"Everybody believes they ARE their identity. When the truth is we are all in drag."
With every drag race we supposedly find ‘America’s next drag superstar’ but let’s be honest, as much as we have total hard-ons for all our sisters, there will only be one drag superstar and her name is RuPaul.
We spoke to her a few years back, on the eve of our Grandma’s funeral – an emotional time – but in hindsight no better moment to speak to someone who has come to be known for their advice and wisdom.
Hello hello hello, how are you, Ru?
I’m good, thank you. And you?
I’m a bit nervous. I’ve been looking forward to talking to you.
I understand the nervous thing. I’ve been there and stuff but as an older gentleman it’s so funny for me to focus on that. It takes so much more to get that kind of thrill. The body, the ego, actually loves the feeling of that adrenaline. But obviously there’s nothing to get nervous about. Is the fear that I am going to hate you?
No, it’s just I have so many questions for you, I want to make sure this is the best interview EVER!
Well listen I am going to answer all those questions with this answer: 36, 24, 36 and yes they’re real.
OK, well, I guess ‘coming out’ is a good place to start. Was it ever an issue for you?
No, it never was. Obviously there was ‘shame’ in our culture. But not with my mother. She was a rebel, she championed me following my heart. She knew I was someone who was really sensitive and that it was important for me to experience all the colours.
Obviously performance was very important for you but at what point did you say ‘OK drag is what I love most?’
Well, I really started to focus on it when I needed to pay the rent. The Universe has stage directions for everyone if you are open to them. It was clear to me that people really responded to me in drag in a way that I’d never experienced before.
So as a businessman, and it is Show Business, I thought, ‘OK, sure whatever, let’s get it on.’ Then I had to really approach my feelings about drag, what I really thought of it, what the deeper meaning was. It’s pretty amazing when you really dig into it, when you fully understand that we’re all in drag in some form.
You mean the clothes we wear, the muscles we build…it’s all drag.
Yeah absolutely. We have a huge ego, we don’t believe that we too are in drag and I think that’s why people have such opposition to it. It’s not the gay thing, it’s more to do Drag Queens make fun of identity. Everybody believes they ARE their identity. When the truth is we are all in drag.
I spoke to Larry T and he said your road trip to NYC from Atlanta with him inspired ‘To Wong Fu’. Was that right?
Yeah it absolutely did. I remember when I read the script, and thought ‘Oh this guy, has clearly heard our story.’ Actually it’s funny because on Murder She Wrote earlier, there was this van that flipped over and it reminded me of our road trip. We were in this van and we blew the back tyre, spun round several times and still managed to wind up on all four tyres straight up. It was crazy. It could have turned out completely different. In hindsight the road trip had more to do with us breaking through into the next stage of our lives. It was benchmark that said that was ‘then’ this is ‘now’.
Do you think drag is more about being fishy these days than say the 90s and in the future drag queens will be more femme than performance?
I think there is everything and I think we exemplify that on our show. We make a point to use all different genres of drag on the show. That’s why people like Sharon Needles was there.
But even Sharon, for all that she is extreme, she still has those feminine attributes that perhaps the 90s queens didn’t have?
But she has that edginess in her philosophy and her approach to it. I think there are different ways to show edgy punk rock feeling. She does blood, glam, she does it all.
Obviously back in ‘94 you hung out with Elton John. Are you still in touch?
I see him from time to time – around Oscar time for his party but I’m not like ‘Hey girl, let’s go grab a cuppa.’
Over here he had his Civil Ceremony with David. What do you think about gay marriage?
Well, I don’t have any thoughts on it really. Right on, I’m for everybody! I mean, listen if you can find somebody you can stand to be around for more than an hour or two I say you are one step ahead, love them, marry them, get their name tattooed on your backside, do whatever. I’m for everything.
You’ve always kept your personal life private…
Well you know, in Show Business people use their Personal Life as a selling device. You see these couples who publicise that stuff and then complain when they don’t get any privacy whatsoever. It’s like ‘Bitch, you’re the one who pushed it in our faces.’ You have to keep some of that private.
How does it feel to know you are inspiring a new generation of not just gay boys but outsiders – helping everyone admit that they are all different.
