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Much has been written about the newly crowned Queen of All Queens in the wake of the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 7. Obviously — she’s the winner, baby. But there were, in fact, two winners announced in the episode — and the other winning queen is part of what I hope is part of a course correction for the Drag Race franchise. SPOILERS ahead for the finale of All Stars 7, BTW.
Before the Queen of All Queens title was snatched by Jinkx Monsoon, Drag Race legend Raja earned the title of Queen of She Done Already Done Had Herses. And just like a winner, baby, Raja took home a cash tip of $50,000 — which is almost as much money as she got when she won Season 3. And, after competing hard all season long, Raja won this title at the age of 47. This makes her the most seasoned queen to ever win cash and a crown (or a “crepter,” in this case) in the franchise’s herstory.
This is something worth celebrating, especially considering a conversation that happened a day later on the premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season 2. As all the queens were getting out of drag, the topic of age inevitably came up. Beverly Kills is the youngest at 21 and Minnie Cooper is the oldest at 50.
And, similar to how Tempest DuJour endured some comments when she competed on Drag Race Season 7 at the age of 46, Minnie’s a little miffed that the younger queens have seemingly boiled her entire drag career and persona down to “she’s 50.” The second-oldest queen of the season, 37-year-old Spankie Jackzon, had this to say:
“I do think that Minnie should be respected because she is an Australasian legend. We wouldn’t be doing what we are doing today if it wasn’t for people like Minnie. Younger queens today see past Drag Race contestants and that’s who they want to be. That’s the legend, but the legend is the person that’s working in their town that made it okay for them to put on a dress, walk out the fucking door, and not get the bash. That’s the legend.”
What’s wild is that Spankie is 37 and Minnie is 50 and they are both justifiably commiserating about ageism in drag culture. Over 30 really is over the hill.
This is a conversation that the franchise has had in fits and starts over the course of its long run. Chad Michaels and Latrice Royale taught all the kids a thing or thirty back in Season 4 — and then 29-year-old Sharon Needles won. Season 7 gave us the Bitter Old Lady Brigade, which included Mrs. Kasha Davis (43), Kennedy Davenport (33), and Ginger Minj (29). The fact that a 29-year-old feels like a bitter old lady while competing shows just how young the Werk Room can skew! Season 9 gave us Charlie Hides, who at 52 is the oldest queen to ever compete. In a season filled with stirring mirror chats, Charlie brought a firsthand account of the 1980s AIDS crisis to the show. That sense of history is, at times, missing from Drag Race and it often comes down to queer history nerds like Sasha Velour (29) or Bosco (28) to break things down for the audience.
In this way, though, Drag Race mirrors the real world too well. Youth isn’t just a commodity on Drag Race. It’s an undeniable part of — I’d say specifically — gay culture. To be young is to be hot is to be fierce is to be valuable. As Drag Race progresses, even RuPaul’s age (61) has turned into a running joke — one always made by Ru herself, of course. But every time Ru gives a queen the finger when they say they weren’t even born when Ru did [insert groundbreaking thing here], the show makes us reckon with age.
The numbers don’t lie. Over the past three seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race (Seasons 12-14), 40 queens have competed and only 11 of them have been over 30. And in the main franchise, only three winners — Jaida Essence Hall, Bianca Del Rio, and Raja — were over 30 when they won. The same is mostly true internationally; for example, the UK winners get younger and younger, with 19-year-old Krystal Versace being the current reigning.
And just to underscore and clarify: a queen’s age has no bearing on her talent or worth as a performer — and that goes for queens of all ages, in both directions. All that being said, Raja’s win and Spankie and Minnie’s conversation about ageism happening so close together made me notice how the franchise may be — and hopefully is — changing. It made me notice that, despite the casts getting younger, a lot of reigning queens are of a certain age (for a drag queen). Kita Mean won Drag Race Down Under Season 1 at 34, Vanessa Van Cartier won Drag Race Holland Season 2 at 41, Icesis Couture won Canada’s Drag Race Season 2 at 34, and Sharonne won Drag Race España Season 2 at 45.
It’s worth checking in with this because representation is important — even for us “olds.” And yes, maybe I feel touchy about this subject right now because I waited until I was 38 to become a drag queen. Was I over before I even began? But the reason there is a stigma about being in drag on TV while of an age is because television keeps inferring that there should be a stigma by not showing older queens do their thing. If more queens who remember the first Bush’s presidency are cast on Drag Race, maybe all the queens born during the second Bush’s presidency won’t think twice about it when they share a mirror.
Having queens closer to RuPaul’s age than the legal drinking age would also help make everyone look better. Just as there are jokes to be mined from Ru’s age, there are as many jokes to be made when a 21-year-old TikTok queen has no clue who [insert gay trailblazer here] is. Ru looks old when a queen says they’re 21, and the 21-year-old looks uninformed when they don’t know who Paul Lynde is. For example, watching Raja impersonate Madame — a puppet from the 1970s — during Snatch Game with nary a “huh” from RuPaul was refreshing. Watching Raja crush it as Madame felt vindicating for all of us who remember Madame (even if we just remember her in Game Show Network reruns).
Just in general, we need more queer people of all ages on TV in every single capacity imaginable — and especially on Drag Race, the premier queer TV franchise/kingdom. The next generations of queer kids need to see that life doesn’t stop after 40 (or, god, after 30). If The Circle can give put that on TV, then Drag Race sure as hell can.
Age is not the most important thing about any queen and that number says nothing about their experience. Hell, I’m 17 years older than Jorgeous and she’s been doing drag at least 5 years longer than me. But until Drag Race starts casting more queens over 30, legends like Minnie Cooper are gonna keep having to prove themselves to kids who started doing drag during quarantine.