With RuPaul's Drag Race, you come for the drag and stay for the personality of the contestants that you fall in love with. But along the way, producers always sweeten the deal (for both the contestants and the audience) with a group of muscled, usually oil-slicked Adonises known as the Pit Crew — or as they've become known in the U.K., the Brit Crew.
Every iteration of the show has recruited a group of men — even the Vegas show — to play as both helpers and eye candy for the drag performers. They bring in props, add additional hands for mini-challenges, and even twerk on occasion. But while the Pit Crew has shown racial diversity, there hasn't been much when it comes to body type. That has changed with the debut season of Canada's Drag Race.
Though Canada's Pit Crew was initially introduced as a small group, in recent episodes of the show it expanded. In episode four, a full ten members of the Pit Crew arrive to help the queens play a matching game. The group, which truly spanned the spectrum in terms of skin tone, made history as model and activist Mina Gerges became the first Pit Crew member of size.
Here we talk to Gerges about his appearance on the show and his Calvin Klein campaign he had earlier this year.
How did you get cast onto the Pit Crew?
The casting process was definitely nerve-wracking. Walking into a room full of guys who look like your typical Pit Crew with me being the only one with a bigger body and no six-pack, was definitely intimidating. I had to go to the washroom and give myself a pep talk and remind myself that I’m not any less attractive just because I’m bigger and don’t have a six-pack. Once I got over those insecurities in my head I felt really empowered to take up that space and show that my body wasn’t any less worthy of being celebrated.
After I finished the audition, I felt really proud of myself, because I developed an eating disorder when I was 19 years old because I wanted to look like these guys in the audition room with me. Especially in the gay community when muscled bodies are put on a pedestal over all other body types. While I had moments of self-doubt, I genuinely didn’t feel like I was any less beautiful or worthy just because my body was bigger.
Did you know at the time that you were the first plus-sized member of the crew? Did that factor into you wanting to do it?
When I was asked during the audition why I wanted to be part of the Pit Crew, I said that the Pit Crew has men whose bodies are deemed attractive and celebrated in our community. The Pit Crew is seen as the epitome of what’s desirable, the body that every gay man should aspire to have at any cost. It’s the toxic beauty standard that’s sadly ingrained in our community. But me having stretch marks, fat on my body, and love handles don’t make me any less attractive. And I think it’s so incredibly important to show that beauty doesn’t look like one certain size and that it comes in many shapes and sizes.
I always think about what kind of bodies and messages I needed to see as a young gay kid who desperately hated his body in pursuit of that gay beauty ideal. It hurt me so much growing up, and I wanted to do something about it as I grew up and learned to be confident in my skin. So, I didn’t know that I’d be the first plus-sized member of the Pit Crew, but I knew I needed to be there so that the young gay kids watching the show can see a bigger body and stretch marks and learn to be kinder to themselves.
Are you a longtime fan of Drag Race? What do you think about Canada's version so far?
The first season of Drag Race I watched was season 6, I fell in love with Bianca and Adore and fell in love with the show ever since. I love Canada’s version, I think Canadian talent has always been overlooked and it’s incredible to see so many queens who we cheered on at our local clubs get all the recognition they deserve.
Your work in advocacy is generally around identity, right? Can you talk about its importance?
I grew up in Egypt, a country where it’s illegal to be in the LGBT community. As an immigrant, members of the Arab community don’t accept me because I’m gay. I’ve always struggled to find my place in this world. When you’re away from your home country but know it wouldn’t be safe for you to live there, and you want to be in touch with your heritage but your own community erases you — it makes you feel like your identity isn’t valid and your life isn’t worth living. I grew up being so conflicted by my identity, my religion, my sexuality, my gender expression. I had to unlearn a lot of the filth I was taught to feel about who I am just so I can look at myself in the mirror. Now, I’m a proud gay gender-fluid person, and everything I do in my work today is to reclaim my culture and my heritage from the homophobia and bigotry that’s engrained in it. I feel empowered to use my privilege to fight for those back home who still don’t have a voice, who still face violence just for existing.
You've had a really big year in that you also did a campaign with Calvin Klein this year, right? What was that like?
Working with Calvin Klein was incredible. I’ve worked really hard to redefine male beauty standards that made me hate my body growing up. And to this day, the queer Arab community gets no representation in fashion or in pop culture, and I really want to change that. Working with an iconic brand like Calvin Klein gave me an opportunity to do both of these things: to bring unprecedented visibility to the queer Arab community, and to show that bigger guys deserve a place in the fashion industry and can book a global Calvin Klein campaign!!!