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RuPaul’s Drag Race remains a courageous and fierce achievement in reality television

This week (Friday at 8pm EST on VH1, to be exact), the 9th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to an end. As is expected from the most colorful show on TV these days, this season was filled with stunning runway looks, fun performances, and cringe-inducing moments that were thankfully overshadowed by Trinity Taylor’s episode 12 gown. It remains one of the greatest reality TV shows thanks to its content and how it embraces diversity.

As in previous seasons, the 9th iteration of RuPaul’s “Best Friends” Race showcased that drag is an unparalleled form of art. The competitors proved their incredible makeup, styling, and sewing skills through a well-rounded set of challenges that also put to test their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent—qualities that every drag superstar should possess. On top of being entertaining, however, RuPaul himself does bold social work for the LGBT+ community. While most mainstream outlets (including some of Logo’s very own shows such as Finding Prince Charming) attempt to sell this community as the reputable neighbor everyone loves, RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t afraid to let its subjects be themselves. From all shapes and sizes, clashing aesthetics, and a collection of mannerisms that would make church-going moms collapse in their pencil skirts, this drag queen family is fearless, unusual, and relatable.

Imagine an extremely conservative and religious family watching the late night soap opera. The show is the topic of heated discussions because of its gay couple. They weren’t the first to make it to open TV, but the first to be already out, living together, and with such good jobs that they can afford a luxurious apartment in a coveted neighborhood. Deliberately unaware of the young boy sitting next to them, the daughter says to the mother: “This couple almost makes you feel like these people deserve respect.”

It’s progress, right? Rough around the edges, but the fact that she’s even talking about respect is progressive. However, being a sparkly fairy himself, that young boy loathes these characters despite how important they are on a social level. They are not representative of him or anyone else he knows. Having them as the conveyors of any message is like relying on a Kardashian to deliver a speech about fair salaries for teachers. It’s something the masses might be more than happy to listen to—even if for the wrong reasons—but it’s far from the representation teachers deserve.

The “gay lifestyle” is something many parents are extremely afraid of as if being gay immediately signs one up for drugs, nightclubs, and orgies. Instead of shying away from the people associated with this so-called lifestyle (read sparkly fairies), RuPaul’s Drag Race gives them a platform to dispell the myth. Even though many episodes have one or two sexual undertones, the people involved aren’t seen doing drugs or planning a get-together. Instead, they have fun whilst being open about sex and sexuality, which aren’t synonyms to promiscuity and venereal diseases.

Amidst the heat of the competition, the queens usually talk about their lives leading to drag and the opportunity to be a part of the race. These stories are usually heartbreaking and inspiring, such as Ryan Taylor’s (Trinity) relationship with his grandparents, Brian Michael Firkus (Trixie Mattel) and why his drag persona is named Trixie, and Michael Feliciano (Roxxxy Andrews) being abandoned at a bus stop by his mother. Through drag, these men found the courage to be themselves, often turning something negative into a lively and positive character that brings joy to those who witness her.

Being your sparkly fairy self despite what society entails and embrace an open mind instead of a deranged “lifestyle” is inspiring to young people, gay or otherwise, who struggle with social standards. Having polished and heteronormal gay men and women as the role model they should follow is as damaging to young gay boys and girls as skinny models are to plus-sized young ladies. It’s an unrealistic and unrelatable image surrounded by vain ideals that praise integrity over honesty and respect.

Through their craft and courage to be themselves, the contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race show the world that the LGBT+ community is much more than sculpted abs, jockstraps, extremely suggestive parades, and Ellen Degeneres. There are seriously talented people to be found in nightclubs and it’s a blessing that their work isn’t as marginalized as it was before Drag Race made its debut in 2009. As All Stars 2 winner Alaska Thunderfuck would say: “If you think you can do better, sweetheart, I implore you. Put on a wig and mash your mouth around to other people’s music for four and a half minutes. Is not as easy as it looks!”

Between Nina Bo’Nina Brown’s paranoid accusations, Farrah Moan’s whining, and celebrity guest judges with less screen time than Jaymes Mansfield, season 9 had gag-worthy moments and reminded the public why RuPaul’s Drag Race is so important, a reality show that wears its heart, jewels, and values all up and down their elaborate, pastel-colored sleeves. To quote Ms. Thunderfuck once again: “Respect, kindness, compassion! And most of all, whenever possible, tell us we look GORGEOUS.”

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