My Mother is a 6’7’’ statuesque, African-American blonde woman who is an Emmy-winner television host and award-winning singer, model and actress.
Now, for those of you who know me and my family: you are probably confused on a few things when it comes to that statement. Firstly, my mom was short with dark hair and my mom is currently in her eternal rest.
My Mother is RuPaul and today we’re going to talk about how important it is for so many queer people to have a person that they can call “Mother”.
Some background: I have been watching Drag Race since Season 4 (which was around the time the dinosaurs still roamed). And back then, I was a high school student and still fairly in the closet. Any time I tried to discuss such a nuanced topic I was told that I was either just confused or seeking attention. So my enjoyment of Drag Race was mostly for the drama, extravagant costumes and the music.
And in the years since Season 4, my opinions on the show have shifted. And those shifts have also been related to some of my feelings with the LGBT community, my own personal identity and how Mama Ru herself has softened in her age.
Now, some history on RuPaul Charles. Mama Ru did not spring forth from the cleavage of Michelle Visage in the early 2000s. RuPaul made her name as a model, performer and entertainer in the 1980s and 1990s. For a while, you probably saw her everywhere but you’d likely never attach the majestic woman to the equally handsome man. Many likely didn’t even know that Ru was biologically male for many of those early years and many just never questioned the unnaturally tall beautiful model. In the 1990s and 2000s, RuPaul could be seen as a guest on many television shows: she was even on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, for heaven’s sake.
RuPaul started her drag Hunger Games in 2009 and the show did…fine? It was fine. Not many got to see the mythical first season and things didn’t really pick up until Seasons 2 and 3. All the while, RuPaul the person was just that: she had stopped a few of her cameo appearances and while she was still making music: her biggest role was as host to the show. She didn’t have much of a public presence and didn’t weigh in on the political matters pertaining the LGBT community. She had an empire to build.
This seemed to shift around Season 4: a season that famously had a challenge that centered around the theme of “Hope Floats” in honor of the brave LGBT members we lost during the Stonewall Riots. During that episode, many of the older drag queens took their time to explain to the younger queens that drag isn’t just about going on the Internets and looking fish: it is political and was not always socially accepted. It was moving hearing Latrice Royale and Chad Michaels discuss drag herstory to younger queens who only saw the art of drag as a means to celebrity.
And from Season 4 on: Ru only got more political. Her music has always been a jab at current politics and policies and when marriage equality passed in 2015: she and the show celebrated. But the show continued to face issues that mirrored the LGBT community. While per season, at least one queen came out as a trans woman: the show didn’t really know how to handle a trans woman who still is a drag queen or what that line even is between gender identity and playing a woman for tips. Ru famously stayed quiet on such matters for years and we didn’t get an open and proud trans woman as a queen until Peppermint in Season 9.
But the transformation hit around the time of the Pulse Massacre. In 2016: a domestic terrorist took aim at a pinnacle of the Florida LGBT community and many lives were tragically lost. There was the RuPaul that many of us have come to know: vocal, angry and an advocate for LGBT people of all ages, races and creeds. Famously, during an awards show, RuPaul came on stage to discuss the shooting and said proudly “Don’t f*ck with my family.” It’s a moment that still brings a tear to my eyes watching the proud figure we always needed take shape. She gave a platform to queens to tell their stories: most seasons now feature new queens and older ones because the younger girls seem to have all forgotten their herstory. She brings together mostly diverse types of queens, though they do often skew towards her own tastes: she favors dancers, models and the occasional comedy queen.
Drag has been inherently political for as long as there has been drag and RuPaul is very aware of that. So she has now been spending her time using her voice and platform to build up queens, queers and other members of the LGBT family while also being very careful with how and who she supports. She quickly shunned Willam Belli after he was outed as a bit of a transphobe and was quick to disregard PhiPhi O’Hara after her bullying and diva behavior: but she did accept PhiPhi back into her loving arms after the drama queen PhiPhi pulled queens together for several benefit shows.
And over time, around the start of Season 5-6, we started seeing a change in Ru herself. She started referring to herself as “Mother” more and more. Now, for drag queens, you often do have a drag mother. Your Drag Mother is the person who teaches you how to tuck, gets you gigs and makes sure no one steals your tips. This role is not one to be taken lightly, think of it like a Gay Fairy Godmother. For so many LGBT folks, family is not always just the one you were born into. Family often means the people that add value to your life and it is often times a family that you choose. Which is why it’s so important to have someone public facing, ideal and supportive. In her…older age, Mama Ru is supportive, kind, loving but still unafraid to tell it like it is. It’s inspiring to have someone like that to look up to at any age: someone willing to tell you to love yourself because they know how hard that can be.
And it is because of that, I am proud to call Ru “mother”.