so pleased that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere.’ (BBC)

Another common and baseless criticism of drag performers is that they are somehow inherently inappropriate or dangerous to children – hence why many of the US drag bans attempt to block drag from being seen by minors, and why Drag Queen Story Hour events are bearing the brunt of the backlash.

For the most part, drag performers are “not even around children in the slightest”, says Doncaster’s Ms Naomi Carter. “We’re in nightclubs that are 18-plus, we’re getting pissed! We’re entertaining crowds, being a pillar for our community.”

“The only thing that I can put it to is that people are genuinely scared for us to express ourselves the way that we want to express ourselves,” she adds.

A common thread between all the Drag Race UK season five queens is that none of them seem scared to be fronting British drag right now. In fact, they’re proud to be doing so, in spite of backlash.

“It feels really important to be on Drag Race at this moment in time,” says Kate Butch. “It’s just nice for us to show that we are human beings behind all of this makeup and wigs, and prove to people that we literally don’t care about their kids.”

Michael Marouli puts it best. “Thank God there is Drag Race,” she declares.

“Especially with all the horrible things that are happening in the world, just thank God people can watch the show, have a little bit of escapism and be reminded that you can still be funny, you can still be silly and celebrate who we are, who we were born to be.

“I’m so pleased that we’re here. We’re not going anywhere,” she adds. “It’s going to be bigger, bolder, louder and more beautiful than ever before.”

Drag Race UK season five begins on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer on 28 September.

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