While no one actually expects reality TV shows to be 100% real, we can all admit to having taken something we learned from reality TV as absolute fact. RuPaul's Drag Race, while it is an undeniably entertaining program, has provided some pretty twisted views of drag history (or should I say, herstory) and many Drag Race fans have no other reputable source for drag info.
“The bitch edit” is a phrase that has been circulating Drag Race fandom discourse since season one. This is when a queen is edited to look like a huge asshole on the show regardless of how she actually acts in real life. Reality TV shows are often edited in ways that turn people into basic archetypes, i.e. “the underdog,” “the funny one,” and of course, “the bitch." I’m a human being, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably a human being too. As human beings, we must understand that humans are complex creatures and the two-dimensional characters Drag Race contestants are portrayed as on the show are obviously not completely accurate. Inevitably, at least one queen every season gets slapped with the “bitch edit." We saw it with Phi Phi O’Hara and we saw it with Roxxxy Andrews. More often than not, the “bitch edit” is bestowed upon a self-proclaimed pageant queen.
Pageantry has been an important part of the drag community ever since the Stonewall era in the 1970s. These pageants, based on the beauty pageants made for cisgender women, allow drag queens and transgender women to compete for titles. There are illustrious pageants like Miss Gay America, Miss Continental, and Miss Gay USofA, as well as hundreds (if not thousands) of smaller, more localized pageants. To discount a queen on Drag Race because she’s “just another pageant queen” would be to discount one of the oldest and most respectable drag traditions.
Drag pageants are quite a spectacle (I definitely encourage you to go to one if you’ve never been). There are wigs styled for the gods, larger than life personalities, breathtaking gowns, and more elaborate lip sync performances than you’ll ever find at a bar or club. The fact that pageant queens are dismissed on Drag Race as uncreative, closed-minded, and too competitive is asinine considering that pageants include a wide variety of drag styles and some of the most creative lip sync numbers in the world. Furthermore, Drag Race itself is a competition, not unlike a pageant, so a little competitive spirit isn’t exactly a bad thing to have.
In fact, Drag Race is basically just one big, televised pageant. While competing in a national pageant like Miss Gay USA or Miss Continental used to be one of the best ways to make your name known in drag, now all a queen has to do is get on Drag Race and she’s got it made. Past contestants like Jasmine Masters and Thorgy Thor have been very vocal about how RuPaul's Drag Race has royally fucked up drag. Jasmine released a video explaining that she only applied to Drag Race in the first place to get a pay raise because she was sick and tired of seeing local queens get on Drag Race then demand more money when they return. As Thorgy summed up, "RuPaul's Drag Race has sort of killed drag for queens who are not on the show.” Perhaps the producers of Drag Race purposely demonize pageant queens in order to make sure Drag Race serves as the only way for queens to get national recognition even though pageants have been around for much longer than eight years.
Naysha Lopez, the first queen eliminated from Season Eight of Drag Race, was very adamant in her short time on the show that queens shouldn’t knock pageants until they’ve tried one. She explained in various post-show interviews that she has experienced nothing but love and positivity in her time in the pageant circuit. When asked by an interviewer from Observer whether she thought being a pageant queen put her at a disadvantage on the show, Naysha explained that she had noticed the trend of pageant queens never making it all the way to the end on Drag Race. She also brought up that RuPaul herself has never won a pageant, so maybe she just has it out for pageant queens. She followed that brash statement up with a note that pageant queens don’t need platforms like Drag Race to get the fame they deserve while some alternative queens may have more to gain from the show. From Naysha’s perspective, maybe it’s a good thing pageant queens almost never become winners on Drag Race because pageant queens can get their accolades elsewhere and other queens need it more.
People who get all their knowledge about drag from Drag Race and don’t venture out into their local queer communities or watch documentaries like Pageant and Paris is Burning to get a more well-rounded education often have a false impression of pageant queens as boring, overzealous, snobs. The reality is, some pageant queens are the sweetest, most creative queens out there. Pageantry isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t fair for someone to be dismissed for any type of drag since there are so many different unique styles. Sure, the cut-throat nature of pageants might make pageant queens a little more shady than the average queen, but a little shade never hurt anybody.