RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 14 premieres this week, and the series is bigger than ever, with various international editions, spinoffs, and a record-setting 24 Emmy wins to its credit. While host and executive producer RuPaul Charles generated controversy in a 2018 Guardian interview when he expressed resistance to the idea of openly transgender contestants competing on Drag Race, the show has thankfully diversified in recent years. In 2021, Kylie Sonique Love became the first trans woman to win All Stars, and Season 13 runner-up Gottmik made history as Drag Race’s first openly trans male contestant. Earlier this year, Drag Race U.K. broke barriers by casting Victoria Scone, the franchise's first cisgender woman.
And now, America's Season 14 is the first regular Drag Race season to feature two openly trans women — both women of color — Kerri Colby and Kornbread Jeté. But another recent casting is drawing even more attention: Season 14's Maddy Morphosis, the first straight, cisgender male contestant since Drag Race debuted in 2009.
While many fans have welcomed this surprising addition, citing it as yet another example of how Drag Race and drag in general have evolved, others have griped that Drag Race is a sacred queer space that doesn’t need the representation of a straight white man. During in a Yahoo Entertainment roundtable with the Season 14 cast, Morphosis acknowledges the mixed public reaction.
“Honestly, I’ve just been focusing a lot on the positive,” Morphosis, who goes by she/her pronouns while in drag, tells Yahoo. “I've been doing drag for over about five years now, and I've always encountered nothing but support for drag and me doing it. And so I'm just really focusing on the positive aspects of it. I feel like anyone who has a negative feeling about it are kind of basing their feelings off of just gut reactions and headlines, and they haven't had a chance yet to really get to meet me and what I'm about.”
Morphosis, who now lives in Fayetteville, Ark., and is greatly inspired by last season’s winner, Arkansas queen Symone, continues: “I grew up in a really tiny little country town, and I wasn't into a lot of the same stuff. I didn't care that much about football or hunting and all that, but I was always interested in things like fashion and makeup transformations; it always seem like so cool to me. And you know, when you're in a small town like that, there's no resources. There's no one to tell you about yourself, about what other things are outside of this little country town. And so as I grew up, I thought there was something wrong with me. Like, ‘Am I gay? Am I trans? What does this mean for me?’ And that was around like 2010 to 2013. There wasn't even a lot of resources online for like things like this. And so it was after I moved out of my hometown and went to like a bigger city, I made some friends that were involved in the scene and going out to the clubs and stuff. Like, it was a place where I can explore like my own gender identity and what everything meant for me.”
Morphosis’s fellow Season 14 queens all support the casting. “Hopefully it's a bridge, honestly, because what Maddy's doing is he's done his research,” Jasmine Kennedie, who has been watching the show since she was in the 5th grade, muses. “He came in and never once made it as if we felt inferior because of his straightness. That wasn't even a topic. It was brought up: ‘Hey, I'm straight.’ ‘Cool, awesome! Welcome to the crew, girl!’ So, props to him. And I can't wait to see maybe boyfriends of girls watching the show could be like, ‘Oh, I don't have to be such a macho, macho type of a man.’”
Orion Story, who used to the watch Drag Race with her late mother and is competing this year in her mom’s honor, echoes Kennedie’s statement, saying: “I think that it's really important. because there's going to be [straight] people like Maddy watching the show that maybe want to try drag that will think, ‘Oh yeah, I can do it!’ And I think it's important that we all understand that it's not about someone's sexuality or how they identify. We all bring something unique to the table. I think that it's important that we all acknowledge that and respect that.”
“I personally don't consider drag as a just a queer space,” adds Angeria Paris Van Michaels, who’s been watching Drag Race “since Season 1, episode 4” when she was in middle school. “I actually consider drag more of an artistic space. I feel like that's the whole point. It doesn't matter who you are or who you choose to love or what you're attracted to, baby. We are all here because we got one thing in common: We like the art of drag. And I'm so glad that we get to all be a part of a cast that is showing this kind of inclusion to the world.”
