"We all played a part in the Bush fiasco," maintains supermodel RuPaul Charles, remarking on the outgoing administration. "We can't just point the finger at what they did; we have to take responsibility for our part. That's the only way we can advance and expand."
Pictured: RuPaul. Photo by Emmanuel Garcia,
Back in the limelight with a new dance song/music video, "Cover Girl ( Put the Bass in Your Walk ) ," and a new reality show, RuPaul's Drag Race, Charles credits his new visibility to the Obama presidency.
"I thought it was time after these eight years with the Bush administration, these eight years of fear, that a new generation be introduced to drag, because … anything to do with gender experimentation in a fear-based period of time has to go underground because it's too scary. So re-introducing drag to a younger generation was important for me."
Already a chart-topping musician ( "Supermodel ( You Better Work ) " ) , a seasoned actor ( Starrbooty ) , a well-heeled talk show host ( VH1's The RuPaul Show ) , a cosmetics spokesmodel ( for MAC ) , a Barbie substitute ( as the RuPaul doll ) , a memoir author ( Letting it All Hang Out ) and the world's most famous drag queen, Charles adds the roles of reality-show host, mentor and judge with RuPaul's Drag Race.
In the series, nine professional female impersonators are vying for the chance to be "America's next drag superstar."
Charles, who self identifies simply as Ru, appears as both his masculine and feminine personalities on Drag Race. He's joined at the judges' table, by fashion journalist Merle Ginsberg, Project Runway designer Santino Rice, and a dozen guest judges, including queer favorites Lucy Lawless, Jenny Shimizu and Tori Spelling.
What sets the show apart, Charles maintains, is the courage the contestants display. "Anybody who's ever decided they're going to leave the house in high heels, lipstick and a plastic wig on … [ when ] they're a boy, is so courageous! It takes so much chutzpah to do that."
In fact, Charles argues, simply by suggesting our identities are malleable, drag is downright dangerous.
"Throughout the ages, [ cross-dressing ] has reminded our culture that...you are not who you think you are. This is just a temporary package … and it's not to be taken seriously. Now, that knowledge threatens a lot of people who are so invested in their identity as a Christian or a Jew or as a black or as white or male, female, this, that. Drag is the antithesis of that. It's dangerous because if people accepted that message or really took it in, they would have to deconstruct who they are and … a lot of people don't have the guts to do that."
"Drag will always exist," Charles insists, despite the rise of gender bending and increasingly fluid self-identities. "It's really an enlightened state; that's why some of the gods in different religions have always had that duality. It's always compelling to see someone who is both strong and also nurturing. Drag [ queens and kings ] have always been the myth keepers of every culture, the witch doctors, the shamans."
For years Charles dodged the spotlight to focus on his family, and kept his distance from reality television, because, "I didn't want to do it if it were mean-spirited or derogatory."
Then Charles teamed up with the people behind his VH-1 show and says, "I knew that I was in safe hands. I knew that they felt the same way I did, that they would like to celebrate the people who dance to the beat of a different drummer." The result, RuPaul's Drag Race, premiered on Logo Feb. 2 at 9 p.m. CT.
Excited that "the time is right for me to be heard and be seen again," Charles also narrates the Starz channel documentary Ladies or Gentlemen, a history of cross-dressing in film, which premiered earlier this week and of featured commentary by the once controversial lesbian author Camille Paglia.
A career retrospective featuring Charles' most memorable gowns and ensembles is part of the RuPaul Drag Race art show—the largest exhibition by and about drag queens every assembled—currently on display at the World of Wonder Storefront Gallery, in Hollywood, California.
Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall is the author of Blind Faith, the latest Blind Eye mystery, which is already garnering rave reviews. To view the book trailer and find out more, check out blindeyemysteries.com .