Love Can Be a Drag
How RuPaul’s Drag Race Changed My Life
My father and I often had dinner together when he traveled to the City for work. He’s not a very adventurous man, nor eager to part with his money, so we often ended up in the same Chinatown dumpling shop or pizza joint near my apartment. It was on one of these nights, after yet another failed relationship, that I confessed to him, “Dad, I think I’m a weird girl.”
He looked at me with confusion, which turned to mild disgust, and without making eye contact said, “I think you need to go to church.”
He and my mother had both tried in their own ways to instill some sort of spirituality in me throughout my childhood. On his weekends, we attended Catholic church and sat in the very back so we could pass notes to each other or play silly games to make the time go faster, at least until after communion when he would go off on his own and kneel against the wall, eyes closed and face anguished. My mother dabbled in many different religions, dragging us to Unitarian meditations or Franciscan renewal centers or Buddhism by way of popular memes. I think today she’s practicing in the church of Marie Kondo.
Despite the introduction to many different organized religions, I didn’t feel a sense of belonging in any of them so my father’s advice felt empty and isolating. It wouldn’t be until ten years later that I discover a faith that changed my life. A faith that worships Cher, voguing, and irreverence. A faith that congregates in gay clubs around the country to venerate their priestess, RuPaul, as she serves her weekly sermon during RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Mama Ru, as she’s affectionately known by fans, ends every episode with the same homily:
“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen up in here?”
This isn’t just a catchphrase. Many of these beautiful queens have been through so much, too much, to get where they are and need to hear it every week. Many of the show’s fans need to hear it. I needed to hear it.
My obsession with marriage started young.
The first Halloween I was able to decide my own costume, I chose to be a blushing bride marrying none other than my little brother. No one seemed to question this bizarre, mildly incestuous choice.
As a little girl, I didn’t just have an imaginary friend, I had an imaginary husband. His name was Joss and my father found it quite amusing to accidentally slam Joss’ hand in the front door or run over Joss with the car or set Joss on fire. A few years later, after both he and Joss left, I watched my mother crumble before picking up the pieces and finding another man.
In high school, David had a crush on me and I wanted a starter groom. So began a relationship that I’m still recovering from in my thirties. We taught each other how to love — and how to destroy — another person. When there was nothing left to break, I tried like my mother to pick up the pieces and find another man. I’ve been doing that for over a decade.
The love I felt for myself was so closely tied to the love David had for me, and I wasted my twenties unsuccessfully chasing love like the drug it is until I went a little insane from withdrawal.
During that time, I often cried myself to sleep, stroking my own head and pretending it was someone else’s hand. I fell deeply in love with strangers on the subway who had given me half-hearted, probably sympathetic, smiles. I twisted my rings around to look like solid bands and stared at them with a Gollum-like desire. My birthdays became little more than devastating reminders that my ticking time-bomb of a uterus was one step closer to detonation, and I’d drink until I could no longer hear the beat. In my egomaniacally lesbian phase, I lusted after a woman who slightly resembled me. Then I suffered through deep depression and a drug overdose after an abrupt ending to a brief affair. So brief, in fact, that when I lamented to my father, “I didn’t even get to say goodbye,” he countered, “Did you even say hello?”
My own father, reading me for filth.
But no matter what, I always came back to David either in my mind or in my bed. My mother said my first love would be the touchstone by which I judged all other relationships and dammit, she was right.
Before attending RuPaul’s DragCon alone in downtown Los Angeles a few months ago, I texted him after nearly three years of silence. This was, unknowingly, days before his wedding to a lovely girl whom my mother said looks like me — but that’s neither here nor there.
I needed to know if he would have accompanied me to the convention because, despite my desperation to get married, I am notoriously persnickety about the boys I choose to date (to the point of breaking up with someone for ordering a well-done burger) but I truly believed willingness to participate in this holy sacrament non-negotiable in a potential mate. David could confirm the reasonability of this expectation. And if he said yes, then there must be other enlightened, straight males who could love a weirdo like me, so I would continue my search instead of vowing a life of celibacy (read: casual sex).
He jokingly replied that I’m clearly enjoying being on the other side of 30, and also that he would have loved to go, being a big fan of RuPaul himself. This did not make me feel better — surprise!
My mind started wandering back to our own wedding plans dreamed up while listening to R.E.M. or Radiohead or the Pixies in my little, purple Celica on the mean streets of our Pittsburgh suburb.
I should have left it at that, but I’m an emotional cutter so I followed up asking if he liked Beyonce’s Lemonade album and he informed me that he and the soon-to-be missus had tickets to see her in concert a few weeks later.
On the final day of the convention, Mother’s Day, I put on my most sickening Sunday best, dressing to impress my favorite apostles — Adore Delano, Alaska 5000, Sharon Needles, Raja, Bob the Drag Queen, Violet Chachki, Kim Chi, and Milk — and made the pilgrimage via the Expo Line to the LACC.
I sat anxiously in the pew of a large meeting room with my brothers and sisters and pansexuals to receive our savior Ru’s keynote speech, and wondered how this would compare to His messages on Logo TV. Previous gospels spread to His disciples included such loving testaments as, “we choose our families,” after hearing yet another tale of abuse and neglect from a contestant thrown out of his home just for being. Bowie only knows what the sage would share today.
He took to the plush, red pulpit with His signature patterned suit and glasses, preaching about His mother defeated by the darkness of life, and having to fight that tendency by surrounding Himself with light, magical people. The congregation consumed His infectious giggle like communion and revered His consecrated runway strut. But nothing struck me quite like the final moments of His address, when He took us to church with the following statement:
“You’re God. Can you handle it?”
I’m God? No, you’re God.
I’m God? I’m God.
Up to this point an established, fantastical scripture had dictated my existence with the dogma that you live a complete and happy life by participating the right way. Only it didn’t always feel right to me. It felt, in a word, weird.
But today, in this convention hall turned sacred House of Xtravaganza, my demons were exorcised by Divine intervention, and I experienced nirvana realness.
We are often told you don’t dare swim against mainstream expectations or you’ll never be fulfilled, but drag isn’t mainstream and neither am I. I’m not weird. I’m fucking God.
Ru always says life is a game He learned how to play. I picked up the pieces and found myself.
Add to the list of gender inequalities that the same amount of time men spend thinking about having sex, I’m thinking about freezing my eggs.
A few weeks after uncovering my almighty power, I made another confession to my father that I wanted nothing more in this life than to have a child, and I might just do it on my own. In turn, he confessed that he’s not as traditional as I think he is, and that he would love and support that child — both children. I asked him if he thought it was unfair or selfish to raise a child on my own, and he responded that it’s a hell of a lot better than raising children in a loveless marriage. Can I get an amen up in here?
Upon sharing this revelation with my mother she replied, “Oh honey, stop it. You’ll find someone.” No shade, but it’s funny that she turned out to be the more traditional of the two. I know she just wants me to be happy and hasn’t yet accepted that I’ve conceived my own definition of a felicitous life, having been delivered from the requisites of others.
Tucking (pun intended) conventions aside can be frightening, but being a small part of this community that loves and accepts everyone so deeply, despite being the recipients of so much hate, makes it a little easier — and much more glamorous. For the first time in my existence, I truly love myself.
I realize Ru-ligion isn’t for everyone. We don’t all believe Peaches Christ werked for our sins. But if you have an ounce of charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent you will find your light, magical people.
Latrice be with you, squirrel friends.