Listen to the queens who know Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman – he is not a bully
Since he started as a judge on the first Canada’s Drag Race, the actor and model Jeffry Bowyer-Chapmen (JBC) has endured a torrent of abuse online from fans of the show.
Sometime over the weekend, he deleted his Twitter account.
A quick search of his name on Twitter reveals the likely reason why. ‘JBC is a tw*t’, ‘JBC is horrendous I cannot stand him’, ‘JBC singlehandedly made me homophobic’, ‘how do I kill JBC?’ and on and on and on.
Following his deletion, some were celebratory – ‘JBC deleted his twitter! We won!’
His crime? That his critiques of the drag queens competing for the title of Canada’s next drag superstar are too harsh, that he doesn’t have enough expertise to be judging drag, that he’s trying too hard, and that he’s ‘inauthentic’.
Now, these are all critiques that could easily be made of other judges in the franchise, from Michelle Visage’s ‘harsh’ feedback, to Carson Kreslley and Ross Matthew’s lack of knowledge of drag, to ‘YAS QUEENS’ affected from numerous celebrity guest judges.
These same comments levelled at JBC have been heard before, but never before have we seen such a public outcry.
Everyone who goes on reality TV is aware of this risk. I was a contestant on the first series of Drag Race UK and I know how it works: you do your best (using instruction from producers), put yourself at the mercy of editors, and then are thrown into the court of public opinion.
There’s a million ways to get it wrong, and viewers are quick to let you know if you come off as too confident, too inexperienced, too old, too fat, too boring, too camp, etc, etc.
As a queen on the show, one of the worst sins you can commit is staying in the competition longer than the fans think you deserve. They turn on you.
It is a lot to navigate, knowing that despite the fact most of my fan interactions are overwhelmingly positive, I am only ever one one small mis-step away from a gleeful takedown on Twitter.
I know that this was a dream job for JBC. I spoke to him about it when I appeared on the show earlier this season. He cares deeply about the success of the queens on this series – he gushed to me backstage about how amazing the cast were, how proud and excited he was for them, and how much the world was going to love them.
This has been backed up by the contestants of the show when I’ve spoken to them – Scarlett Bobo tweeted ‘JBC was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and gave me the most amazing pep talks every f**king week’.
Even Ilona Verley, who had arguably the toughest comments from the judges – notably telling her to add foundation to her butt – said ‘I really didn’t care about the comments made by (the judges) on last nights [sic] episode and while you the fans are going to have your opinions please know like me they are people with feelings too!’.
Even when JBC has been kind on-camera, he is accused of being fake – as though the audience can somehow tell that the ‘mean’ parts are genuine and all the nice parts are false.
So much happens on Drag Race that the audience does not see. My experience of being judged was overwhelmingly positive (even despite my favourite Spice Girl Geri telling me that my angle grinding ‘horrified’ her), and the few minutes of critiques you see as a viewer are a fraction of what takes place.
The judges balance negativity with positivity; even when I had a bad week and was left to lip sync for my life, I never felt crushed – it always felt fair and that the judges had a difficult job to do themselves.
As Canadian contestant Lemon said, ‘What everyone is forgetting is that the judging goes on for hours, and so the judges obviously say supportive, very kind things to us as well, but at the end of the day it’s a competition and it’s TV’.
People have a right to dislike what they’re presented with on screen, but they should also remember that it is TV, not real life. What you see is one facet of a person, not their entirety.
A person should not be labelled ‘a bully’, because the audience sees one moment they perceive to be bullying. You can certainly disagree with that moment, but bear in mind everything else you don’t know before you brand someone indelibly.
We are all complex and multifaceted, and deserve more than labels that are based on a single, edited snapshot.
Attacking people on the internet over perceived slights against your favourite contestant is perverse, all the more so when the very same contestants on the show are asking you to stop.
Drag Race is not always fair, and that is nothing new. You can disagree with outcomes (I do all the time), but please keep in mind that everyone who participates is a winner.
Just because your favourite didn’t win a challenge or was eliminated, does not give you the right to harass someone. Do we even remember the hashtag #BeKind?
Social media can be a wonderful tool for enacting social change, the awareness and money raised for Black Lives Matter being only one recent example. I fully support using our platforms to call out transphobia, systemic racism and police brutality (to name a handful of the causes that need attention).
However, it sometimes seems that minor infractions are punished on Twitter just as severely. Let’s use our heat for the causes that matter, and stop wasting our time punishing people who are simply making entertainment for us.
As a white queer person, I feel compelled to call out the racial undertone to the abuse JBC has faced.
White judges on other seasons have said stronger things than anything JBC has said (Michelle Visage’s ‘hogbody’ comment to Adore Delano in All Stars 2 is a notable example), but have not had anywhere near the level of vitriol.
Brooke Lynn Hytes has also been a very critical judge this season, echoing many of JBC’s comments, but has escaped relatively unscathed compared to him.
It’s no secret the Drag Race fandom is infected with the systemic racism that affects the wider world. Black queens are regularly held to a different standard than white queens, and coded language is used against them.
White queens are ‘crafty’, and ‘interesting’ and black queens are ‘ratchet’, ‘messy’ or ‘difficult’. This is further borne out on social media rankings, with the lowest followed queens from any given season almost invariably being the queens of colour.
The majority of cast members of the show who have been forced to limit their social media presence due to reports of bullying have been POC (Brita Filter, Asia O’Hara and Silky Ganache all spring immediately to mind).
Those leaping to say the takedown of JBC is ‘not about race’ are far too eager to dismiss the lessons of systemic racism being taught by the Black Lives Matter movement. Asking ‘is this racist?’ should not be a problem to anyone except racists.
The passionate fandom of the show is part of what makes it so successful, but if you want the best from the cast of future seasons, practice kindness.
I refuse to believe our destiny as queer people is to re-enact our trauma on others.
And if something you see bothers you that much, there’s a very simple solution: change the channel.
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