Above picture portrays interview between Rupaul Charles and Oprah Winfrey which can be found on YouTube.com
Rupaul Charles is arguably one of the most commercially successful drag queens on the planet. His long discography of successful hit singles and multiple television shows have received international acclaim. When the first season of Drag Race was produced back in 2009 the network did not give the show a huge budget due to predictions of a very specific limited audience and the plain fact that this was the first show of its kind. However, the show transcended into one of the biggest franchises on television and has now nine seasons and three spin off shows.
When I found out that Rupaul did a 50 minute interview with Oprah, I was positively gagging darling. That’s right, two of my favourite people in one room on camera! In a series of interviews that Oprah is hosting namely SuperSoul Conversations, she explores issues such as influence, culture shifts, inspiration, childhood struggles and more. To my surprise, I have changed my opinion of Rupaul entirely. I have always associated him as a strong extrovert and have rarely seen any signs of vulnerability (especially in drag when his female persona almost literally sucks the life out of the room). In this review of the stimulating conversation between two queens in their own right, I have tried to interpret some of the opinions of Both Rupaul and Oprah and to express some of my own on some of the touching subjects that come to light.
First off, what jumped out at me was when Oprah described Rupaul as “a symbol that inspires not only young gay people but also so many people at the midst of their own questioning, pain and identity”. So Rupaul does not only receive thanks and praise from gay fans and drag queens but from every single walk of life. He speaks of hearing from people who are as he describes “too sensitive for this world”. Now, it’s one thing to be a gay icon. But when a gay man dressed in drag has the ability to inspire and influence a straight audience too, it breaks so many traditions and ‘norms’ that society has put up in front of us. I believe it demonstrates strong progress and a positive and refreshing shift in our way of thinking in the 21st century. Moreover, it really goes to show that all of that sensitivity, all of that pain really knows no sexuality nor gender. We are all humans and we can all relate… Can I get an amen?
During the conversation and all the questions of gender conformity and drag, Rupaul states how “It is the easiest thing for a man to throw on a suit, a jacket and a shirt and you’re done- and you look great”. What Ru is saying is that what you wear changes peoples perception of you. And I agree with this entirely. For example, a man walks into a room dressed in a suit is more likely to be paid attention to than one who is dressed casually. It’s not discriminative as such it’s just the what the world has taught us. He goes onto say: “If we can control the way people see us and interpret us through the way we dress, why not use it to our advantage?” Now this is where it gets interesting. Is it possible that we can alter the way in which people perceive us through our image? It all comes down to perception and how society has engraved the perfect image of how a respectful man should look. That means a suit. So in my opinion, that is what drag is partly about. Rupaul repeatedly says in the interview with Oprah that it is important to not take yourself too seriously. Viewing yourself as your polar opposite, less serious, more gender fluid self is almost a parody to how we live our lives everyday. Drag is not just a self-expression; but a lesson in self-awareness.
This moves us to the question of the definition of being. What truly defines us? Is it our social class? Our sexuality? It is a debate that even the most experienced philosophers could ponder on for hours. When this question was put to Ru, he replied: “Today? The moon, the stars and the sun? I’m everything and nothing at all.” Here Rupaul is saying that he has no labels. He has never quite fitted in with a particular niche and what’s more, has never tried. This could have been the key to his success. After all, the most famous icons in herstory have stood out from the crowd and failed to conform to society’s rules and ‘definitions’. That is where drag and gender fluidity come into the mix. On a spiritual level, I believe Rupaul is saying to the world every time he becomes his persona that he refuses to be labeled by the expectations of our society. Rupaul refers to this in the interview as The System and how he never desires to live within it and moreso never valued its opinion of him.
Furthermore, as the two discuss Rupaul’s upbringing and childhood, it became pretty clear that he did not have the best start in life as he elaborates on his mother and fathers’ abusive relationship. As a coping mechanism that helped him deal with this childhood stress he recalls watching episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus with his sister. He claims that the show inspired him and taught him to not take anything to seriously and above all, to have fun. He describes watching the show was almost like a sanctuary from the chaos of life. Whilst on the subject of childhood, Rupaul recalls having very strong feelings of sadness and depression as a young person. When asked about the source of this pain, his reply was “knowing there was something more for him”. Oh boy was there. What is so extraordinary is that Rupaul found a way out of this depression and shaped his future exactly according to his own talents and personality. I think anybody would agree that is a phenomenal success in its own right.
Finally, from reflecting on the past seasons of Rupaul’s Drag Race, a few things have now become very clear to me. On the show he speaks of the inner saboteur and how if we defeat our inner defeatist we can conquer the world. Every word of advice he bequeaths unto the girls is coming from experience. He openly admits this to Oprah: “When I’m giving the girls spiritual advice, I’m really saying it to myself too”. Now as I recite every Rupaul quote in my head I can really understand exactly how this guy has become what he is today. He talks about how “loving yourself is a daily practice” which is probably why he repeats it at the end of every god-damn episode.
Now I will sashay away.
Wednesday, 14th February 2018.