RuPaul Andre Charles
Drag queen, author, singer, host, supermodel of the world
“You know when I started out, they told me I couldn’t make it,” RuPaul said in the 1995 documentary Wigstock: The Movie. “They said, ‘ain’t no big black drag queen in the pop world and you ain’t gonna do it.’ And look at the bitch now!”
Born in San Diego, California, RuPaul Andre Charles developed his drag persona in Atlanta and New York in the 1980s. Since her 1993 breakout single, “Supermodel,” Ru has kicked her size 12 stilettos even further into the mainstream with more pop hits, a cult-favorite talk show, movie roles, dolls, books (including the self-help book RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style) and even a figure in Madame Tussauds.
And that’s not even including a little show called RuPaul’s Drag Race.
RuPaul, now 51, can also be credited with challenging perceptions of what it means to be gay, black, and for that matter, a drag queen. Her 2004 album, Red Hot, featured appearances by blackface drag personality Shirley Q. Liquor, stirring up dialogue about race and racism. Last year, three teachers at Los Angeles’ Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School were suspended over allowing students to carry photos of “questionable” African-American role models, including RuPaul, at a Black History Month parade.
But to Ru, her drag persona is a means, not an end: “The superficial image I project is a social commentary on the world we live in,” RuPaul said in an interview in the Willamette Week. “I’m saying, ‘Look, I’m beautiful with all this stuff on, but that truth is who I really am has nothing to do with any of this stuff… It’s not real at all. I never said it was.”
Can we get an “amen” up in here?
NEXT: Bill T. Jones steps it up
Photos: David Shankbone, Logo
Divas: demanding, entertaining, talented “ladies” who provide much-needed distraction in our troubled world. They are also, usually, total bitches.
That wasn’t the case with the delicious diva known as RuPaul, who’s not a woman at all, just the world’s most famous drag queen, and someone who has been notably absent from the pages of Us Weekly for the past several years.
But this dance-club fave is once again claiming tabloid headlines (he just unveiled the world’s first tranny fashion doll in her likeness-see right), and is about to get a lot of local attention when he headlines at CC Slaughters. But will gays embrace Ru like they did back in the early ’90s when the “Super Model of the World” was blaring “You Better Work!” all over the radio and runway? I had to find out.
While Ru was a bit threatening at first, the diva duel I’d anticipated never materialized. The most dramatic soundbite? When I asked him if he had any special plans while visiting Portland, RuPaul replied, “I plan on looking your ass up and kicking your ass, man.”
But that was the old RuPaul. After he dropped a few bitchy lines, I heard the voice of the new RuPaul on the other end of the line.
“I have to remind myself every day of what is real, and what is real is love,” said the 45-year-old RuPaul Andre Charles. “The superficial image I project is a social commentary on the world we live in. That’s why the doll is so important to me. I’m saying, ‘Look, I’m beautiful with all this stuff on, but that truth is who I really am has nothing to do with any of this stuff. I’m actually letting the cat out of the bag by saying it’s not real at all. I never said it was.”
So does the doll have all the right parts?
“I don’t know what all the right parts are,” he laughs. “It’s interesting. Hidden meanings are exciting to me: Living outside the box as a gay man, or as a gay little boy, I got to see that hypocrisy, and I always wanted to say, ‘Soylent Green is people!
‘”I don’t need to make a whole lot of money,” he says. “And I don’t need to become more famous. There are a lot of young people who need to see someone living their life outside the box and being successful at it. The shamans and the witch doctors remind each culture to not take themselves too seriously. They mock our culture by being both male and female, but in that context, there is a much deeper message, which is that we are all the same.”