These days, the 1990s comedy series “In the House” is perhaps best remembered for bringing rapper LL Cool J to network television. But the sitcom, which ran from 1995 through 1999 on NBC and UPN, also featured a guest appearance by none other than RuPaul in a radical-for-its-time take on drag culture.
In the latest installment of his “Culture Cruise” video series, Seattle-based writer Matt Baume breaks down the episode of RuPaul’s appearance, “Boyz II Men II Women.” The installment aired in late 1995 ― a time that Baume describes as “a pivotal moment” for TV depictions of drag and gender roles.
“In the House” followed a retired football player, Marion Hill (LL Cool J), who rents rooms in his home to a newly divorced single mother, Jackie Warren (Debbie Allen), and her two children, Tiffany (Maia Campbell) and Austin (Jeffery Wood). In “Boyz II Men II Women,” RuPaul guest stars as Marion’s longtime pal Kevin, who announces plans to pursue a new career as a nightclub performer ― in drag, of course.
The success of the album helped make RuPaul a global media darling ― which, in turn, helped usher in a cultural boon for drag, as represented by the happy conclusion of “Boyz II Men II Women,” Baume told HuffPost.
“Prior to the ’90s, drag in the media was usually a punchline, a way to mock someone for not conforming to gender roles,” he said. “Men in dresses were often humiliated, or in a position where they had to keep their identity secret because it was shameful or a liability.”
“Attitudes about women and trans people not being ‘as good’ as cis male performers need to be broken down just as much as the gender binary of previous decades.”
At the same time, Baume said, “Boyz II Men II Women” is a reminder of the “frustrating gatekeeping” that exists around drag and gender roles even today. He pointed to recent controversies over the inclusion of transgender artists on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as an example.
“Attitudes about women and trans people not being ‘as good’ as cis male performers need to be broken down just as much as the gender binary of previous decades,” he said.
Baume, the author of the 2015 book “Defining Marriage: Voices From a Forty-Year Labor of Love,” has examined LGBTQ-inclusive episodes of “The Golden Girls” and “Married... With Children,” among other shows, for “Culture Cruise,” now in its second season.
In January, New York Times writer Margaret Lyons praised “Culture Cruise,” calling it a “thoughtful and thorough” look at “queer representation — the good and the bad — in pop culture.”