On Friday morning, season 12 cast member Sherry Pie was disqualified from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (2009–), a shock with only a single parallel in “Drag Race” history. The disqualification followed revelations that Joey Gugliemelli, aka Sherry Pie, had catfished several actors working in New York City, posing as casting agent “Allison Mossey.” A viral Facebook status from actor Ben Shimkus detailed how Sherry Pie had provided him with contact info for “Allison” beginning in 2015. Eventually, Shimkus was coerced into sending Gugliemelli dozens of videos, including footage of him reading sections of a bizarre fabricated play. As Shimkus’ status gained attention, several other actors came forward with similar accusations, including one who Gugliemelli convinced to masturbate on camera.
The “Drag Race” producers, ahead of the airing of the second part of the season 12 premiere and Sherry Pie’s first “Drag Race” appearance on Friday night, reacted swiftly. They issued a statement formally disqualifying her from “Drag Race,” and banned her from the season’s still to-be-taped finale episode. A disclaimer aired at the episode’s beginning. This came despite an apology from Gugliemelli on Sherry Pie’s Facebook page, which many “Drag Race” alumni and fans derided as self-centered.
Subsequently, Sherry Pie became only the second contestant to be disqualified in the history of “Drag Race” after Willam in season 4. Her fall from grace presents a very different situation from Willam’s, however, beginning with the fact that it comes after the conclusion of the show’s filming. As all the season’s queens participate in the finale, Sherry’s disqualification from the finale is not the spoiler feared in some fans’ initial reactions to the news. It does, however, cast something of a pall over the already primed-and-edited narrative of the season, as evidenced by the groans that greeted Sherry’s screen time at Friday’s watch party at Boston’s Club Café.
Additionally, Willam’s disqualification took place under vastly different circumstances, and the queen has become a consistent critic of both the show’s treatment of contestants and RuPaul himself. In reaction to the news, Willam lambasted RuPaul on Twitter for his reluctance to cast trans drag artists on the show. Other queens circled their wagons around the drag community, vilifying Sherry Pie for endangering the safe space they have found. Season 10 winner Aquaria issued one of the sternest rebukes, with season 9 and “All Stars 4” veteran Farrah Moan joining in.
Other prominent queens, however, cautioned against a witch hunt. Reigning winner Yvie Oddly urged fans not to unleash a barrage of online hate on Sherry Pie, noting the havoc it could wreak on her already-fragile mental health. Phi Phi O’Hara, the season 4 and “All Stars 2” veteran who has been on the receiving end of some of “Drag Race” fans’ harshest vitriol, suggested that fans use their energy to support both the victims of catfishing and the other queens competing on season 12. Some observers have cautioned against repeating the unfortunate tale of Caroline Flack, the U.K. “Love Island” villain who committed suicide following a gauntlet of negative press coverage and fan abuse on Feb. 15.
The Sherry Pie saga is the latest in a series of scandals that have plagued “Drag Race” since its early seasons. Since the show’s move to VH1 in season 9, however, the discontent has grown louder. Fans have noted how white queens and queens of color have not been treated equally by the show’s increased success, and the show has attracted increasing charges of transphobia in casting after earlier seasons were criticized for using transphobic slurs in several of the show’s elements. In light of #MeToo, some have gone so far as to call for the cancellation of season 12. Whether that would be an overreach is, unfortunately, impossible to predict. Sherry Pie’s disqualification certainly feels like a watershed moment. Whether it heralds a renaissance or a death knell for a show whose rise uncovers fascinating contradictions in its relationship to queer representation and history remains to be seen.