Over the years, drag performers who identified as trans revolutionized the way that mainstream audiences perceived them in the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise.
There was a clear vision for Drag Race when the series first premiered back in 2009: to feature male-presenting contestants who could transform into the most beautiful and glamorous women through the artform of female illusion and drag. This was intriguing enough of a concept for that particular era of reality TV, but it did completely ignore the actual reality that trans women had been doing drag side by side with other cisgender individuals – mostly gay cis men – for many years. In fact, many trans women who did drag were regarded as some of the best entertainers in the field.
It unfortunately took a long time for out trans contestants to get cast on Drag Race in order to gain a legion of fans from all over the world and increase their booking fees. As the franchise evolved, however, viewers pushed heavily for the inclusion of trans contestants and celebrated each little milestone that pointed toward a wider LGBTQIA+ representation on the show. Now, one is hard-pressed to imagine a new Drag Race season that doesn’t feature trans performers in the cast as competitors.
Scroll through to see the trans contestants who have made RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory over the years.
At the season two reunion of Drag Race, Kylie Sonique Love – then simply known as Sonique – talked about how she felt prepared going into the show but realized during the competition that there was more to herself. When RuPaul asked her to share what she had learned throughout this process, Love noted that it was “very personal” and walked off-stage. Ru followed her backstage and asked how she was feeling. Love explained:
“I haven’t been happy for a really long time in my life and I never understood why. I just have to be honest with myself. I’m a woman. I’m not a boy who dresses up. I feel like the only thing I’ve ever done right was go to a doctor and start transitioning. I’ve never been happier in my entire life.”
Love eventually re-joined the reunion, sat next to her fellow costars, and further elaborated on what she had just told RuPaul. “I’ve always been a girl trapped in a boy’s body,” Love declared. “I started doing drag, but there was just something about it that wasn’t enough. I went to a doctor and he put me on testosterone blockers and then moved me to hormones. My levels are even and I’ve never been happier in my life.” RuPaul responded to Love’s statement with nothing but love and encouragement, emphasizing that she was absolutely a part of the Drag Race family.
In 2021, Love was one of two trans contestants in the All Stars 6 cast alongside Jiggly Caliente. After being a fierce competitor all season long, Love then made herstory once again by winning the show and becoming the first-ever trans winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.
Carmen Carrera never got to disclose that she was a trans woman while on Drag Race, but she became one of the loudest advocates for trans representation on the show in the seasons that followed. Meanwhile, Carrera also highlighted that the catchphrase used in the “Ru-Mail” segment of the show was a play on a transphobic slur that shouldn’t be used in a reality show featuring such a diverse lineup of LGBTQIA+ contestants.
Tensions were quite high between Carrera and the Drag Race franchise for many years, but the season three alum kept pushing for production to drop that problematic catchphrase. In season seven, the catchphrase for the “Ru-Mail” segments was finally changed to what it still is today: “She done already done had herses.”
Season five contestant Monica Beverly Hillz had a somewhat similar journey to Love on the show. However, Hillz disclosed the fact that she was a trans woman while still in the middle of the competition, which was a first for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Whereas Love wasn’t able to come out as trans until the season 2 reunion special, season five featured Hillz struggling with her sense of identity throughout her time on the show.
In episode two, the queens faced a lip sync challenge where they had to recreate iconic Untucked moments from past seasons. Hillz really struggled with the challenge and it became clear that there was something she was very concerned about. During the judges’ deliberations, Hillz disclosed on the Drag Race mainstage that she hadn’t been in the right headspace in the competition because identifies as a trans woman and is still processing those feelings. What followed that coming-out moment was Hillz landing in the bottom two and lip syncing against Serena ChaCha to “Only Girl (In The World)” by Rihanna – a moment that felt very poetic for the series. In the end, Hillz won that lip sync and ChaCha sashayed away.
