This piece is part of Outward, Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture. Find more here.
Three months after his election to the House and dumbfounding debut in the national spotlight, we still know little about George Santos—mostly because just about everything he has told us, including perhaps that very name, appears to be untrue. But one thing we do know about the freshman Republican congressman from New York’s 3rd District is that each news cycle is sure to bring us even more examples of duplicity, delusion, and absolutely delightful drama. Take last week: Could anyone have imagined that we’d witness the GOP’s newest falling star and arguably the most commercially successful alumna from RuPaul’s Drag Race engaged in a tit-for-tat flame war on Twitter? And yet, the library was truly open as Santos and Trixie Mattel read each other in front of the goddess and everyone.
The truly iconic Twitter exchange began with Santos whining about Jon Lovitz’s Tonight Show impression, to which Trixie Mattel swiftly responded: “Maybe the source material was weak.” Not to be outdone, Santos clapped back with a GIF referencing one of her less-than-winning performances, adding “Clearly you know all about weak acting skills.” And I oop! Mattel fired back with a line referencing his lies, to which the congressman replied, “It’s all good! I won my race against the fan favorite too.”
If this shade battle caught you completely by surprise, you may have missed the part of the Santos saga where he seems to have once been … a working drag queen. It’s OK, there’s a lot to keep track of, what with all the apparently fabricated details about his education, work history, and campaign spending. To paraphrase our allegedly shared “Jew-ish” ancestors, if Santos had only “embellished” his résumé, that would have been enough. But, as Slate has reported, his twisted tales keep coming, including allusions to being a star volleyball player, allegations of defrauding a fundraiser for a dog with cancer, and particularly egregious false claims of having lost employees in the horrific 2016 Pulse shooting.
That brings us to the pièce de résistance that occurred on Jan. 18, when freelance journalist Marisa Kabas posted a Twitter thread showcasing photographic evidence that Santos had previously performed as drag queen by the name Kitara Ravache in Brazil. I think I speak for all queens when I say I was gagged: I’ve seen a lot of things, but I certainly did not have “pathologically lying, Trump-supporting, gay, Brazilian-American drag queen congressman” on my 2023 bingo card.
Not surprisingly, Santos first denied it, tweeting unequivocally that “The most recent obsession from the media claiming that I am a drag Queen or ‘performed’ as a drag Queen is categorically false.” Days later, his story shifted as he begrudgingly owned up to having at least dabbled in the drag arts: “I was young and I had fun at a festival. Sue me for having a life.” In the days since, more videos and accounts of Santos have surfaced suggesting he appeared regularly as Kitara Ravache for a period of at least three years. And, thanks to some truly ingenious internet sleuthing, there is evidence to suggest that Santos himself may have once edited his own Wikipedia bio to include typo-ridden details that he “startted his ‘stage’ life at age 17 as an gay night club DRAG QUEEN and with that won sevral GAY ‘BEAUTY PAGENTS.’ ” Ooh girl.
Queens and queers of all kinds have responded appropriately—by reading Santos to filth. There was the aforementioned Trixie tête-a-tête, of course, in which Santos’ content and tone only further confirmed his fluency in drag. And on late-night television, Bowen Yang and Harvey Guillén offered impressions that would make any diva impersonator quake in her heels. In my favorite response, Jan Sport posted a TikTok video with a so-flawless-it’s-shady impersonation in front of a tweet referencing Santos’ involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection (which, incidentally, he’s also lied about). And that’s just scratching the surface: Honestly, the tea has been so tasty, I’m weeks behind on Drag Race.
And yet, despite the laughs we’re all enjoying at Santos’ flagrant fraudulence, at the end of the day, we should be deeply disturbed by his association with drag—not only as it relates to his dangerous support for anti-LGBTQ legislation, but also for the way that it contorts this otherwise joyous art form that so many of us love dearly. That is, while we may smile in schadenfreude at a failed empress who—despite reveal after reveal after reveal—will still not own up to her naked lies, we should not associate such deceit with the dissident politics of drag.
If it helps, remember that Santos is a hypocrite: an out gay man whose policy positions directly undermine the hard-fought political and cultural victories that allowed him to run for Congress in the first place. Most specifically, he has actively expressed support for Florida’s 2022 “Don’t Say Gay” law, which severely restricts education on LGBTQ topics and endangers queer and trans students. And, in an especially hypocritical statement, Santos spoke out against Drag Story Hour, flagrantly exaggerating on Brazil’s Rádio Novelo Apresenta podcast that “there are a total of 300 drag shows per day in New York City schools.” (Only in my dreams, queen, but I’d love to live that fantasy.)
