Shea Couleé Joining Marvel’s ‘Ironheart’ Confirms That Drag Queens Are IRL Superheroes
The news that Marvel Studios series Ironheart cast Shea Couleé , RuPaul’s Drag Race alum and crowned queen of All Stars 5, in an undisclosed role elicits a number of responses. There’s excitement, duh, about an iconic and innovative and groundbreaking queen like Shea becoming part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s oodles of curiosity as we all wonder who she could be playing (note that Shea already has a Marvel Comics mutant based partly on her named Shade, aka Darkveil, so…). There’s lots of hope, too, because this marks another proud step forward for Marvel when it comes to queer representation onscreen . But there’s another response that hangs over all the rest. How do you sum up “I told you so” in one word? Is it vindication? That’s what the vibe is right now.
Don’t get me wrong. I, personally, am excited and curious and hopeful about my favorite drag queen of all time getting this spotlight and breaking this glass ceiling and paving this way. But Shea Couleé’s addition to the MCU (oh my god, that’s a sentence I can sincerely type now!) just proves what I’ve always known and what anyone who watches Drag Race already knows: drag queens are actual superheroes.
This ain’t hyperbole either, y’all. Think about how drag works (or werks): a drag queen is literally a colorful, heightened alter ego chosen by a previously “normal” person. They have a secret identity that isn’t widely known; again, Shea’s my favorite queen and I just had to Google the name that appears on her driver’s license. The life they live is a whole made up of two very distinct halves as they travel the world pulling off amazing feats… and then also walk around in public completely unnoticed, like when Captain America puts on a baseball cap and sunglasses.
I can attest to this dual identity feeling firsthand. It grabbed my heart the first time I rode the subway presenting as I always do (a cis man) after I became a drag queen myself . It was the first time I was aware that the way everyone else on the subway was perceiving me was drastically at odds with the me that I was then posting a picture of to Instagram (drag queens are all about shameless promotion, so, there you go). I’ve read superhero comics for 30 years and this was the first time that I felt like Peter Parker… except my Spider-Man is 1000% less agile until she learns how to bend over in a corset and walk confidently in heels.
But drag’s superhero similarities go deeper than just the costume and mask (provided by Anastasia Beverly Hills). You have to think about how drag queens use their power. They get in drag to entertain, sure, but they also get in drag to enact visible change in the world. Drag queens and drag kings and all drag performers lift up the most vulnerable communities. They take the trappings of queerness, the very traits they were likely bullied over, and they cover it in glitter and wear them like armor. Whether or not a queen is marching in the streets or throwing bricks (remember: the entire gay rights movement was started by trans women of color and drag queens), reading a book at a story hour , or even if they’re just executive a flawless dip to “Break My Soul,” a drag queen inspires someone every single time they put on hip pads and a wig.
Shea Couleé was already a real world Storm or She-Hulk or Misty Knight or Gamora before she was cast in Ironheart . She didn’t need to join the MCU to be a hero (but good lord, I am glad she did).