It has been some four years since we last heard from Rupaul and I have to admit that her unique energy and positive spin on all things is something that I think we could use right now.
I remember when Ru first came into the national conscience. It was 1992 and it seemed as if “that rebellious Gay Community” was always in the news. Houston’s Gay Community was going through so much then, between Queer Nation, Act Up, and The Paul Broussard case, RuPaul provided just the breath of fresh air that we needed to unwind.
It was as if RuPaul took the message of the activists “We’re here were queer get used to it!” and put a fresh non threatening spin on it. Boy did it work. The music was sassy and fun and not since Boy George had America fallen in love with a drag queen. Fast forward some twelve years and RuPaul is back with a new CD.
I caught up with RuPaul at her LA home on a recent Sunday afternoon as she prepared to leave for Rio.
SL: I understand that your first drag performance was at five in your front yard in a pink dress, doing The Supremes.
Ru: That’s right, doesn’t everybody do that? You think that’s abnormal?
SL: Absolutely Not! You spent a lot of time when you were little with your sisters, you were the only boy in an all female household. What influence did they have on you?
Ru: They taught me how to be compassionate. I don’t know if compassion is something you can teach, but they taught me how to make magic out of something that was pretty straightforward. You know my sister Renetta put some cookies in a brown paper bag and brought an old blanket out to the canyon and she said Ru this is a picnic. You know to anyone else that would have just been a brown paper bag with some cookies and a blanket. For her it was a picnic, and that really exemplifies the way I was taught to look at the world, you can make magic.
SL: You left home and moved in with your sister Renetta at fifteen, why?
Ru: I was having a hard time at school. First of all I was not happy, I mean when I hit fifteen the rebel in me came blaring out. I hated all authority and I just wanted to smoke cigarettes and talk back and that sort of thing. I had already flunked the tenth grade so Renetta said come live with me. And that’s what I did.
SL: But after moving in with Renetta in Atlanta you came to love school didn’t you?
Ru: Well I came to love school because it was The School of Performing Arts. I loved my school in Atlanta because it was the first time I was around other kids that were making magic also. You know I felt like such a freak saying that a bag of cookies was a magical picnic.
SL: You have a quote I love. You say you learned at the age of twenty that you had as much right to fulfill your dreams as any white person. What is RuPauls message to young African Americans?
Ru: You know I come from the ghetto, that mindset. You know most brown skinned people inherit a lot of anger that’s passed down through the generations, and a lot of self loathing too. So it wasn’t until I was about twenty that I really got the fact that it was ok to be however I wanted to be. That it was ok to not know something. I will never forget there was this girl in high school that I said to her, “Can I ax you a question?” and she said to me the word is ask. Of course, I have never said ax since.
It was from the time I left my mothers house at the age of fifteen until the time that I was about 21 that I really started loving things that I used to hate about myself. The way I spoke or the way you could tell that I was from country folks. My parents are from Louisiana, as a matter of a fact my sisters were born in Houston.
SL: I don’t know if people are aware how much that you have done in the fight against AIDS. You have helped MAC raise over Twenty-Two Million Dollars. How did this association come about.
Ru: They had been watching me for some time and wanted to do something in the fight against AIDS and they thought that I would be a great liaison with the community and with the street meets fashion look and the clientele that they had. I have had a lot of associations with corporations but the ones that have really made a difference were the ones where the people behind the corporation had a real maverick spirit. We have been able to dole out tons and tons of money to the charities.
SL: You have said that the most fulfilling experience of your career was The RuPaul Show on VH1, why?
Ru: People talk about one big happy family, well this was absolutely that, we just had a blast. We knew it wouldn’t last forever, but we just had a blast. We had a great time on the set, but behind the scenes??it was so much fun. Then to have guests on that wouldn’t have been considered A List guests for another talk show but in my world they were A List guests, there were all these people that I really wanted to talk to like Bea Author and Ester Rolle. We got to do the Porn Awards. It was just beautiful.
SL: You got an amazing fortieth Birthday gift when Madame Tussaud unveiled your wax replica. What was it like to see yourself in that light?
Ru: It’s the strangest thing to see your self three dimensionally. There are angles that you can see of yourself that you could never see even if a camera was on you. I had to sit for them five or six times and they measured everything-but it was great it looks exactly like me. You know the weirdest thing is knowing that this replica is going to be on this planet long after my bones turn to dust.
SL: Fast forward to today. You have said that you felt it was time for your voice to be heard again with all that is going on in the world. Why now?
Ru: You know, even up until seven months ago I didn’t think the time was right. About six months ago something happened and I knew the time was right. You know today we are basically living in the Fifties, with the censorship and the church and state have become almost synonymous. This country was built by people who were trying to get away from a state controlled by the Church. Don’t get me started.
SL: What can we expect from the new CD.
Ru: You can expect the fun, optimism, and kind of love anthems that people have come to couple with me but also I got to sneak in some songs from the man behind the mask. You know I wouldn’t have done that before on a record, but today I think that people are open enough to receive both.
To be perfectly honest I was ready to be disappointed by RuPaul Red Hot, a soon to be released CD of new material. I didn’t know if she could do it again. The verdict? I think she has. The first single: Looking Good and Feeling Gorgeous is just what I had hoped for. Looking Good is the same great fun that Supermodel was and it is not the only winner on this new offering.
Next time around, I catch up with Tammy Faye. We talk about her love for her Gay fans, make-up, and her battle with cancer.