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Work it, girls! Trailblazing trans competitors on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Miss Continental and more

Robyn Exton

Mar 30, 2023

Work it, girls! Trailblazing trans competitors on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Miss Continental and more

Drag queens are multifaceted, iconic, magical beams of art — and a whole lot of us don’t know what we would do without them! Drag is a beautiful art form that can be raucous and wild or child-appropriate and gentle. The experience you’ll have at an 11:00pm drag performance in a gay club is wildly different from the one at a public library Saturday morning story hour. Versatile, queens, go forth!

Here at HER we celebrate drag performers of all gender identities. But today we want to shine the spotlight on transgender drag queens.

Are drag queens trans?

Let’s talk about drag and trans identities. Just because someone is a drag performer definitely doesn’t mean they’re trans. Gender identity is a whole different thing. When someone comes out as trans and asks to be referred to by a different name and pronouns, that’s an important part of their identity. It’s not a performance, it’s a reflection of who they really are.

Drag is a form of art and entertainment, you don’t change your pronouns every time you pick up a hobby! It’s like when an actor plays a role — they’re not actually the character they’re playing. Similarly, drag performers have a performance persona, which often includes a different name and pronouns.

Source: STL Today

Some of the fiercest performers out there are drag queens — and drag kings too, of course. While many popular drag artists identify as cis men, anyone can be a drag queen or king — regardless of gender identity.

A brief history of drag 

Believe it or not, drag has been around for centuries. Yup! Centuries. Many historians claim that though “drag” likely originated sometime around the 1500s — that it wasn’t really until the early 1800s that it became popularized, due to Shakespearean theater. Back in the day, women weren’t allowed to perform on stage — so, men actors would dress in “drag” portraying the various prima donnas and legendary literary heroines we know and respect today. 

As decades passed, drag increasingly became more and more interwoven into the LGBTQIA+ community. When being queer was still criminalized in the United States, drag show performances took place in underground and secret LGBTQ+ clubs and spaces. This was the time were gay and trans performers started replacing straight, cis men as performers. We owe so much to drag queens as queer people. After all, it was them who organized the life-changing protests in 1969, which we now know as the Stonewall Riots. 

RuPaul’s Drag Race

If you love watching drag performances from the comfort of your own home, you’ve probably tuned into at least a season or two of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

And while the early cast members were typically cis gay men, that has changed over time. RuPaul’s competition-starting line, “gentlemen, start your engines, and may the best woman win,” was even changed to reflect the inclusion of trans contestants. Now you’ll hear RuPaul say, “racers, start your engines, and may the best drag queen win.”

Source: The Daily Beast

Miss Continental

Miss Continental is a drag queen pageant that takes place in Chicago every year, and was started in 1980 by Jim Flint.

Since its inauguration, Miss Continental has created additional pageants to better represent the drag community, including Miss Continental Plus, Miss Continental Elite, and Mr. Continental. 

First trans woman to win RuPaul’s drag race

Let’s talk about Kylie Sonique Love (Season 2 & All Stars 6), the fierce queen who made herstory on RuPaul’s Drag Race. She was the first openly trans woman to compete on the show, and started her transition beforehand, though she got off hormones before they started filming Season 2. Not only did she slay the competition on Season 2, but she was an inspiration to trans and non-binary folks who love the art of drag.

Kylie’s story is a testament to the power of authenticity and living your truth. She courageously came out as trans on national television and showed the world that being true to yourself is the ultimate key to success. Her talent, charisma, and unique style earned her a well-deserved spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame as the winner of All Stars 6. She continues to be an inspiration to the LGBTQIA+ community and a fierce advocate for trans rights. Werk it, queen!

Source: Today

First trans man on RuPaul’s Drag Race

In season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Gottmik sashayed onto the runway as the first ever trans man to compete on the show. And let me tell you, this drag queen captivated audiences around the world. 

Gottmik’s presence as a trans man competing as a drag queen shined a light on new possibilities in gender expression. Gottmik’s stunning makeup, quick wit, and infectious humor helped him strut his way to the grand finale. Although Gottmik didn’t win the coveted crown, the trans trailblazer proved that there are no limits to who can participate in the art of drag.

Trailblazing trans drag queens

Carmen Carrera (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 3)

Carmen Carrera may not have had the chance to reveal her trans identity while on Drag Race, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a fierce advocate for trans representation and rights regardless! Both, on, and off the show. 

