E. Alex Jung’s interview with RuPaul in Vulture came out March 23, 2016 and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It dropped some bombs on me and shook the way I look at the world. If you haven’t read it, I highly, highly, highly recommend it (click here).
In writing this response I had to stop myself from just copying and pasting the whole article because I love it so much. Instead, here’s one of my favourite parts, one of the most poignant:
Jung: They often say that drag saved their lives.
Ru: Right. And I’ll tell you why. Because you get to a point where if you’re smart and you’re sensitive, you see how this all works on this planet. It’s like when Dorothy looks behind the curtain. Like, “Wait a minute. You’re the wizard?” And you figure out the hoax. That this is all an illusion. There’s only a few areas you can go. First, you get angry that you’ve been hoaxed and you get bitter. But then, take more steps beyond the bitterness and you realize, “Oh, I get it. Let’s have fun with it. It’s all a joke. You mean I don’t have to stick with one look or one whatever? I can shape-shift? Great.” That’s when you can save lives because otherwise the mediocrity and the hypocrisy is so mundane, it’s better to just not do it. I’m not going to say “end it all.” But that’s why it saves lives. Because for people who are highly sensitive and super-intelligent, it tickles the brain. It gives them something to live for. It’s the irreverence. I was the same way when I was 15. I said, “Okay, I’m gonna do this life. But I’m gonna do it on my terms, and I’m never gonna join the Matrix.” That’s why it saves lives.
Jung: Would you say that drag saved your life?
Ru: It actually didn’t save my life, it gave me a life. I don’t think there is a life in the mundane 9-to-5 hypocrisy. That’s not living. That’s just part of the Matrix. And drag is punk rock, because it is not part of the Matrix. It is not following any rules of societal standards. Boy, girl, black, white, Catholic, Jew, Muslim. It’s none of that. We shape-shift. We can do whatever we want.
I have been a big fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race for many years and have shown it to my friends, resulting in many multi-episode marathons as we all gag on the makeup, fashion and shade of it all. This article was the first time I really heard his voice, and it beamed right into my core.
Some people say that this interview doesn’t sound like Ru, but listen to even a few minutes of his podcast What’s the Tee with Michelle Visage and you’ll have no denial that it is Ru’s voice coming through loud and clear in this interview.
Ru is so smart, so self-aware, so aware of society. He knows exactly what’s going on and why it’s happening. Seeing this intelligent and punk rock side of drag, I want in…but as a woman I am unsure how to go about doing it. I’m not a gay man so I can’t enter it in the “truest” sense, nor am I a lesbian to become a Drag King. It doesn’t seem right to be to encroach on something that is so tied to their sexuality if I was a straight Drag King. Yes, there are straight males who perform as women, the most famous example being Dame Edna, but I don’t want to perform as a man. I want access to that femininity that I am not allowed to have as a straight woman. If you dress or act too sexy, you’re a slut; If you have an elaborate hair or over the top make up, you’re a vain bitch. If you dress one way, you’re frumpy, if you dress another you’re prude, and so on and so on. In drag everything is worn on purpose. If you’re dressed frumpy, it’s for a reason, and you are aware you look frumpy so you call it out, laugh at it and own it. It doesn’t seem fair that this freedom is available to gay men. They’ve manage to take all that being a woman is yet is societally not allowed to be and triumph with it. I can’t help but be jealous, you know?
I am also intrigued by Ru’s use of the word ‘Drag”. I’ve been listening to his podcast and both he and Michelle Visage use the them to refer to Michelle being in Drag, meaning big hair and lots of make up. They do say a lot of celebrity women are in drag, but seem to limit that to the altering of their physical appearance (to meet western standards of female beauty) not so much the punk rock, social comment, fuck the matrix part.
I haven’t quite figured out what my version of drag is, but I do know that this blog is part of it.
I’m sure if Ru read this post he’d give me crap for searching for a definition of Drag and say “quit stalling and just do it! There is no definition, kittyguuuur!” The definition fully lies in being what mainstream is not, right?
In the meantime, while I continue down the Ru-rabbit hole, I’ve been inspired to wear whatever I want. I’ve been doing this for years, as someone who has never really felt she belonged, or that anyone has ever ‘got’ her. I’ve always felt like someone on the outside, watching what was going on and not wanting a part with most of it. My version of drag was being identified as Gifted in school, and finding solace in that title and the “enhanced otherness” that is implied. It kinda gave me an explanation for how I felt, especially since the term indicates a different mental make up, not just being really good at math for example: “Of course I don’t fit in, and don’t want to, I’m gifted.” I am still unpacking the term ‘gifted’ and all that it means. Gifted kids have the highest school drop out rate, which seems to fit well with the “fuck the matrix” attitude of drag and with Ru’s Dorthony metaphor which really attracts me.
The lesson I have learned by going crazy with my make-up (which on busy days becomes my only artistic act of self-expression, and so I cherish and enjoy painting my face every morning) is: no one cares. Wear what you want. If people like it, they will let you know and you’ll get a nice confidence boost. If they hate it, they won’t say a word and you will never know. This law might not work online with the freedom of anonymity, but in person this law holds true for me.
I saw this video of female drag queens. I don’t quite know what I think about it. I love that it’s happening and hope it brings great things, especially for females like me who want to give it a try. What do you think?
Jung: How do you feel drag’s function has changed?
Ru: The function hasn’t changed. It’s been the same since the beginning of time when shamans, witch doctors, or court jesters were the drags. Which is to remind culture to not take itself seriously. To remind you that you are not your shirt or your religious affiliation. You are an extension of the power that created the whole universe. You are God in drag. You are dressed up in this outfit of a body, which is temporary. You are eternal. You are forever. You are unchanged. And this is a dream you’re having. So don’t get to attached to it. Make love. Love people. Be sweet. Have corn dogs. Dance. Live. Love. Fuck shit up. But it’s all good. You can’t fuck it up because you’re eternal.
For more of the gospel according to RuPaul definitely check out his podcast. I couldn’t recommend it more!