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Assimilation gaming: The reification of compulsory gender roles in RuPaul’s Drag Race

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This article analyses the ‘Bunk Buddies’ mini-challenge on Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009–present, USA: World of Wonder), during which the competitors identified the sexual positions of Andrew Christian models. In this episode (‘Shady Politics’ 2016), gaming and camera technologies work in tandem to repackage heteronormative models of gender and sexual identity for gay audiences. While the mini-challenge offers Andrew Christian models for visual pleasure of gay audiences, the game mechanics and camera angles reify masculine/feminine gender binaries in the way the preferred sexual positions between men are constructed, coding ‘tops’ as masculine and ‘bottoms’ as feminine. While stereotypes in the gay community also present similar understandings of compulsory gender roles, this depiction in RuPaul’s Drag Race, a groundbreaking television series celebrating gay lives and gender subversion through drag, is particularly troubling because it mythologizes a binary gender model that cites the heterosexual matrix and assimilates gay men into traditional male and female gender roles according to their preferred sexual positions. The ‘Bunk Buddies’ challenge thus suggests that sexual positions between men also have a literacy based on masculinity (penetrating) and femininity (receiving).

Keywords: RuPaul’s Drag Race; drag; game studies; gender identity; reality TV; sexual identity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: DePaul University, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2019

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  • Queer Studies in Media & Popular Culture (QSMPC) is a refereed academic journal devoted to the study of representations and expressions of queerness in its various forms. International in scope and representing a wide variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, it publishes scholarship on topics at the intersection of media/popular culture and queerness in gender/sexuality. QSMPC invites articles and artwork pertaining to queerness in media and popular culture, as well as reviews pertaining to recently released queer media artifacts.
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