Unpacking queer culture’s impact on the mainstream

Knowing the roots of the culture we take for granted

Image by: Amna Rafiq
RuPaul’s Drag Race is an example of queer culture in the mainstream. 

Mainstream culture has always been affected by the voices and style of marginalized communities. North American pop culture, especially, is in a unique position, since the US and Canada are home to so many diverse communities all struggling to be heard.

Things have gotten better; once upon a time it was illegal to be queer, but we live in
more accepting times, which means it’s easier to see the effects of queer culture on the mainstream.

Since the ’80s, queer culture has shaped pop culture as many gay and trans artist entered the entertainment industry, or the industry took inspiration from what they saw on the ground.

Look at Madonna and the music video for “Vogue.”

It’s a known fact that voguing came from the ballroom scene in New York. In the ’80s and ’90s, Black and latinx queer communities danced together in balls, competing in fashion, dance, and drag pageants. Eventually, Madonna caught wind of the dance style, propelling vogueing and drag into the public consciousness.

Fast forward a few decades and we end up with the media landscape we’re so intimately familiar with. We see the different ways queer culture affects music, fashion and more.

Nowadays, we see voguing on our screens and at our clubs. This style of performance has evolved to the point that one of the most popular shows on television right now is all about drag. Where would we be without RuPaul’s Drag Race?

Drag Race is a more mainstream demonstration of queer culture—a sanitized televised version of drag. Its cultural impact can’t be understated, though, because shows like it continue to launch aspects of queer culture into the mainstream.

Slang is another domain where queer culture moves into the mainstream. The words and phrases we use from day to day, like “slay” or “spilling the tea,” get popularized through things like RuPaul’s Drag Race.

More often than not, slang has origins in queer BIPOC communities, especially the Black community, as it encompasses words that started as a part of AAVE (African American vernacular English).

Aside from TV and language, queer culture has had a massive impact on music and fashion. The Met Gala pulled from queer history and queer fashion in 2019 with the theme Camp: Notes on Fashion. While the term ‘camp’ has a complicated history, there’s long been a tie between extravagance and queer culture, which is also tied to drag.

Finally, the effect of queer culture in the mainstream can be seen in Beyonce’s latest album, Renaissance. Beyonce has been a fixture in pop culture for well over a decade, and
her long career comes from her adaptability; she has her finger on the pulse of culture.

Renaissance is a glorious house album with smooth transitions and songs fit for a drag
performance. Beyonce took heavy inspiration from queer musicians and featured many of them in her album, including Ts Madison, Honey Dijon, and Syd.

Acknowledging queer culture’s impact on the main steam is essential to understanding the way mainstream pop culture benefits from diversity and, in tandem, exploits marginalized people.

In some cases, like Renaissance, the influence of queer culture is a demonstration of appreciation. In other cases, like how slang gets taken and used out of context, we veer into appropriation.

Overall, these examples show the great impacts of a community that has and continues to struggle for acknowledgement and safety. The queer community has contributed a lot to our culture, and shaped the world we live in through subversive and challenging art.


Beyonce, mainstream, Media, Queer, RuPaul Drag Race

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