To add insult to injury, in a social media post declaring his support for Florida’s heinous legislation, Santos echoes moral-panic rhetoric, suggesting “they want to groom our kids.” His use of the term “groomer” is part of a coordinated line of attack, which until recently had been relegated primarily to QAnon and white nationalist groups, but surged 400 percent following the passage of Florida’s education ban. As advocates for sexual violence survivors have pointed out, such rhetoric is especially troublesome in distracting from very real incidents of child abuse.
For me, these attacks on drag and LGBTQ youth are not only disgusting, but personal. As a member of Drag Story Hour and a children’s book author, both the organization and I have come under increasing attacks from not only far-right militias like the Proud Boys but also mainstream politicians (including from Santos’ Senate colleague Marco Rubio). Indeed, according to a report by GLAAD and Equality Texas, 2022 saw attacks on 141 drag events in 48 states, many of which were story hours or other family-friendly events. On an individual level, my books have been routinely challenged and banned, and I have received hate mail and even death threats that often parrot this offensive language.
Additionally, as of this writing, the ACLU has documented 184 anti-LGBTQ bills currently introduced in state legislatures, including 20 bills across 10 states that directly target drag shows and performers. Many of these bills attempt to criminalize children’s attendance at drag events or classify drag as explicit “adult” entertainment in ways that severely restrict how and where it can be performed. Equally important, as many activists have pointed out, is that such laws are being written in such vague language as to not only apply to drag performances but also to target trans and nonbinary people’s everyday gender expressions.
On a national level, last year, House Republicans introduced the so-called “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act,” a bill similar to Florida’s law to restrict LGBTQ education—including, specifically, drag story hours. While the bill stands basically zero chance of becoming law given Democratic control of the Senate and White House, it attracted 38 co-sponsors. While Santos had not yet been elected to Congress at the time it was introduced, given his rhetoric, we can only assume he would be likely to support it. (And, bless his heart, he has already falsely claimed to have voted on legislation before he was actually sworn in.)
Beyond Santos’ individual hypocrisy, it is also worth noting how deep the duplicity runs within the Republican Party itself. As other commentators have pointed out, there is more than dramatic irony in the party so vehemently attacking drag and LGBTQ communities while apparently welcoming a former queen with (mostly) open arms.
Finally, policy aside, there is another aspect of this story that renders Santos’ drag dalliances as more tragedy than comedy: His actions ultimately bastardize an art form that means so much to me and my community. As a performance practice that quite literally emerged from the shadows of queer and trans invisibility, drag should be about critiquing power, not consolidating it. For decades, drag has focused on punching up and pointing out the flaws of the status quo, not punching down or trying to conform to society’s expectations. Drag has long offered spaces of camaraderie and commiseration, to gather safely and turn our collective fantasies into reality. And, as I have written about elsewhere, drag is inherently about activating our imaginations and building a strong spirit of community and care.
What is so tragic about the Santos saga is that it drags this art form into the shadows of deception where it was never meant to be. While drag may be, by some definitions, an act of illusion, it is rarely meant to defraud. (And as Jennifer Finney Boylan reminds us, charges of deceit have long been leveled against trans and queer people.) Indeed, this is what sets drag apart from other forms of cross-gendered performance: The audience is always in on the joke. Of course, sometimes a clever queen knows that she needs to bend the truth a bit to help us see things in a fresher or clearer way. But as the artist and critic Philip Core writes of camp (a foundational aesthetic of drag), it is ultimately the “lie that tells the truth.” That is, through all the glitz and glam, drag performers bare their souls, proving they have little to actually hide.
Further, while the only major rule of drag is that there are no rules, I would argue that there remains something of a shared ethical code. While drag performers certainly do not take a formal oath, I am often reminded of the vows that the legendary Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence take to “promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.” Put simply, while we may have our fun throwing shade from time to time, our job is to playfully spread love—not lies.
So, while we’re all having our fun with the hot mess that is Kitara Ravache, let’s hope this number reaches its finale quickly. (And we may be close: As this piece was going into production, news broke that Santos would recuse himself from sitting on the committees to which he’d been assigned.) It’s past time that Santos resign from Congress—or better yet, that his colleagues and constituents give him the chop.
George Santos, honey, you are the drama—but you’re undoubtedly the villain, too. Now, sashay away.