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RuPaul On Childhood, The Power Of Drag And The 'Tenacity Of The Human Spirit'

RuPaul Charles, front center, and the team from "RuPaul's Drag Race" accept the award for outstanding reality/competition program at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
RuPaul Charles, front center, and the team from "RuPaul's Drag Race" accept the award for outstanding reality/competition program at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

RuPaul Charles, America’s most famous drag queen, was abandoned by his father as a child. He says it was an experience he couldn’t let go. RuPaul tell us it was drag that finally set him free.


RuPaul Andre Charles, actor, model, singer, songwriter, television personality, author and the most successful drag queen of all time. Host and producer of the award-winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Author of the new book “ GuRu.” ( @RuPaul)

Interview Highlights

On reasons for writing the book

“Especially now, I think young people really do need a touchstone that could help navigate their journey. Our show really serves as that also, with the stories of the queens who apply for this competition reality show. They come from varied backgrounds, but they all have the struggle in common. They were ostracized by their family or society and had to make a way, had to sort of find the light to shine like a lotus in the mud. And in doing so, they are teaching young people how to not only find their tribe but to find their light and to shine in that light.”

On the departure of his father, and the wait for him to return

“He wouldn’t show up. And through years of therapy, all roads lead to that one moment. And I created an identity around that hurt. Looking back, it actually is something that I had to work through and that has made me stronger. And I have a lot of my personality packed into that one event in my life, and it’s a constant source of hurt, but also of renewal and of really having the perspective now to see that it was, yes, it was his loss more than anything, because he could not see the beauty that was there and the love that was there. I also feel sorry for my father, who is no longer with us, but that he couldn’t afford to experience that because of his own hurt and his own pain.

“The first half of my career was really about getting my father’s attention. Actually, years ago, the psychic told me that he and I had shared past lives together, which really explained why I was so dead set on reminding him of who he is. I felt like, ‘Hey, buddy. Oh my goodness. Here you are. This year we are going to rule the school.’ And he couldn’t see me, and I was like, OK, yeah. Oh, I see. You just need some of my joy, some of my excitement, some of my love to remind you of who you are.’ It just never really happened. So years and years of going through that, and therapy, I understood that he couldn’t possibly acknowledge that because he’d have to deconstruct all of his pain and walk through that. Not a lot of people can do that. That’s why I think our show drag race is so captivating, because we get to watch these courageous kids that society has thrown away find a way to shine in the light. And we want to know that story. Each of us can watching, each of us can relate to that. How do you stay on path. How do you stay on track.”

On recreating victimhood, and pushing through the pain

“I recreated it until I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I recreated the same scene. It’s like, ‘OK, here it is again. What’s my lesson here in this?’ And I recreated it in relationships, in my relationship to society. Being a black person in this country, we’re always very sensitive about, ‘Oh my goodness, is this going to be another put-down situation? Am I going to be rejected in this situation?’ And I had to work through that and I couldn’t carry that hurt with me anymore. Until I did the work. And the work involved taking two steps back, figuratively speaking, and looking at the whole scenario. And in regard to my father — my father was a damaged person. He was damaged by society, black rage, and so to key into my frequency of love and saying, ‘I love you so much,’ would force him to get in touch with his own feelings, which he couldn’t. It was too dangerous for him to do it. So, I thought, it’s my job to walk through that pain and see what’s on the other side of that. That’s what perspective allows you to do so. Here I am on the other side of it, and I can recognize when I’m walking myself back to that porch, so to speak, and say, ‘No, no, that hurt wasn’t on you. And I’m sorry that that happened to you. But that wasn’t on you, that was on him. It had nothing to do with you and do not let your ego co-opt that situation to put yourself down.’ In fact, when I think about these beautiful children on that porch — my sister and myself, waiting — we’d say, ‘Next car is going to be Daddy. Next car is going to be Daddy.’ We were on that porch all day long and that happened many times. It wasn’t just one occurrence. When I look back on that with perspective I see that it wasn’t my fault. And it’s important for me to push past that and create an identity that doesn’t involve me being a victim.

“If you create an identity around being victimized, my ego will continue to look for situations to strengthen that identity so that I know where I stand. So I, in my life, I kept recreating the little boy left behind on the porch. I just kept recreating it, until I said, ‘No, the problem isn’t what the world is doing to me. The problem is that I am actually attracted to those situations.’ In fact, it sounds weird, and the ego is not going to like me saying this out loud, but I had fetishized the idea of being left behind. In fact, I sought out situations that reconfirmed the identity I created.”

On how “Drag Race” and drag in general challenge identity and give way to strength

“The show challenges the contestants to figuratively die and become reborn into their higher self. And when I look back on my own life, I realize that the worst things that happened to me ended up being the best things that happened to me because I got to understand what real strength is and what my own strength is. I think the people watching our show, they get that, and they understand that at the core of our show, it’s about the tenacity of the human spirit and how you are an extension of the power that created the whole universe. You can access that power at any time, but when you’re pressed, in those horrible situations that these kids named, when you’re pressed, that’s when that power comes out. So if anybody out there is listening to us right now, understand that what you’re going through is part of your metamorphosis. I say this even in our country right now, which seems so divided and so ugly, but I have to believe that out of this metamorphosis — it’s like a butterfly — this violent metamorphosis. beauty will emerge. And that’s what we watch on our show, season after season. We see these kids who have gone through a lot, and they emerge as great beauties and heroes.

“My therapist said, ‘You know, the power that you feel in drag — or my Superman or Wonder Woman — you know, you can access that at any time.’ I tell you, it had never occurred to me. Because, you put the outfit on, and immediately people see you differently, they treat you differently. But I have that same power out of drag, which is monumental. It’s huge, that concept. And I want the kids on the show, the contestants, I want them to understand that that is huge. And for anyone listening, you can access that power at any time. You are an extension of the power that created the whole universe. Oh, and you know, most people have forgotten that, conveniently. They’ve conveniently forgotten that. Stop playing small. Play your greatness. Do your greatness. I think most people don’t play their greatness because it takes a lot of responsibility. You have to be mindful and you have to take care of yourself.”

From The Reading List

Money: “ ‘I’ve Lost Count.’ RuPaul Can’t Remember How Many $10,000 Gowns He Owns” — “RuPaul’s new book GuRu is more of a spiritual guidebook than a memoir.

“Sure, the nuggets of wisdom he sprinkles throughout are a little more, um, blunt, than traditional religious texts (i.e.,“Having a fat ass is a good thing” and “Get yourself a colonic immediately”). But trust: As one of the most successful people in show business, and the best-known drag queen ever, Mama Ru knows a thing or two about keeping your priorities straight.”

CNBC: “ How ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ helped mainstream drag culture — and spawned a brand bringing in millions” — “During the final weekend of September, tens of thousands of people filled New York’s Javits Center. Many were dressed in colorful wigs and fierce heels; they flocked to panels for over-the-top makeup tutorials and fashion runway shows. Others waited in line to meet former contestants from hit reality TV show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ and they bought merchandise such as ‘Charisma’ pins and ‘Oh, Pit Crew!’ underwear. All this for a $40-a-day ticket.

“Welcome to DragCon, or more specifically, RuPaul’s Dragcon, the multimillion-dollar extravaganza that’s the drag industry’s answer to comic con.”

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