The first time I saw Kameron Michaels out of drag, I rolled my eyes.
Once we had met all of the Season 10 queens in drag, outlets began to scour their Instagrams and other forms of social media to gather intel about the fourteen queens set to dominate our conversations for the next few months. Within a few hours, the headlines emerged: Kameron Michaels was the “thirst trap” of Season 10.
My feelings were mixed. On the one hand, as many drag performers have intimated ad nauseum, dating as a drag queen can be hard. Misogyny, internalized homophobia and femmephobia are all too common among gay men. Those “just a preference” gays? Yeah, that extends to drag queens, too. Some won’t date them, some won’t fuck them. So, seeing thirst for any drag queen was, in some way, a triumph. But Kameron Michaels seemed to be a caveat.
It’s not hard to see what most people would find attractive about Michaels: his jaw could cut glass, he’s covered in tattoos, he has half a dozen abs and his butt is well, anyone could appreciate it. In many ways, in him, I saw my inverse almost everything about him, down to his white skin, was something that most LGBTQ men could appreciate. And for years, my own body was a site of contention. Hell, a potential beau had even once told me in bed that he had fallen in love with me but couldn’t date someone with my body type.
By thirsting so hard over Kameron, and promoting that thirst in several online articles, I saw masculinity being celebrated and femininity being further devalued. There was a split between Kameron Michaels the character and Dane Young, the person, with Dane getting clear preference. Thirst for Kameron Michaels in many ways reified and buttressed long-held, pervasive ideas in the queer community that white, buff, masculine men were the pinnacle and that everyone else was simply, well, fat that needed to be cut off the meat.
For weeks, Michaels said nothing to change my mind. Her screen time was scant, with no face-to-camera commentary and barely a zinger to remember her by. (Later, Miz Cracker revealed in a Review with a Jew episode that Kameron had fewer moments on screen because she refused to say anything negative about another contestant.) But with almost none of her personality being shown, something rose to fill the void: my own prior feelings about her.
During the season’s sixth episode, glimmers of personality emerged when Michaels showed vulnerability with her fellow contestants and spoke about her history with drag. In the episode, Kameron confessed that she began weightlifting while in a relationship with a bodybuilder and that, when she returned to drag, her sisters rejected her, claiming she couldn’t do drag with her boy body.
When Kameron’s chiseled veneer began to crack, I began to see someone who, like me, had a body that was under constant pressure to look a certain way. Now, as a fat-positive activist who believes that big is beautiful and knows that men of size, especially men of size and color, face innumerable barriers to being considered “beautiful” by the (white) LGBTQ community at large, I wouldn’t say that Kameron’s struggles with his body equate to those of a fat queer person. But, Kameron’s past bodily issues served as a reminder of the innate problems of having a queer body in America and, somehow, he became a queen I could relate to.
During RuPaul’s DragCon, I sat front row as Michaels talked about being an only child and escaping into video games and idolizing strong, kick ass women in Tekken 2 and Resident Evil. He talked about the ways he incorporated these strong women many of whom are both simultaneously hyperfeminine and hypermasculine into his own drag persona
You guys I’m at the Queer Gaming panel at DragCon and Kameron Michaels is dressed as Chun Li !!!! pic.twitter.com/rVSilBtGpv
— Hispanic Pixie Dream Girl (@mathewrodriguez) May 12, 2018
This week’s maxi challenge saw the queens compete in an acting challenge called Breastworld and during the Untucked afterward, Michaels broke down upon the prospect that she would have to lip sync for her life and possibly go home.
“I’m just a lot like my dad and he never showed any weak emotions,” Michaels says, as she begins to cry to Eureka, adding that she still refuses to process her father’s death five years ago. “I think emotions are weak. They’re just they don’t do anything for you so I don’t usually deal with them.”
She added, “Moments of weakness are not something that I like to share with others.”
There’s something ironic about watching a man dressed head to toe in 80-year-old lady drag letting out a single mascara-infused tear saying that he’s afraid to be weak. But it was at that moment that Kameron’s true complexity shone through. When I had first decided that I would be annoyed by Kameron, I had only seen in her the masculinity that everyone cherished. But, as she has begun to demonstrate on the show, even queens who embrace their femininity, tuck their dick and don a dress struggle with toxic masculinity.
If The Vixen held a mirror up to our community’s issues with racism, then Kameron Michaels might be doing the same with toxic masculinity. Michaels’ journey proves that, as much as we embrace and celebrate femininity, toxic masculinity has too often seeped into our lives and rewired our circuitry.
Of course, none of this is Kameron Michaels’ fault. I know the power of the selfie for those, like me, who struggle with self-love. And though I knew that most people’s Instagrams are a way to work through their own insecurities, I was unwilling to extend Kameron Michaels that same empathy because his muscular build had put me in my feelings. I projected my own dislike for chiseled queens who amass queer cultural capital and capture thirst onto him. I mean, by now, we know the type. They’re the Antoni Porowskis, the Gus Kenworthys, the Matt Bomers. As Oscar Wilde is famous for saying, beauty “makes princes of those who have it” and Kameron Michaels was another reminder of this queer feudal monarchy we live under.
Looking at someone who is traditionally “masculine,” it’s easy to assume that their journey with masculinity is complete. And that’s what I had assumed about Michaels. But, I began to feel a kinship with her when I recognized that the same hurt that toxic masculinity has caused me still hurts her, too. We may have bodies at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I may not benefit socially from mine, but I can certainly appreciate that we are still both struggling with negotiating the masculinity and femininity inherent in all of us. We both have the scars of a cultural battle inscribed on our bodies.