The end of episode 2 of this season’s Drag Race could not have been telegraphed more clearly. It was there in the workroom, when Thorgy complained about the role she’d been given, when she complained about how everyone else talks over her, when she complained that she’s always “in my head.”
I love Thorgy. She’s an original—creative, wacky, and brainy. Truth be told, I probably love her most for her braininess. I know about living in your head. It’s the refuge of the kid who gets picked on in school for being smarter than everyone else. You learn to live in your head because your head is your strength, and it’s the one place where the other kids can’t get you.
But it comes at a price, and the price is perspective.
Thorgy spent most of her time on season 8 focusing on the fact that Bob the Drag Queen stole the spotlight. Hello? Isn’t that what drag queens are supposed to do—especially if Drag Queen is part of your name?
But instead of stealing some of that spotlight for herself, Thorgy stayed inside her head—or, more to the point, she let Bob in. She was so obsessed with who he was that she forgot how to be herself.
We don’t always learn our lessons fast enough. This week, Thorgy again let someone else into her head. But this time it wasn’t another queen; it was a diva.
In the main competition, the queens were asked to portray gay icons. While the other girls were assigned classic femmy roles to play—Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton—Thorgy got Stevie Nicks. If she’d been paying attention, she would have seen that Ru had given her a gift. Each queen was assigned a role that was perfectly suited to her own persona, Thorgy no less than the others. You could even argue that hers was the best gift, because no one else on that stage could have done Stevie better. If only Thorgy had let herself do Stevie.
Thorgy at first resisted the notion that Stevie was a gay icon—an impression that she now blames on editing. (I’m sure there’s some truth in that. Like all “reality” shows, Drag Race has the difficult task of constructing a narrative out of the bits and pieces of actions that occur. Part of that process is turning real people into characters. Unfortunately, all we as an audience have to go on is what we see, so in this blog I’m writing about the characters I saw on screen.) I’m not quite sure what Thorgy meant about Stevie: maybe, in her view, you have to wear rhinestones and have great cleavage to be a gay icon. Or maybe she just put Stevie on a pedestal and didn’t feel comfortable playing her for laughs. (Fortunately, BenDeLaCreme had no such qualms about making hilarious mincemeat out of the staid Julie Andrews.) In the end, Thorgy put on a flowing skirt, beat a tambourine, and twirled. Okay. Thorgy turned Stevie into an intellectual exercise, not the emotional digging that would have brought the character to life on stage.
The biggest danger with being in your head, though, isn’t overintellectualizing: it’s an inability to see yourself from the outside. Like Milk, who had her own breakdown about not being “commended” for her supposed brilliance, Thorgy seemed to think that the performance she gave on stage was as good as the one she gave in her imagination.
At least someone knew how to command the runway. For all the complaining that everyone—including choreographer Todrick Hall—did about Shangela’s self-conscious “method acting,” it worked. Arriving late for rehearsal, draped in a fur coat, Shangela wasn’t just putting on the guise of Mariah: she was attempting to internalize Mariah. As the diva herself might say, “The Mariah lies in yooooooooou.”
And that, in a nutshell, is the point of Drag Race. As Ru is forever reminding us, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
I think that’s the reason I love this show so much. It isn’t just about drag; it’s aim is self-awareness. The central irony of drag—its essential truth—is at the heart of the entire series: It is often by taking on characters, imagining another life, that we learn the most about ourselves. Or, as one of my favorite drag queens says, “Sometimes to be yourself, you have to be someone else first.”