Source: Hispanic Executive

She spoke out against the use of a transphobic slur in the “Ru-Mail” segment, calling for the show to drop the problematic catchphrase. Despite some tension with the Drag Race franchise, Carrera’s persistence paid off. In season seven, the catchphrase was finally changed to the iconic, “she done already done had herses.” 

Source: Queerty

Gia Gunn (RuPaul’s Drag Race, All Stars 4)

Fans were buzzing when this trans queen was brought onto the show. Gia was the first competitor who was out as trans from the start of the season. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Her struggle with gender dysphoria and insecurities affected her performance, keeping her from advancing as far as her talent might have allowed. 

Source: Them

Fans love Gia for her unapologetic and entertaining personality on and off the Drag Race stage. Her signature catchphrases and unique style have made her an icon in the drag community. She is known for her fierce lip syncs, runway looks, and ability to bring drama to the show — making her a fan favorite. 

Gia’s public life is not without controversy though. In 2022, she was criticized for throwing shade at the drag queens who attended DragCon LA 2022, by tweeting “Say what you want but I saw 0 beauty at this year’s dragcon…what happened to the glamour?” OOP! But love her or hate her, Gia holds her place in Drag Race history. And you’ve got to give it to her, that Tweet had us all gooped and gagged. 

Monica Beverly Hillz (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 5)

Let’s spill the tea on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, where Monica Beverly Hillz came out as a trans woman during the show. In Season 5, Episode 2 — competitors were asked to take part in a lip sync challenge, where it was clear during her performance that something was off. Then, when it came time for the judges to share their critiques, she bravely chose to come out as a trans woman, leaving a powerful mark on Drag Race’s her-story.

Source: Allure

Peppermint (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 9)

During season 9, Peppermint showed up as a fierce queen with killer lip sync skills. And she was confident in her identity as a trans woman and drag performer. It was a groundbreaking experience for viewers to see her unapologetically own her truth. 

She didn’t just slay on the runway — she was the first out trans contestant to make it to the grand finale. While she may have come in second place, she proved that trans performers can snatch wigs and hearts just like anyone else. Want to learn more about Peppermint — and some more of our favorite Black drag icons? Check out some of HER’s favorite iconic black drag queens.

Source: Pride

Sasha Colby (Miss Continental 2012, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 15)

“It’s Sasha Colby time!”

This drag queen gave her all back in 2012, when she was crowned Miss Continental — and is giving it her all and then some for Season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. With lines like, “I am not having my Naomi Campbell moment. I am not having my Campbell’s soup moment right now, okay?” It’s easy to see why she’s continued to be a fan favorite for over two decades. 

She’s got the whole internet (myself included) calling her “mother,” and we’re just so glad that she’s finally getting the global recognition she deserves. As of writing, she’s one of the final 4 queens this season — and we’re crossing our fingers that she wins the crown yet again. Colby is the 38th trans contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and drag mother to Season 14 contestant, Kerri Colby.

Vanessa Van Cartier (Drag Race Holland, Season 2)

The OG mother!!! Vanessa Van Cartier is a Belgian-Dutch drag queen that made big waves. She was the first trans contestant and winner on Drag Race Holland, and is Miss Continental 2019. Not only is she an iconic drag queen, but her mind is to be studied. Vanessa speaks six languages. Six! Dutch, Italian, French, Portuguese, English, and Spanish. 

Source: Spill the Tea

When Spill the Tea asked her what she wanted to be remembered for the most, Vanessa said: “I would like to be remembered as a good person and that sounds crazy because people are used to having the girls that kick and do splits, you know how the winners of Drag Race are but I know already what I can do, I know that my work is good, I don’t want to sound like a snob or arrogant but I know I do a good job.” We’re not crying, you’re crying!

Bring on more trans drag queens!

RuPaul’s Drag Race has come a long way in trans representation since it first aired back in 2009. Thanks to the trailblazing queens who’ve graced the show over the years, discussions on gender identity and drag are happening more publicly than ever before. The show has proven time and time again that drag is not just a form of entertainment, but a platform to showcase one’s true self — regardless of gender identity. As the show continues to evolve and grow, we’re excited to see what the future holds for the intersection of drag and gender identity.

Robyn Exton

Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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