Canada’s Drag Race (CDR) is a Canadian spin-off of the hit reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR). On the show, twelve drag queens compete for the title of “Canada’s Next Drag Superstar.” Each week the queens compete in different “mini” and “maxi” challenges to impress the judges and avoid elimination. One queen is eliminated each week until a final three or four remain who compete in a final challenge to determine the winner of the competition. CDR has been a successful spin-off, now airing its third season. The first season of the show was deemed Crave’s highest-rated original production (Yeo, 2021). The show is highly popular among Canadian audiences, with Parrot Analytics reporting that the demand for CDR was 7.1 times the demand for other TV series in Canada in the month of August.
While many have noted the positive merits of RPDR and its spinoffs, such as creating queer pedagogy and queer visibility in popular media (i.e., Alexander, 2017; Whitworth, 2017), the Drag Race franchise has also been noted for perpetuating stereotypes and excluding certain groups from participation. For instance, RPDR has been criticized for its treatment of self-proclaimed ‘big-queens’ and constantly rewards and crowns queens who are perceived as hyper-feminine (i.e., thin) (Darnell & Tabatabai, 2017). This video displays short clips of all Drag Race franchise winners for a quick view of the aesthetic and size of the majority of the past winners. Further, the queens on the show often risk their bodies to succeed by competing through pain and injury to attain stereotypical notions of masculinity as well (St. Amant, 2022). Others have also noted that certain queens (read: white and Asian queens) are able to subvert their race, while the judges encourage other queens (read: Black and Latino queens) to embrace their racial stereotypes (i.e., Strings & Bui, 2014; Upadhyay, 2019). For instance, by telling Black queens to show more personality or rewarding Latinx queens who emphasize their Latin accents (Strings & Bui, 2014). The perpetuation of stereotypes is not unique to the original RPDR series. CDR also seems to be following suit, with uniquely Canadian stereotyping.
From its first season, CDR has been framed as uniquely Canadian. For instance, the main judge, Brooklyn Hytes, is the only Canadian to have ever appeared in the original RPDR series. Also, as every episode comes to an end, the closing phrase is, “Stay true north strong and fierce.” This signoff is different from other spinoffs, such as the United Kingdom and Australia versions, which retain the original RPDR signoff: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”. Further, many of the challenges are uniquely Canadian, especially in Season 1. For example, in Episode 1, the queens had to create an outfit out of different themed boxes, all characteristically Canadian (i.e., “Man of Green Gay-bles,” “Like a Prairie” “Lumber Janes”). Season 1 also had a “her-itage moments” episodes where the queens parodied Heritage Minute short films. While Season 2 and 3 have not been as glaringly Canadian as Season 1, there is still many problematic references to Canadian stereotypes that have consequences beyond the show. One of which is the topic of the rest of this blog: In Season 3, Episode 2, for the mini challenge, the queens had to design a quick-drag look (when they have under 30 minutes to get into drag) made from a hockey jersey and hockey gear. Then they had to audition for a gay hockey team. While many viewers may not think of hockey as a Canadian stereotype but rather as a symbol of national identity, this is not true; not everyone in Canada plays and watches hockey. Further, the articulation of hockey on CDR draws on stereotypical assumptions between sport and queerness, mainly that they are incompatible.
Readers of Hockey in Society are undoubtedly aware that hockey is viewed as “quintessentially Canadian” (Allain, 2019). Hockey holds symbolic power within Canada and for many, is closely associated with Canada’s identity as a nation. Thus, it is unsurprising that CDR would have a hockey-oriented mini-challenge to highlight the “Canadian-ness” of the show. However, by using hockey to promote “Canadian-ness,” the show perpetuates the stereotype that everyone in hockey must play or watch the sport. In this mini-challenge that takes place on Season 3, Episode 2, which took up approximately 6 minutes and 30 seconds of airtime (03:50-10:20), CDR manages to simultaneously queer hockey while emphasizing the division between hockey and drag. The episode can be accessed on Crave for anyone interested in watching it.
