The producers of Rupaul's Drag Race, and maybe Rupaul herself, have long shown a lack of interest in San Francisco's drag scene. Now, 14 seasons in to the drag competition that has become essential pop-culture viewing, there is an SF drag queen in the cast, for only the third time ever.
Back in the early, pre-pandemic days of February, 2020, SFist interviewed Rock M. Sakura, who was the last local drag queen to make it on the show in Season 12. We were hopeful at the time that San Francisco could have some lasting representation after an eight-year slump — following the short-lived but still memorable turn down the runway of Honey Mahogany, who since then has forged a political career in the city.
But Rock only made it to Week 4, becoming only the second queen eliminated in Season 12, and coming in 11th place — just below Honey Mahogany's 10th place in Season 5 (an elimination that also happened in Week 4, and that was blamed on a kaftan she borrowed from Juanita MORE!).
Season 14 of Rupaul's Drag Race premieres Friday, January 7, and San Francisco ballet dancer turned drag queen Lady Camden — formerly a server at Little Star Pizza in the Mission — will be representing SF this time around.
Lady Camden is a 31-year-old London native who formerly worked as a dancer with Smuin Ballet and served as a choreographer there as well. As she told the Chronicle in December, after news of her casting on Drag Race came out, she was grateful to have such affirmation in the second year of the pandemic, after spending the early days of COVID doing streaming content for tips and wondering how to make ends meet with all the bars closed.
"Honestly, it feels so full circle," Camden told the Chronicle. "Having that time to come up with plan B was an important time that everyone I know took to go, ‘OK, well what do I really want to do with my life now that we’re in a pandemic? I should go for the things I want to go for and not wait around for things to necessarily just get better.'"
The drag queen who would become Lady Camden was born backstage at the White Horse Inn in Oakland. As she explains to the Chronicle, she was working as a server at Little Star and her manager there did drag on weekends in the East Bay as Mara Guevara. Mara became Camden's drag mother, and by early 2020, she was doing gigs at bars around the Castro and pulling in a decent living. She said she got the biggest response to her drag when she began incorporating bits of ballet into her numbers — and that's now a signature.
After the pandemic took away her income, she ended up moving to Sacramento for a more affordable existence, but she has since moved back. (It sounds like "Sacramento" will probably be displayed next to Lady Camden's name when she's introduced in Week 2 — a Week 1 sneak peek is already online and only introduces seven of the queens, and she's not part of that group.)
As for representing San Francisco's drag scene — as many local fans long for when they watch the show — Lady Camden tells the Chronicle, "I’m this little British ballerina just kind of dancing around the Castro. I think that what makes a San Francisco queen is the fact that you’re kind of different... I’m sort of like an oddball, and I think that San Francisco is full of oddballs."
A lack of SF representation on the show likely has as much to do with how many local queens have auditioned as it has the producers' tastes. San Francisco drag has always been more about theater, politics, and art than about standards of beauty — or, for that matter, pageantry. And Rupaul's Drag Race has always made room for pageant queens as well as comedy queens, but less so the oddballs — even though some recent winners like Sasha Velour and Yvie Oddly are the exceptions.
SFist spoke to some San Francisco drag stars back in 2019 about the growing supremacy of Drag Race in the broader world of drag, and how the fanbase for drag had been fundamentally changed by the show — and now includes a lot of teenage girls, among other newer fans.
"When I started doing drag, the fans themselves were artists and weirdos," Peaches Christ said. "Now there's this overwhelming fan culture that's kind of pushed cooler fans away from drag... And everything now is a competition. It's just not as interesting to me."
She added, "When anything goes mainstream, it gets dumbed down."
Well, the show still has its merits, and a legion of fans — and in recent seasons has raised awareness of trans people and spotlighted more trans performers, which the early seasons never did. And at least this season there will again be a local queen to cheer on who will hopefully last more than a couple of weeks in the competition.
The show premieres tomorrow, Friday, at 8 p.m. on VH1 and will stream on Sling TV as well. Unlike the last season of Rupaul's Drag Race: All Stars, this regular season will not stream on Paramount Plus.