Season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to an end tonight, leaving a void in the souls of its massive fandom. But don’t put away your merch money yet – there are plenty of local acts waiting to steal your heart.
In the immortal words of Jasmine Masters, RuPaul has fucked up drag. With the season finale of American reality juggernaut RuPaul’s Drag Race airing tomorrow, viewers have the perfect opportunity to stop watching.
We love the contestants – their humour, their looks, their personal problems. We don’t love host RuPaul Charles’ degeneration into a pandering, capitalistic queer Judas. Fear not – with the end of the season comes the end of your worries. There’s a wealth of delightful talent in your city waiting to claim your respect and your money.
Where to see drag in NZ
Instead of staying in weeping about the producers’ choices, you can go out and be part of a live drag competition – one where you vote for the winner. Auckland has Drag Wars, Wellington has MX Capital Drag, and other centres – New Plymouth, Dunedin, Christchurch – have the odd drag show as well as regular Rocky Horror Picture Show performances.
If you’re looking to dip a toe into drag but aren’t ready for the responsibility of voting on live performances, you can head to your local gay bar for a cheeky performance. Family, Caluzzi, the Hannah Playhouse and Ivy have regular drag performances, as do regional bars. Queenstown has an entire ski week that’s drag-inclusive. That’s sickeningly gnarly.
If you’re going to a local show, then leave your conceptions of sanitised, conservative drag behind. Wig reveals and death drops are basic; we have firestarters, foreskin nailing, and costume changes thrice a song. I’mma let you finish Scarlet Envy, but Lola Blades has the best reveal of all time.
Your new All-Stars lineup
No article about our local drag scene would be complete without mentioning Kita Mean and Anita Wigl’it. Kita and Anita are great drag queens independently, but together they’re the best double act around. Think of them as the Trixie and Katya of Auckland, but they’re both Katya. Alongside hosting House of Drag, where they actually appear to give a shit about their community (unlike SOME people), you can catch them performing at Caluzzi or MC-ing Drag Wars.
In a world first, Hugo Grrrl, a drag king, won the first season of TVNZ’s House of Drag. Hugo poured the winning money into an event company, immediately giving back to the community. In a single season, our homegrown drag artists were proved more open-minded than RuPaul, who won’t let biological women appear on his show and had to be convinced transphobia was bad for ratings before he let transwomen on. He also once posted a picture of an artwork called ‘Train Landscape’ instead of the trans flag, because he has no idea what it looks like.
RuPaul has been called the “Thomas Edison of drag.” This isn’t because he’s inventive – it’s because he steals everything (challenge ideas, outfits, judges) and will betray anyone who gets too close (see: every community who lifted him to where he is now). The man can’t dance, do stand up, or act (sorry). He can’t even do hair and makeup.
Bertha the Beast, New Zealand’s drag mother, would never. Our most famous drag artists are creators, change-makers, and torch-bearers. Alongside Tess Tickle and Buckwheat, Bertha’s star rose at Staircase bar, which operated in flagrant breach of New Zealand’s anti-homosexuality laws. Today Staircase is gone, but the holy trio of Kiwi drag is still going strong, doing trans-Tasman exchanges and frequenting Pride parties. Buckwheat, a competitive bodybuilder, will probably outlive us all.
Wherever you go, you’ll hear whispers or glimpse the most ubiquitous drag queen in our country: Miss Ribena. Previous an Auckland scene stalwart, she’s now moved to Hamilton to seek cheaper pastures. A compelling drag artist and expert MC, she’s also been recognised for her work as a diversity liaison officer for the NZ Police, where she pushed for changes in the treatment of the trans community alongside working on mental health and methamphetamine addiction issues.
How to support local artists
One of the wonderful things Drag Race has done is bring the art of drag to mainstream audiences. Local queens have, historically, not been paid much – but thanks to people like you, they’re able to cover costs! Many baby drag queens lose money for following their passion, as their outfits can cost more than they’ll make in a night. Some, like Kita and Anita, are paid to host, but competitors and performers often rely on tips to cover their expenses. When you buy a ticket to a drag show, you’re buying those tips.
RuPaul may be callous and money-hungry, but there’s one thing he’s passed on to the next generation of performers: the value of merchandise. At a Drag Wars show, you’ll pay your entry fee, buy a drink, and maybe grab a cheeky t-shirt. Thanks to fans flush with cash – even just a spare tenner – drag in New Zealand is becoming a full-on glamazon. Just check out the House of Drag cast – contestants like Medulla Oblongata drip just as much as Americans like Gia Gunn.
This is all thanks to you, dear reader. By and large, the local drag community seems stoked that more people are attending shows. RuPaul’s Drag Race brought a whole new fandom, and economy, to drag. The respect for artistry and the money spent by local punters is helping the scene flourish aesthetically, and hopefully pave the way for further representation and change.
One note: if you’re planning on heading to a Drag Wars show, try to remember they’re safe spaces for members of the queer community. Please don’t flaunt your heterosexual lifestyle in front of the children.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.