Colby, as one of Season 14’s two trans contestants and a huge fan of the above-mentioned Kylie, has much to say on the matter. “I think that you have to go back to what drag is and what drag means,” Colby begins. “There is no specific box that drag belongs in. It's a way to express yourself to feel who you are. And I think when with Maddy being on our cast, like I said in previous interviews, we never went in knowing who people were. We just went in as we are who we are — let's introduce ourselves and get to know people. And I don't know Maddy for being a ‘straight person on RuPaul's Drag Race.’ I know Maddy for being an authentic and genuine person who has been inspired through the art of drag and is pursuing their passion. And I think also to keep in mind, you know, we always talk about walk mile in the shoes, walk a mile in these Louboutins. Well, Maddy quite literally is an example of someone who may not necessarily be the typical person to be a part of Drag Race, but they're walking around in our shoes and they're doing it authentically, and they're giving the representation where representation is needed, is due.”
“I mean, I think Ru always says it best: We're all born naked and the rest is drag. So, I am excited to have Maddy and to have someone with a different point of view,” adds June Jambalaya, one of this season’s dancing queens (along with British ballerina Lady Camden) and an avid admirer of Season 7 dancer Kennedy Davenport. “Like, we have trans winners, we have drag kings — it's such a wide perspective of drag. It literally is an art form, and you can't tell someone that they cannot share their art, period. Like, that's just crazy to me, that that negativity is even attached to someone willing to go on national television and bare their all in their art form.”
“I totally agree. Drag is just like clowning gender, and I don't understand why that should be restricted to someone based on their sexuality,” chimes in Bosco, a huge fan of Season 9 genderqueer champion Sasha Velour. “I do think it's important to know and respect the history and the queerness behind drag — which is something that Maddy does tenfold. I can't speak enough of how much I love Maddy and how happy I am that she's in this competition with us.”
“I knew Maddy before coming to the show, actually,” notes Daya Betty, who takes a page from Season 6’s scrappy, Pete Burns-inspired rocker Adore Delano. “And I had obviously known about her personal life, but that really should have no effect on someone's artistry. You know, the drag is a form of art and above anything else it's just self-expression, and everyone has that. And allyship is like a huge part of the gay community, you know — making sure that we have people that aren't necessarily gay or lesbian still stand up for us and use their voice to help us. So, people just need to calm down, you know?”
Jeté stresses that “Maddy is a part of the family just like anybody else and we're going protect Maddy at all costs,” but bluntly agrees with Betty that Maddy’s casting, as historic as it may be, should not and will not be the main focus of this season.
“You also have to realize too, there are two POC trans people on the show as well, which is just as important, if not more important, that someone being a heterosexual male on the show,” Jeté points out. “Maddy is a drag queen that is on the show. We all know that. We all see that. Obviously we love attention and things like that too, but this is the first time that has happened on a show like this as well. So, we love Maddy. Everyone in here loves Maddy. Everyone in here will protect Maddy at all costs. But I think everyone's making a bigger deal than what it actually is. Maddy is a drag queen. Maddy puts on makeup, just like all of us sitting here on this camera. We all want to throw marbles under Maddy's feet, because Maddy is competition. Nothing's changing in that manner.”
Ah, yes. There are many heartening examples of Werk Room sisterhood on Drag Race, and Bosco does claim that Season 14 will feature “one of the most affectionate and close casts” in the history of the franchise. But of course, many fans tune in for all the Untucked-style chaos and drama. So, aside from any Maddy-specific hubbub, can we expect any marble-throwing rivalry this season?
“Oh, there's always drama,” Kornbread promises. “It's zero sleep and a lot of Red Bulls.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 14 premieres this week on VH1; let the best drag queen win! Watch the full video above to hear all of the new queens’ stories about how past seasons and contestants have inspired and influenced their art.
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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by John Santo