At first glance, this hockey-oriented challenge may appear harmless and a fun reference to Canadian culture. Within the first 10 seconds, it appears it might go this way. As the queens locate the bag with the hockey jerseys in it, there are excited bellows as they pull out jerseys with their drag names on them. One queen, Fiercalicious, exclaims, “They fit my name on a shirt!” (We’ll table the fact that she called it a shirt rather than a jersey for now). Since hockey is often rooted in notions of masculinity and heteronormativity, this mini-challenge appears to challenge these notions by effectively queering hockey. For instance, the name on the jerseys, a perfect drag parody to the “Mighty Ducks,” is the “Mighty Tucks.” Further in the challenge itself, the queens are asked to “audition” for a drag hockey team. Brad Goresky, one of the judges, instructs the queens that before their “gay premiere,” they must help design their uniforms. The sheer fact that the audience gets to watch these queens get into drag using hockey equipment and jerseys does a wonderful job at dismantling the typical masculine and heteronormative associations with hockey. The viewer watches as the queens scramble to grab hockey bags, cut and sew hockey jerseys, hot glue gun shoulder pads, and put on make-up. As the queens all walk into the workroom, one at a time, showing off the hockey uniforms they have constructed, Goresky introduces the queens, just as an announcer would speaking about different players at a hockey game. While the queens have likely constructed their introductions themselves, Goresky animatedly announces each queen’s introductions as they walk in. These include the typical introduction you would here about a hockey player, such as where they are from, what position they play, their nicknames and their hobbies outside of hockey. However, these introductions are anything but typical. Through these auditions, CDR queers hockey further by making queer references in their introduction while in their hockey drag. For examples, Goresky announces that Shada Jada Hudson hails from “Bottom-Boy, Ontario,” Fiercealicious’ nickname is “The holey one because any hole is a goal” and when Chelazon Leroux is not playing hockey, “She’s enjoying a nice hard puck.” The mini challenge, as a whole, is clever and fun and, on some level, does help subvert traditional gender and sexual norms within Canadian hockey.
However, the ~7 minutes of airtime also manages to emphasize the binary between hockey and drag (and sport and queerness more generally). First, a separation is created by specific remarks that the contestants, as gay men, do not play or even know sport. For instance, this is evident when Fiercalicious calls the jersey a “shirt.” Fiercealicious also makes her irrelevance to sport obvious as she is unpacking the gear from her bag to assess what is inside. As she pulls out a pair of hockey pants, she exclaims, “What is this? I don’t play sport.” Further, when introducing the mini challenge, Goresky makes what is obviously a scripted and supposed to be a funny remark that mistakes basketball for hockey: “But before we make our gay premiere, I am gonna need your help designing our uniform that will scream slam dunk.” He then pauses for effect and continues, “Oh, wrong sport. Oh well.” He waves a hand dismissively, and all the queens chuckle at his remarks. While these comments may seem funny from the perspective of some of the queer community, what they do is demonstrate that drag and hockey, and sport more generally, do not resonate together. It positions gay men on the opposite spectrum from men who play sport and emphasizes that gay men are incapable of playing or even knowing sport.
Aside from inaccurate sporting references, the queens also more overtly demonstrate the incompatibility of sport and drag by suggesting that as they put on the hockey jerseys, they become different people – they become men. Most of these comments come from Gisèlle Lullaby, who re-emphasizes this discourse throughout the ~7 minutes. For example, as soon as the queens all put on their jerseys, Gisèlle exclaims, “We look so straight!” Moments later, she continues, “I want to talk about beers and cars and beers and cars.” She also exclaims, “We are ready to play hockey like men. Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.” These comments accentuate that hockey and drag do not go together. Through these comments, Gisèlle, in fact, implies that by donning the hockey jersey, the queens take on a different persona, one that is straight and masculine, whereas drag is typically associated with gay men and femininity. These comments juxtapose drag and hockey as incompatible. A queen cannot play hockey. A person must, in fact, be straight and enjoy cars and beer to participate in the sport. So, it is only by putting on the jerseys the queens become men.
