Like anything popular, RuPaul’s Drag Race is Problematic. Some of that is because you can’t shine a spotlight on anything in this godforsaken world without illuminating some corners that need cleaning—like this season when Sherry Pie was disqualified mid-season for prior sexual misconduct. Some of it is because despite being so wild and progressive to the Karens out there, drag and the LGBTQIA community at large are not exempt from problems of inclusion.
Some of this is due to Mama Ru herself, who in the past has been transparently transphobic, at least when it comes to who can and cannot compete on Drag Race. She also recently accidentally revealed to Terry Gross that she is definitely fracking for profit on her ~60,000 acres of land in Wyoming (also if something nefarious ever comes out about me, I hope it’s because I accidentally let Terry Gross coo it out of me on talk radio).
*I personally find all things Michelle Visage problematic as well, but that’s more a matter of taste and I guess I should stan an aging fruit fly still having a gig and quit disrespecting my queer elders.*
Somehow, enter Jeff Goldblum—an actor whose acid noir personal persona has become more prominent and celebrated in recent years. Obviously, there was reasonable excitement for his appearance as a guest judge on Drag Race this past week. My own queer father texted me, “Drag Race! Now! Jeff Goldblum is a judge!”
We all expected his usual—hot uncle who might swing every which way, who will mind fuck you before he actually fucks you—bit to be in full force. But no one was prepared for a very intense questioning of the intersection of drag and Islam. In a “stars and stripes” themed runway, Jackie Cox wore a glittering American flag patterned hijab and caftan. The Iranian-American queen was clearly making a statement on how she can be all of those things at once, and it shouldn’t be a problem. While admitting she wasn’t religious, Cox said, “To be honest, this outfit really represents the importance that visibility for people of religious minorities need to have in this country.”
Goldblum put his foot in his mouth anyways, asking “Is there something about this religion that is anti-homosexuality and anti-woman? Does that complicate the issue? I’m just raising it, and thinking out loud and maybe being stupid.”
According to woke Twitter, he was being very stupid. Obviously stoking Islamophobia in the era of Islamic travel bans, MAGA-ers, border walls and Trump is incredibly dangerous. It’s also upsettingly condescending to Muslim queers to suggest that they must choose between their faith and their sexuality, and that they need that “thought out loud” to them by someone who is neither.
Many were quick to also point out that Catholic and Christian religions are also absurdly anti-homosexuality and anti-women, but we don’t bring that up when Judeo-Christian iconography is used in drag (which with the growing popularity in freaky, subversive, gothic queens, is frequent), which is inherently Islamophobic.
Of course, white Twitter was very excited to offer their shiny pennies that the reason for that is because Christianity is less homophobic and misogynistic, lol. Ultimately, suburban white people do not need an excuse to argue on the Internet why Christianity is better than Islam–like please, don’t give them one ever.
But alas, there’s a First of all to be had… While I don’t disagree with the general “fuck what he said” popular discourse, I will argue that advocating for queer folx in conservative Islamic communities is crucial and necessary—just the same as it is crucial that we advocate for queer people in strict Christian communities who send their children to “pray away the gay.”
The online conversation in support of what Goldblum posited seems to center on the distinction that it is violently punishable in many Muslim-majority countries to be homosexual. And while true, jumping to that distinction as some grand disqualifier of Christianity as violent and oppressive by comparison is Islamophobic. Our Muslim queer brothers and sisters need the same love, compassion and support that our Christian queer brothers and sisters do, and that doesn’t have to be political.
The issue is how we advocate, support and be safe allies to those disenfranchised and endangered in the queer community at large, especially when it’s due to their ethnicity, race or religion. Goldblum ignorantly framed his questioning to be Islamophobic. He made Islam the problem that needed to be excluded from the narrative. He also did the very problematic thing most cis, white, hetero men do frequently, which is ask the oppressed to educate them, and perform emotional labor for them, instead of doing that research and inner work themselves.
What he could have done was remark on his surprise at the melding of drag, Islam, and American patriotism, and how it had expanded his mind and definitions of those identities. That would have also benefitted him in not seeming like his perspective was the authority on drag, religion and culture, when he’s the straight white male in a room full of multi-cultural queers and drag queens.
I think that’s one thing that a lot of men just can’t seem to understand about male privilege. Every time queers, POC and women have opinions in a room full of cis white people, especially men, we are typically the ones asking ourselves if we should offer our opinion.
Whereas cis straight white men just let their thoughts bubble out no matter the environment or audience far more frequently—they have not routinely and systematically been taught that their questions or opinions might not be valid and should be vetted internally before being thought aloud.
Like I’ve argued before, cancel culture and woke mobs are reductive and keep us from progressing. Yes, some people do deserve to be written out of our cultural narrative for being truly that reprehensible. But when Twitter has enabled mob mentality, discerning who is at the business end of that ire gets irrational. Jeff Goldblum said a very misinformed thing, and deserves to be called out for it. But grappling with why it was “stupid” and how he could have done better is how we get somewhere other than trending Twitter hashtags as our judge and jury eliminating one more ally.