Can I get an “Amen” up in here? by Laura Montoya 

I am a great evangelist. I used to evangelize in Pentecostal settings until I was 22. Then, I left my church to evangelize about feminist issues to every woman that crossed my path. Rhetoric is a gift I received when I was a kid and that I inherited from my grandpa and my dad. But during the COVID lockdowns, it was hard to socialize, and my evangelization skills turned toward making my friends and family join the privileged fan base of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. One by one, I convinced my sister, cousins, neighbors, and best friends to watch the reality show, and they did with astonishing devotion. Every week, two or three of us gather in someone’s living room wearing masks to watch episode after episode after episode. Our debates about the queens in the show could last all night long. Who had the best performance? Did you like their lip-synching? “That elimination was so fair/unfair!” 

If you are not familiar with the show, it is about a group of drag performers (the number varies season to season, but most times, there are fourteen contestants) that compete every episode in diverse talent challenges. These might include acting, stand-up comedy, impressions, singing, dancing, confection and sewing, parodies, etc. At the end of each episode, every participant hits the runway wearing their best drag, based on a specific topic like zodiac signs, winter, western, wigs, sequin, etc., which adds points to the challenge scores. The panel of judges—which also varies from episode to episode except for Ru Paul—score the contestants, pick one winner, and sentence two for elimination. The latter must lip-sync a song picked by Ru Paul, and the best performer earns the privilege of staying for another week. While I write these words, I realize it sounds so basic! It sounds like every other competing reality show. But no, there is something special about this one. It warms our Latin American hearts for the first time after decades of watching American Idol, The X factor, Hell’s Kitchen, America Got Talent, The Voice, and America’s Next Top Model. We feel a special connection with something almost… divine.

Once we finished the third season, we created a WhatsApp chat room to discuss the season winners’ outfits, the Snatch Game episodes, and when it was impossible to meet to watch the premiere episodes together, we agreed a night to make a Zoom call and discuss our opinions. Once we finished the seasons available on Netflix, we started all over again. We revisited every episode with open minds to find exciting new things that we might had missed the first time. I have watched all Ru Paul’s Drag Race seasons, from the first to the thirteenth, at least four times. My best friend, Camila, is twice as obsessed now than I was two years ago. I created a new religion.

“But wait,” I thought to myself, “I’m not that great of an evangelist to convince all these women that Ru Paul’s show is worth their devotion.” What does this show have that we, women from Latin America, non-related directly with the drag world, or the LGBTQIA+ world, find so appealing?

I had to pray to understand what was going on with us, a group of obsessed Colombian women. So, here is my first attempt to systematize a theology of Ru Paul. But before, let me say this: These lines are not intended to criticize the drag world or to bring opinions to the LGBTI+ trans discussion. It is an attempt to elucidate our reactions to this foreign show (foreign on various different levels) being a group of Colombian women. So here it goes:

These men—some of them trans women—are powerful in a way that we are not, we never have been, and we cannot see such power in ourselves. These are wo/men that are not afraid of dress like women and acting like women. They wear whatever they want, they hit the runway however they choose, they walk/run/dance in heels better than any of us do, and they change their hair every week in any possible way. They are in front of their idol, who they call “Mama Ru,” and they put their own makeup to perfection, sew their own sassy clothes, pick big, colorful accessories, sing and choreograph, and make jokes. They are just amazing.

But we admire not only that they are supreme artists. They share their personal struggles of being a minority, and we identify with many of their stories of rejection. Some of them have been punished by the same Christian church that punishes us women when it forbids us to be preachers and pastors. (Many Drag Race queens have faced conversion therapy and other forms of violence at their churches.) A Church that also made us feel ashamed of our sexual impulses; that insists on our duty to become wives and mothers so we can be “respectable” before God’s eyes. So, while we are astonished seeing these drag queens’ performances, at the same time, we feel envious and angry because they are a group of women that we cannot be. They are free. They feel powerful. They overcame their fears and found a way to be set free from religion and coercive families and systems. They decided to follow their hearts and do what they wanted to do despite many obstacles and rejection, Ru Paul being the greatest example.

But we, a group of professional women in our twenties and thirties, feel trapped in families and societies that punish us for wearing certain clothes, for being single, for being married, for being divorced, for changing our hair, for wearing make-up… “You don’t look professional,” they say. “You are not getting any younger,” they say. “I don’t want you to wear that,” he says. “Did you get a piercing? You know you are not going to heaven,” my mom says. We feel hopeless in our cotidiano (daily life) but inspired by Ru Paul’s contestants.