After Love came out at the season two reunion, there were a few other queens who disclosed being trans on RuPaul’s Drag Race or in the post-season. Of note, Monica Beverly Hillz had a really hard time over the course of season five as she tried to understand being a trans woman in the middle of such a competitive environment. For years, that storyline was unfortunately about struggling with your identity and making new realizations under the pressure cooker that Drag Race has always been.
It wasn’t until season nine for a contestant like Peppermint to get cast having already fully realized and processed the fact that she was a trans woman who happened to work as a drag performer. There was also the fact that Peppermint was already a New York City legend prior to her time on the show, which meant that several queens in the cast were already aware of Peppermint’s reputation and knew that she identified as trans. Alas, it was a first for Drag Race viewers to see a confident contestant putting into words that her identity as a trans woman and her career as a drag queen could coexist without a problem.
As a true lip sync assassin, Peppermint ultimately made it to the grand finale and became the first out trans contestant to do so. She finished season nine as the runner-up, which was the highest placement for a trans contestant on Drag Race for many years.
There was a lot of excitement among the fans when Gia Gunn was cast on All Stars 4 because that was the first time that a trans contestant went into the show not having to fully disclose or explain that she was a trans woman. Even with Peppermint in season nine, it wasn’t until a few episodes in that the viewers heard her officially come out as trans. On All Stars 4, though, Gunn was announced in the cast as a trans woman who would compete on the show – leaving no doubt at any point.
Unfortunately, Gunn’s journey on All Stars was filled with insecurities and gender dysphoria. She just wasn’t ready at the time to go back into the werkroom and compete against other drag queens while she was still early on in her transitioning. This understandably put her into a defensive and shady mode that didn’t help her in the competition. With that said, Gunn still made herstory for being the first out trans cast member on a season of Drag Race since episode one.
In season 13, Gottmik became the first – and so far, only – trans man to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race. While it had always been incredibly common for drag queens to identify as trans women outside of this TV show, Gottmik’s story pushed the boundaries of gender identity even further given that they identified as a man but were confident enough to work and perform as a drag queen without feeling so much gender dysphoria.
RuPaul and the entire world fell in love with Gottmik’s incredible wit, makeup skills, and sense of humor, which took the drag performer all the way to the grand finale of Drag Race season 13. Despite losing their first lip sync for the crown to Symone, Gottmik still made history not only for competing as a trans man on Drag Race but also for getting to the finale and being a major contender to snatch the crown.
Season 14 was the first regular season of Drag Race to feature not one but two out trans women as contestants. Like Gunn on All Stars 4 and Gottmik on season 13, Kerri Colby and Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté identified as trans women from day one as they walked into the werkroom. As the season went on, Kornbread had to unfortunately leave the competition due to an injury. Alas, her impact was felt all season long.
After meeting Kornbread at the start of season 14 and competing alongside Colby on the show for a while, queens like Jasmine Kennedie and Bosco opened up about their own journeys with gender identity. Both queens opened up about being somewhere in the trans spectrum but not having enough references and/or resources to fully understand themselves and follow through with transitioning. They credited Colby for being such a great example of a trans woman who is confident, successful, happy, and capable of sustaining her career as a drag entertainer as well.
While the season aired, Willow Pill also issued a statement on social media disclosing that she had started to transition as well after filming ended. This meant that season 14 featured as many as five trans contestants on the show.
Last but certainly not least, RuPaul announced that the grand finale of season 14 will feature a top five instead of a top four. There are two trans finalists in that top five: Pill and Bosco. This is the first time in Drag Race herstory for two trans contestants to make it to the grand finale – a landmark that should be noted and celebrated.
Both Pill and Bosco have now joined the ranks of Peppermint and Gottmik as Drag Race finalists who identify as trans. If one of them were to win the show, that person would become the first-ever trans winner of a regular season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. With that said, that queen would also join the ranks of All Stars 6 champion Kylie Sonique Love as trans contestants who won a US season of the franchise.