After eight weeks of singing, dancing, acting, sewing and design challenges, and dozens of original looks strutted down the runway, the Netherlands has its first Drag Superstar – Envy Peru. The fifth international version of RuPaul’s Drag Race came to the Netherlands mid-September and showcased the top drag performers in the Netherlands (and one from Belgium) with looks that were ‘everything’ and left us ‘gagging’! And with the best track record in the franchise’s her-story, the Amsterdam-based Latina drag queen was crowned the first Dutch Drag Superstar.
Anyone who knows me knows a few things about me: I love to travel, I can mix a perfect cocktail, coffee is my best friend, and I am an über-fan of the competition show phenomenon known as RuPaul’s Drag Race. So you can imagine my excitement when it was announced that my beloved Drag Race was coming to the Netherlands! And this season in my beloved Netherlands did not disappoint. The eight-episode season featured some of the best looks, fashion, performances, fun and humour of any of the other seasons. And like most of the other seasons, the backstories of the contestants, including their trials and hardships, were on full display.
While the show is undoubtedly entertaining because of the talent, the ‘campiness’ and the sheer joy it brings, it is becoming a very important cultural and social symbol beyond recreational viewing. Season after season the show is serving as an educator to the masses on important LGBTQ+ and social subjects, it highlights the reality of marginalized groups subjected to bullying and ridicule, and it offers a beacon of hope for LGBTQ+ youth who feel out of place in their current surroundings. Once limited to the lesser-frequented neighbourhoods’ cabaret scene, the worldwide sensation that is drag is now on the international television and internet stage for the whole world to enjoy.
This season’s winner, Miss Envy Peru, is a perfect example. Envy, or Boris Itzkovich Escobar ‘out of drag’, is a native of Peru, having come with her mother to the Netherlands when she was four years old. In his youth, Boris knew he was different, but coming from a Latin American ‘macho’ culture, as Envy described it in her on-screen confessionals, those feelings were suppressed. Envy even recalls realizing she was gay and wanted to deny it even to herself, since it in the culture she was from it was something to be ashamed of. Furthermore, only knowing stereotypical things about gay culture, she didn’t want to be associated with it and didn’t come out until age 21. Later, learning about LGBTQ+ culture, particularly what this culture entailed for a gay man, Envy got to opportunity to not only be her true self, but to express herself in an artistic, fashionable way, that took her all the way to winning the first season of Drag Race Holland.
Other stories emerged of bullying and being disowned by friends and family. But what the contestants display time and time again is that by believing in yourself, ‘finding your tribe’ and not letting society and other people’s opinions hinder you – you can achieve anything you put your mind and heart to. It’s an amazing message to young people all over the world who might feel marginalized or forgotten or may be in a similar situation – many of these stories are shared on the show and even some who were inspired as youths by the show are now contestants on it.
Recent seasons have also opened up the discussion about gender identity and gender roles. The statuesque contestant from Rotterdam, Ma’Ma Queen, used the stage of the show to express their non-binary gender identity through jaw-dropping looks, fashion and unforgettable acting and performing. But it was when their father joined the show for the infamous ‘make-over challenge’ and they walked the runway together in full drag and with fake pregnancy baby bumps that the message of acceptance by family members was really brought home. The beautiful story of allowing their child to be themselves put a tear in everyone’s eyes.
Many people might see the show as entertainment for the LGBTQ+ community, but its message and appeal transcend this limited perception. It offers messages, learning and new perspectives and yes, a whole lot of fun, campy entertainment!
Written by Marla Thomson