RuPaul's Drag Race comes to Saudi Arabia and Iran

RuPaul's Drag Race comes to Saudi Arabia and Iran
Untucked fans of the Middle East rejoice! Netflix has announced the full, uncensored Drag Race is now available in 224 countries worldwide - including those where homosexuality is illegal.
3 min read
18 Apr, 2016

Trapped in Tehran with the wham, but not the glam? Raving in Riyadh rocking the fade, but not the shade? Well, boys, girls and those who reject binary identities, you can now get your fix of glamour and fabulousness wherever you are.

If you can't come to the Drag Race, the Drag Race can come to you.

That's right, RuPaul's reality TV show is now available for streaming on Netflix - with all its outrageous sass, wit, spark and ego-busting - in more than 200 countries worldwide, including Saudi Arabia, where cross-dressing is associated with transgenderism and homosexuality - and therefore highly illegal.

Episodes of the American reality competition, filled with sexual humour and sometimes crude innuendo, will have no censorship or editing, Netflix confirmed, with subtitles available in languages ranging from Arabic to Korean.

In the show, which documents the search for "America's next drag superstar", RuPaul plays the roles of host, mentor and source of inspiration, as contestants take on a variety of challenges each week.

Streaming the popular TV show in countries notorious for their discriminatory views against LGBT people is being seen by many as a powerful step that will allow more representation for an oppressed community.

Men dressing as women - the central thrust of the hit American TV show - is treated the same as homosexuality in Saudi Arabia and punishments include execution, chemical castration and imprisonment.


Last month, Saudi religious police arrested a doctor merely for flying the rainbow pride flag above his home in Jeddah, despite his claims he was unaware of the flag's LGBT symbolism.

Local news outlets also reported recent arrests over using social media to find homosexual partners.

Similar measures and punishments are imposed in other Middle Eastern and Gulf countries.

In January, Qatari authorities banned the screening of The Danish Girl, a film about a Danish artist who undergoes one of the world's first sex-change operations.

In Egypt, among other countries, same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited in the law, but homosexuality is a social taboo in the conservative, Muslim-majority country.

But in Iran, where homosexuality remains a hanging offence, the situation is slightly different.

Tehran recognises transsexual rights, and those who identify as such are legally empowered to have gender reassignment surgery and to have official documents re-issued. More sex-change operations are carried out in Iran than in any other nation in the world - except for Thailand.

But there is a massive difference between a man getting dolled up in huge wigs and heels - and actually identifying as a woman.

Cross-dressing here is largely conflated with homosexuality, and while not guaranteed a judicial sentence, will likely result in extreme harrassment from officials and civilians alike.

Netflix went global in January this year, with the exception of countries such as Syria and North Korea, where the US government imposes restrictions on American companies.

Are you catching up on the shows you've missed? How long do you think it'll take Riyadh's censors to catch up? What fall-out do you predict?

Join the conversation in the comments below, or by tweeting at us: @the_newarab