The global popularity of TV reality competition RuPaul’s Drag Race, screening its 14th season in 2022, is an unprecedented global queer phenomenon. It has spawned official spinoffs in Thailand, the UK, Italy, Spain, Australia/New Zealand, Chile, the Philippines, and the Netherlands, as well as a host of other series such as Dragula, Camp Wannakiki, and Las Mas Dragas. As drag enters the mainstream through a particularly fabulous, feminine, commercial, and mediatized format, various forms of gender-based performance across the globe fall out of the purview of what we (could) call drag. A range of performance practices that mimic, play with, and reinvent gender become obsolete as drag concretizes into archetypes offered by Drag Race and its counterparts. Decolonize Drag details the ways that gender is used as a form of colonial governance to eliminate various forms of expression and performance, and tracks how contemporary drag, including that on Drag Race, replicates and disrupts these institutional hierarchies. This book focuses on a variety of gender performers that resist and laugh at colonial projects through their aesthetic practices.
Decolonize Drag! is bookended by the voice of Khubchandani’s drag alter-ego, judgmental South Asian aunty LaWhore Vagistan. In her prologue, Aunty discusses her encounter with depoliticized versions of drag during her career that leave her disappointed and perplexed, charging Khubchandani to fill in the blanks and offer context. Khubchandani begins, in the first chapter “Hairy Situations,” by describing his student’s encounter with LaWhore Vagistan. The student was told by an audience member not to clap for LaWhore’s performance, leading Khubchandani to ask what about LaWhore makes her “not a real drag queen”: her ethnicity? her body hair? her amateur skills?
This sets the charge for the book, investigating how drag, and gender more broadly, has been privatized and delimited such that only some people have access to it, and arguing for more abundance and access to fashioning gender. Khubchandani investigates who gets to define what drag is, where else we look for drag beyond mainstream venues, and how drag changes meaning and efficacy as it shifts across geographies. Connecting history, politics, and aesthetics, the author shows that every decision made in drag—from song choice to contour lines—has the potential to recall histories and discourses of empire building.