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Exploring the real make-up of Canada’s Drag Race

Dr. Stephanie Patrick

At first blush, RuPaul’s Drag Race appears to be just another risqué reality TV romp. Beneath all the drama and mascara of the wildly successful global franchise, however, run deeper issues of gay, racial and national identity. 

With support from a $90,000 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship, Dr. Stephanie Patrick is examining these concerns and more in her research project “True North Strong and Fierce: Canada’s Drag Race and the Future of CanCon.”

“With my research, I hope to help others make sense of our world as it is reflected back to us through the media and to broaden the scope of who gets to participate in that process,” said Dr. Patrick, a postdoctoral fellow based in the Communication and Culture program.

What inspires your research?

My research has two main inspirations. Firstly, it is inspired by my experiences working as a casting assistant in the Montreal film and television industry. I had an unbelievably unique and rewarding experience, but there were times that I also felt really disillusioned about things I was seeing, such as casting choices I disagreed with and stereotypes being imposed on marginalized groups. However, at the time I did not have the critical language to name what was happening. I returned to academia to pursue research that would help me make sense of these processes and, hopefully, to help change them.

The second inspiration for my research is my students. I have been lucky enough to teach a few classes throughout my graduate and postdoctoral studies, and have found students today to be highly engaged, critical, passionate and hopeful. They point me toward exciting new subjects of study (such as the latest show everyone is watching) and they inspire me to continue to push for a more inclusive and equitable media industry.

“I find students today to be highly engaged, critical, passionate and hopeful. They inspire me to continue to push for a more inclusive and equitable media industry.”

Dr. Stephanie Patrick, postdoctoral fellow

How will your SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship affect your research?

I am extremely grateful for the financial support I am receiving from SSHRC. The postdoctoral fellowship will allow me to continue to pursue my academic career goals for the next couple of years while conducting research that I am passionate about. The funding also allows me to present my work at national and international conferences and to disseminate my research through Open Access platforms making it more widely accessible. 

I believe that receiving this funding also demonstrates the importance of research that examines the cultural impacts of Canadian content (how it is represented and understood in the contemporary moment) and the move toward more inclusive representation across mainstream media industries.

What advice do you have for graduate students?

Focus on what you can control. There is a lot of pressure on graduate students, especially with all that is going on in the world right now, and it can be overwhelming. 

There is so much of the research and writing process that we cannot control so I think it is important to try to manage what you can and let go of the rest, especially the pressure to be perfect!