The category is: Republican drag queen realness.
As the centuries-old art form of drag has taken a surprisingly central role in the modern-day American culture war, one drag-loving couple decided to take a creative approach to their activism: A parody Instagram account dedicated to artificial intelligence-generated portraits of Republican leaders in drag.
“We’re huge fans of drag, and we were bearing witness to the GOP’s anti-drag rhetoric and action, and we wanted to do something about it, so we said, ‘Let’s put the GOP in drag,’” said Craig, who created the “RuPublicans” Instagram account with his husband, Stephen. The men asked that their last names not be published due to concerns for their personal safety and security.
The name of the account, which launched March 30 and now has over 95,000 followers, is a nod to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the popular drag competition show. The RuPublicans account has posted portraits of 11 conservative heavy hitters so far, with each subject given his own distinctive style and, of course, drag name. And while it might appear that these men each had their own glam team on hand, the images were purely created by Craig, Stephen and an AI text-to-image program called Midjourney.
“It’s all generated without a photo that we input,” Craig said. “I provide prompts on what I want to see in the photo — what’s in the background, what is the person wearing, how are they feeling, like it gets into that level of specificity — and then it spits out images, and you don’t always get what you want, and sometimes the AI generator gives you something that you could have never even imagined that blows you away, and you like run with it.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who made national headlines last year by signing his state’s so-called Don’t Say Gay bill and engaging in a faceoff with the CEO of the Walt Disney Co. — is among the Republicans given an AI drag makeover. His drag alter ego, “Rhonda Santy,” is shown in a trio of images, including one portraying her as an evil stepmother-type villain with Disney’s Magic Kingdom in the background.
“Rhonda Santy — Category is: Book Banning Princess Eleganza. She’s on a mission to turn that Magic Kingdom into a Tragic Kingdom and isn’t afraid to give Mickey the finger(s),” the caption on the DeSantis parody images reads.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is portrayed as “Cruzella Deville” in five portraits, which all include the conservative lawmaker in a full face of makeup, a blond or pink wig and bedazzled gowns.
“Cruzella Deville — Serving homophobic realness, she struts her stuff in fur coats lined with family values and defends every fetus and every gun,” the caption says of the reimagination of Cruz, who recently said the Supreme Court was “clearly wrong” in its 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage.
Neither DeSantis nor Cruz immediately responded to a request for comment.
Rudy Giuliani (“Rudy Garland”), Lindsey Graham (“Lady Graham Cracker”) and Mike Pence (“Mother Pence”) are among the other political figures who have been reimagined as drag queens by the RuPublicans account.
While Craig and Stephen called their RuPublicans project “pure fantasy,” they said they hope it can also serve as a platform for activism.
“We want it to serve as a platform for a message and show that drag really isn’t that scary,” Stephen said. “It makes you laugh, and it makes you think, and this isn’t just for us and gay people. I hope that a lot of Republicans see this and can have a laugh at themselves, too.”
So far this year, Republican lawmakers in more than a dozen states have proposed bills to restrict drag performances, according to an NBC News analysis. Tennessee is the only state to sign such a bill into law.
While the photos have sparked thousands of responses since the account first launched, one in particular made a big impact on Craig and Stephen, they said. The message was from a woman whose child attends The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville, where just a few weeks ago a mass shooting left three children and three adults dead. The mother said she had her first laugh in weeks upon seeing the RuPublicans account.
“She had this beautiful message about how important it is, what we’re doing, and how much it helped her,” Craig said. “So those are the types of things that are like fueling this, and keeping it going.”
“You know, there’s a lot of dark times that we’re living through right now, and we just want to spread brightness and laughter and levity, but also be really smart and poignant with it,” Stephen said.