These discourses are problematic for a variety of reasons. First, these comments preserve the divide between hockey and drag and queerness. Scholars have noted that there has been an influx of gay men coming out in certain sports and a growing climate of acceptance (i.e., Cunningham, 2012; Magrath, 2020). However, this is not the case in hockey (i.e., Moore & Shah, 2021). There is still no out player in the NHL, and the values of a heteronormative hockey culture continue to prevail, preventing gay men from participating. These comments demonstrate both to the hockey community and the queer community that they do not belong together. While CDR is reality television, and its purpose is to entertain, these comments do not go unnoticed. Young queer people watching CDR may receive these messages and internalize them, leading them down a pathway devoid of sport. While not everyone needs to participate in sporting activities, there should not be barriers and messages encouraging queer people that sport, and specifically hockey, is not for them. A study from UBC found that gay children participated in sport about half as much as straight children (Denison et al., 2017). CDR may only contribute to this statistic by articulating a binary divide between sport and queerness.
Further, on the hockey level, it shows the hockey community (presumably, there are some who watch the show) that this divide is acceptable, which only continues to encourage a culture of exclusion within hockey. Cheryl MacDonald (as cited in Sachdeva, n.d., para. 34) notes that homophobic language “gets drilled into your head for so long — if you’ve played hockey your whole life, you’ve probably heard it your whole life — you start to internalize that.” CDR reinforces these cultural values within hockey. If CDR portrays the queer community as separate from sport, it does little to encourage sport to include them, especially since hockey culture is known for resisting any changes that would make the sport appear less masculine-oriented (i.e., Adams et al., 2014; Allain, 2019).
Second, these comments reinforce the conception that gay men are not true men and essentialize gay men. Gisèlle’s comments specifically demonstrate how she associates hockey with this idea of masculinity, which comes with a certain aesthetic, vocabulary and hobbies. Her comments perpetuate the hegemonic masculinity typically associated with hockey, where men use hockey to assert their masculinity through violence, playing through pain and other stereotypically masculine behaviours. If queerness cannot be masculine in the way typically associated with sport, these comments emphasize to queer audiences that they cannot play sport, for they cannot be masculine. CDR and the Drag Race franchise constantly emote messages of inclusion, yet these messages stop short of embracing masculine queens. RuPaul has had a long history of excluding androgynous queens and continues to reward queens who are hyper feminine Therefore, the messages essentialize gay men into a one-size-fits-all category, which is deterministic and not accurate to the different ways various gay men choose to assert their gender and sexual identities.
Despite the problematic nature of these discourses, CDR does, on some level, blur the divide between drag and hockey by queering hockey in characteristically drag ways (i.e., creating garments, sexualizing discourses). However, these brief moments within hockey and queer tv where this divide is blurred do little to combat the culture of hockey that is heteronormative and exclusionary to the 2SLGBTQI+ community. For instance, pride nights only occur once a year. While there is evidence that these nights have been known to decrease the prevalence of homophobic language used by athletes and enable the queer community to be included, they are temporary fixes and small changes to a deeply embedded hockey culture that privileges masculinity and straight men. It is evident that there is still a long way to go in the hockey community to include the 2SLGBTQI+ community, and specifically, drag artists. You can read my prior post on Hockey in Society regarding the homophobic fandoms of the NHL that demonstrates that this culture still exists, at least on the fan level. Further, Lazerus (2022) notes that while homophobic language may be more overt, this makes it only more difficult to eradicate. Thus, pride nights may just be a signal to hockey players to be more careful of their chosen language choices and not actually a sign that this language and homophobia are being eliminated. Brock McGillis, a former Canadian ice hockey player and 2SLGBTQI+ advocate, contends that for hockey to become more accepting and inclusionary of the 2SLGBTQI+ that people need to become aware that hockey is used as an “oppressive tool” and that more effort must be spent to humanize the experience of members of the queer community (Sachdeva, n.d.).
However, as CDR emphasizes the divide between hockey and drag (and thus, queerness), they remove hockey from the queer vernacular and do little to humanize them as people who enjoy hockey and sport, just like anyone else. Thus, as Goresky tells the queens at the end of the short mini challenge, “Hang up the jersey and pull out your best gown,” he contributes, along with the rest of the mini challenge, to the divide between hockey and drag, which prevents any meaningful changes to attitudes between queerness and sport to come from this ~7 minutes of airtime.
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