Tuesday night, every Season 2 contestant on RuPaul’s All-Stars Drag Race filed into a screening room in Manhattan’s Crosby Street Hotel and made her case for why she should win. Most were keeping focused and internally grounded—the Vegas queen Coco Montrese said she’d learned on her Season 5 stint that she was only competing with herself—the sort of mature, holistic take on the drag competition that comes down from their leader, RuPaul, who lives by example.
This will be the first season aired since Drag Race was finally nominated for its first-ever Emmys. After an advance screening of the new All-Stars premiere (which airs this evening on Logo, and already contains a whole host of nailbiting, good-TV twists that felt dramatic and a little stressful) the queens sat onstage with Episode 1 guest judge and View cohost Raven-Symoné for a question-and-answer session that was streamed live on Facebook.
Backstage beforehand, Jezebel had a brief chat with fan favorite Katya, the Russia-inspired Bostonian whose Season 7 showing earned her the title of Miss Congeniality. She was dressed in a like a DIY drag Rodarte model—if I liked Rodarte more, sorry—in a glittering black gown, matching fan and raccoon headpiece. And as we discussed her style, she made a great case for drag as feminist praxis, and not the other way around. Here’s some of our short, edited conversation, beginning with a video clip of Katya describing her outfit.
JEZEBEL: This look is amazing; it’s like a little bit Crimson Peak, a little bit “Ima cut you,” a little bit The Revenant.
KATYA: Oh, thanks, I really like it too. I think the other girls are hating on it but they’re just jealous. I like a mixture of textures and qualities that span gender and time. And also, the thing I know that you don’t know that helps me is that, underneath it, I’m soaked in sweat.
But without the struggle, what is there? There’s no depth.
Beauty is pain!
Well no, I’d say beauty is just gross. I’m trying to get away from that. Listen. I think that Violet Chachki, the winner of Season 7, I think that while talented and an extraordinary craftsman, a keen eye, wise beyond her years for style—I’m afraid that she’s perpetuating certain standards for women that perhaps are not in line with critique of drag. You know what I mean? That’s my fear. Because while pain is beauty, let’s look at those styles and who they were created by. Men!
It’s interesting, and that’s a critique we’ve heard before—that drag is in some way perpetuating subjugation of women. But it’s 2016, and the aesthetic is being pushed, which is reflected within Drag Race where you’ll have people like Sharon Needles, or Vi Vacious, yourself, many other people who push it outside of these beauty standards. How do you see drag and aesthetics going into the future and shifting away from the conventional?
I think there’s always the danger of the triumph of style over substance. I come from the opposite angle, and for me it’s really simple. The visual is to get the attention, but then once you have the attention, what you say or do is what’s important. I mean, for some people there’s not a huge emphasis on what is said or done after the attention is grabbed, like, this is it, this is how I look, this is what I do. That for me is not that interesting—although I do love the look, I present this way because this is my best self, I think. I think it’s super problematic if you’re devoting a great deal of your time and energy and thought to the presentation of yourself as some kind of feminine form without any regard to what that means in the context of femininity—of women. It’s kind of dumb and a little short-sighted and naive.
For example: my feet are fucked from high heels. And I’ve been doing drag mere minutes, I spend a tiny fraction of the the time in them, and I think, why the fuck would women wear high heels? Once you put your male privilege into the equation, when you see it through the lens of your male privilege, it’s like wow, this is fuckin’ awful. A lot of it is just absolutely crazy. [Drag queens] don’t really get to really talk about it. All my mentors have been women.
RuPaul’s All-Stars Drag Race Season 2 premieres tonight at 8/7c on Logo.