With its barrage of sex jokes, bare bums and NSFW innuendos, RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t known for a high-brow, wholesome, family friendly aesthetic. But apparently, it’s still possible for the contestants to be in “bad taste”. And this weekend, Manila Luzon, a competing queen on the current All Stars season, found this out the hard way when she tried to walk the runway in a menstrual-themed gown.
The full-length dress, created by designer Dallas Coulter, looks like a sanitary pad with blood running down from the centre. It’s certainly out there, but it’s a stretch to brand it as “bad taste” – at least not for a show whose main purpose is to flout and subvert society’s rules through the art of drag. For comparison, a week earlier, Luzon hopped down the runway in full bondage gear and a carrot in her mouth, while Drag Race legend Sharon Needles has previously mimed injecting her lips while wearing a head bandage alluding to extensive plastic surgery. Fan favourite Valentina once wore nothing except two black cardboard strips to emulate Madonna’s Sex book look. In short, RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t – or hasn’t so far – been afraid of a little controversy.
As well as nailing the “Swerves and Curves” category – drag queens traditionally use padding to create a “womanly” silhouette, while Luzon opted for a literal pad – Luzon wanted to spread a positive message about periods with her dress. “Many of my fans are young women who may feel pressured by society to be embarrassed by periods,” she wrote on Instagram. “It’s empowering to teach young women about their bodies, encourage them to celebrate them AND to question people who tell them not to! My goal with this look was to normalize menstruation by looking sick’ning even if I was on my period!”
The reluctance to promote period positivity makes the show – and, more importantly, its host – look out of date and out of touch
But, on seeing Luzon’s dress, RuPaul, the main judge and creator of the competition, ruled it out and the producers ordered the queen to use her back-up option. Luzon swapped the pad dress for a pink ensemble and made no mention of the change on this week’s episode – not that it would have made the edit anyway.
Both Ru Paul and the show’s producers are yet to comment on the claim that Luzon was not allowed to wear the period dress, but it’s not the first time the show has upset both the fans and the competing queens. Alongside allegations of continued racism against the BAME contestants, RuPaul himself has been accused of transphobia after claiming that trans women who have “transitioned” – which Ru understands as changing your body – couldn’t compete in the show. However, there have been eight transgender Drag Race contestants, each of various stage of their transition.
It’s unclear why RuPaul believes periods are something to be censored, but as a savvy, successful television producer, he must believe the viewer wouldn’t react well. Following this line of thinking, RuPaul’s Drag Race is primarily made for gay men, some of who will never engage with periods and the various sanitary products that go along with them. But Drag Race and its host owes their audience more credit – by its very nature, drag is a political act and the show itself is based on embracing all, no matter our differences. It’s a natural extension to presume the viewers are open to something as straightforward as period positivity, and feels like a betrayal of the show’s heart to deny so.
Periods and period blood have been censored for too long – only in 2017 did we see blood used in a sanitary pad advert – and RuPaul’s Drag Race’s reluctance to support a movement of positivity can only be bad news. It makes the show – and, more importantly, its host – look out of date and out of touch. Manila Luzon deserves praise for revealing her original dress choice and spreading the message of confidence in periods. Hopefully through the outpouring of support for Luzon on Instagram, RuPaul might learn that misogyny is not a good look for anyone.