Well, I love it, but my goal in life is never to just inspire, my goal in life is to have a good fucking time and enjoy myself. If people find inspiration in what I’m doing then, ‘Right on!’ I’ve got to get through this life myself and find something that is going to get me out of the house everyday. I am inspired by laughter, peace, joy and love.
Are there still things you want to achieve?
Yeah sure. I’d love to break the merchandising curse. There’s a story I heard from George Michael who said ‘You know, I used to have a lot of gay fans until I came out of the closet.’ It’s interesting because in terms of gay people supporting other gay people, that is still a tough nut we have to crack. There’s so much shame in the gay game that it makes it very difficult for gay artists to have the kind of support that someone like Britney Spears has with a gay audience.
Why is that?
I think it’s shame. It’s a weird component of the human ego storyline. I think it’s self-loathing.
I think there is camp-ophobia too.
Right that is self loathing and gay shame absolutely.
What age do you think you will retire the wigs to the shelf?
I have to live in the moment for today. I never thought I would do it this long. I always work, I always do something that interests me. But I have never been more popular than right now. None of the rules apply.
I loved your talk show when it was on. I thought it was interesting you had Nirvana as guests.
It was a great time. Maybe that will happen again. We had a great team, in fact it’s the same team who do Drag Race. But you definitely expected Nirvana on my show. They were Fashion forward.
Did you ever see The Golden Compass? I loved the analogy that when a person is young, their daemon or their spirit animal is changeable and isn’t fixed. But when a person is an adult, it is fixed and unmovable.
Well, Nirvana were young people and young people have a loely openess and that’s who they are and that’s who they were. They loved the drag and they loved the irreverance because in a masculine culture, drag is the most punk rock thing you can do.
From an early age boys are told that you mustn’t play with dolls or be feminine. Actually it’s even poo-pooed for girls to be feminine, there is such a stigma attached to it. It’s funny, straight guys are obsessed with acting gay or feminine. They can’t stop because it’s a part of them that has been so repressed. So once they start doing it, they are OBSESSED with it.
You seemed nervous when Diana Ross was on.
The talk show had several incarnations and she was my first guest. I WAS nervous. She is someone I have idolised my whole life. She was nervous too because we were starting this new show in this new form.
I don’t get nervous anymore. I practise being in the moment right here, because if I do it means I am projecting in the future or the past into the now. By practising in the right here, right now, it means all the nerves go away.
I have to do that tomorrow because I am reading at my Grandma’s funeral. I’m worried I’m going to break down in tears.
No no, do break down in tears, be a human being that is what you came here for. Also remember what your intention is, you want to honour her. It’s not about you. It’s about honouring her. Remember what your mission statement is. But be a human, don’t be afraid of your emotions.
You had Beenie Man on your show as well. Would you have him on again, bearing in mind his negative views towards homosexuality?
Did I?! You know the thing is people say lots of things. I’ve said lots of things. I don’t know what he is, I don’t know what he said, I’ve heard he said some nasty things but the child of God is innocent. ThoughI am not religious.
If you focus on a person’s innocence rather than their short comings you will live the happier life. What you project outwardly is what you end up giving in your life. So if you are a forgiving person and understand that when people are ill or they are sick, sometimes they say things they really don’t mean, you are able to also forgive youself and it creates a really loving experience in your life.
I didn’t come up with this stuff. These are things I’ve collected after being on this planet for a long time and then being in agony from some of the choices I have made. I have learned I can live a fucking happy ass life, I can move freely without this fucking baggage like ‘OK, so I like him, I don’t like her, I like her.’ [Laughs] It’s too much! Let it go.
Your Grandma would be saying to you now, ‘You are so fucking lovely, you have so much to live for, do it, it’s over in a heartbeat. Don’t focus on the bullshit, focus on the love, the laughter, the joy. Give love to somebody today.’
Will Drag Race go international?
You know, we’d love to but these fucking laws around the world, there’s a reason you can’t watch YouTube videos over there or buy stuff over here, it’s because the fucking Government wants their tax money. If you want an International Drag Race y’all are going to have to speak to the Government. We want to do all of that shit but it is made very hard by the Government trying to get visas and all that bullshit.
In the UK, we have to stream it illegally!
I know, it’s ridiculous! The land of the queens!
RuPaul, it’s been an honour.
You are a lovely lovely person and I have enjoyed speaking to you to. Alright kiddo, bye.