We want to have their courage to dress, walk and dance as we want. We want to feel that powerful and free! So, we tried. Ru Paul held an opening event in Bogotá’s downtown to premier All Stars Season 6 (yes, there is a spin-off with talented eliminated contestants called All Stars.) And for the first time, we felt strong enough to wear high heels, sexy dresses, wigs, and a lot of make-up. We are not drag queens, of course! But we wanted to be one for one night. And we did feel sexy, sassy, and confident. But the question remains, how can we feel like this in the future? How can we feel empowered every day? Honestly, I don’t know. Certainly, our social conditions in Colombia do not favor most women from middle-low classes like us to be independent and confident without a man by our side. But we – my friends and I – are working to ensure that possibility for future generations so that they can find a way.

My friends and I going to Ru Paul’s Season Premiere in Bogotá
Me, trying to look sexy

Many questions emerged while I was discussing this piece with my husband, like: Why do we not feel as inspired by other women as we do by these men? Isn’t it strange that a group of men must model what it is to be a powerful woman? No doubt our mothers, grandmothers, and other women in our families are strong and powerful, but what happened to them that we don’t want to replicate their stories? This deserves further reflection. 

In the meantime, my friends and I repeat to ourselves every day before leaving our homes to face the world, the wonderful Ru Paul’s mantra: “If you cannot love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an Amen up in here?” and we all, her faithful believers respond, Amen!

Bio

Laura Montoya is from Bogotá, Colombia. She is a Psychologist devoted to working alongside communities affected by the 60 years of war in her country. Currently, she is a third-year student in the Masters of Divinity program at Boston University School of Theology. Her academic interests are in Liberation Theologies, Feminist Studies, Sociology of Religion, and Pentecostalism.



Categories: Activism, Christianity, Community, Evangelicalism, Family, fear, Friendship, LGBTQ, Popular Culture, Queer Theology, Resistance

Tags: , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Love this essay, Laura! Thank you for your effort to unravel your experience(s) in light of your feminist sensibilities. Look forward to reading more of your work.

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  2. Quite an essay! I was struck by the word convincing…. what i a have learned in my life is that we convince no one – we model the behavior we would like to see in others – with mixed results. I am also struck by your husband’s query – why do we need men to model being woman? Thanks!

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  3. You have given me a whole new perspective on both drag and Drag Race! I have a family member who loves Drag Race so we sometimes watch it together. I have enjoyed it for the artistry of the performers and their humor, but hadn’t really thought about the feminist implications of drag. You have given me a lot to think about! I do hope you’ll keep writing and giving us your thoughts and insights!

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    • Thank you, dear Carolyn! Greetings to my fellow Drag Race fans. There’s much more to keep reflecting on Ru Paul’s implications for our communities. I’d love to have that conversation.

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  4. You might be interested to read a section in Judy Grahn’s new book Eruptions of Inanna where she notes that the worshippers of Inanna and other Sumerian goddesses had processions in which statues of the goddesses were pulled in carts while the worshippers in the processions dressed elaborately, including men dressing as women and women dressing as men. These traditions later came to Europe which also had processions with elaborately dressed and cross-dressed worshippers and a deity in a cart. She notes that the old English word for cart is “drag” and that this is how the word became associated with cross-dressing and festive clothing. She also says that drag queens “dress in forms of women’s power” and that drag performances relate to glamorous stars like “Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Marilyn Monroe.” This commentary is on pages 73 to 75 and well worth the read!

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    • Thanks for the reference, it sounds wonderful. I’ll take a look. I’d love to explore more about cross-dressing practices and rituals in ancient communities and civilizations. I recently discovered that the Incas here in South America also had lots of cross-dressing practices and rituals, but the Spanish-Catholic conquest exterminated everything.

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  5. Its great to have you back Laura – and with such a powerful and important message. I am always amazed at the destruction of the Church and I don’t know why I’d be so surprised over and over again. It just doesn’t make sense to me that a religion that professes love can be so profoundly destructive. And yet there it is.

    It takes so much courage, esp for the LGBTQ community to be who they are in the fullness of their essence and yet they go for it. You have an AMEN! They are truly role models. Thank you for writing about them. AMEN!

    PS I hope you write more for FAR.

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