Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: WoW
Urban Dictionary defines 'gay death' as "when a gay man turns 30." It's a tongue-in-cheek phrase both hilarious and terrifying as it speaks to the ageism of many gay men and the Peter Pan syndrome of others.
The phenomenon's often lampooned in queer culture. Like Zachary Quinto's self-hating gay character in 2020 movie Boys In the Band, who says: “What I am, Michael, is a 32-year-old ugly pockmarked Jew fairy. And if it takes me a while to pull myself together before I can get up the nerve to show this face to the world, then it’s nobody’s goddamn business but my own."
And this lyric from Rufus Wainwright's 2012 song 'Out of the Game', released when he was 39: "I'm outta the game, I've been out for a long time now, I'm lookin' for something can't be found on the main drain..." (Rufus, like Ricky Martin, now looks hotter than ever at 47, and has an equally hot husband).
Given the expectation on gay and LGBTQ men to remain young forever - and let's not forget, such pressure on trans women is exponentially worse - it's perhaps an under-discussed virtue of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars that it tends to honour queens of wisdom and experience. Just look at the recently-announced cast of SE6.
Among them are a few fan faves and a lot of half-forgotten stars of seasons-yore, plus several plus-sized queens and two trans women. But for all its admirable diversity and inclusion, I can't see the show getting any recognition for booking a cast with an average age of 34.
For your reference, the oldest competitor, Pandora Boxx, is 49; elsewhere we've got A'keria Davenport, 33, Eureka O'Hara, 30, Ginger Minj, 36, Jan Sport, 27, Jiggly Caliente, 39, Ra'Jah O'Hara, 30, Scarlet Envy, 29, Serena ChaCha, 30, Silky Nutmeg Ganache, 30, Kylie Sonique Love, 38, Trinity K. Bonet, 30 and Yara Sofia, 37.
Some wider context: on All Stars 5, the average age of a contestant was 34.1, on SE4 it was 31.9 and on SE3, 32.2. Drag Race itself doesn't too badly: the average age of a competitor in SE13 was 29.6 - big up 50-year-old Tamisha Iman, who brought a level of class and composure that only comes with age - while SE12 was 28.3 and SE10 was 29.3.
(To put all of the above into perspective, look no further than mainstream dating shows. On the 2020 abstinence-themed Netflix series Too Hot To Handle, the average age of a contestant was 24.4; on Love Island 2020, it was 22.4!)
Yes, they've got experience in spades. But the fan response to this year's All Stars cast has been decidedly mixed, with some taking issue with the likes of Ginger Minj having appeared on All Stars before.
Now, I'm usually first to offer Drag Race some constructive criticism. And with the constant turnover of shows, including an international All Stars in the works, a talent drought may well be evident.
But I can't get on board with some of the nasty comments I've seen about the SE6 cast, in the vein of "past it", "who?" and "they've had their chance." Isn't that the point? Don't we want to be surprised, as with Shangela and Vanjie?
Rather, for this 34-year-old writer - who grew up when the X Factor 'overs' category was 25 and above - it's cheering to see queens who've put in the time and effort, who've done the work, brought back for another moment in the sun. And when so many thousands of reality stars fade into obscurity almost immediately (Pooja from Big Boss 2011 a notable exception), it's rare for a show to continue such a relationship with its stars.
Credit where it's due: All Stars is a pop-cultural space, fronted by a 60-year-old gay man and his 52-year-old righthand woman, where LGBTQs are actually allowed to age... albeit while looking flawless. Surely that's something worth celebrating?
The Attitude July issue is out now.