RuPaul: ‘We’re God Playing Dress Up. That’s What Drag Is About’

The world's most famous drag queen chats about the new season of "Drag Race" and the importance of mentors in the LGBTQ community, then he puts picky eaters and a PDA-obsessed couple on notice.

(Photo Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Rico Gagliano: Each week you send in your questions about how to behave, and here to answer them this week is RuPaul. Not sure he needs an introduction, but suffice it  to say he’s probably the best-known drag queen in the world —

RuPaul: Best known drag queen in the world?! I am the most famous drag queen in the history of the world!

Brendan Francis Newnam: We were just about to say that!

RuPaul: OK, bitch, now don’t get it twisted.

Rico Gagliano: Possibly of all time.

RuPaul: Possibly of all time? Possibly?! I don’t understand you people!

(Photo Credit: VH1) Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m gonna finish up this lead. You’ve released a slew of hit records. Is that true?

RuPaul: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Dueted with Elton John.

RuPaul: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And last year, you won an Emmy for hosting the competition show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

RuPaul: Uh huh.

Rico Gagliano: You’re much easier on Brendan!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, because I didn’t say that he was “probably!”

RuPaul: “Probably.” “Possibly.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: The ninth season of that show debuts March 24th on VH1. RuPaul, it’s an honor to have you here.

RuPaul: Oh, thank you.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I know you’re the best-known drag queen of all time.

Rico Gagliano: Don’t make me the enemy!

RuPaul: You are the enemy, I’m afraid.

Rico Gagliano: I’m down with RuPaul as well! Actually, let’s ask you this: If you ask, I think, the average person in the world to name one drag queen, they would name you. Maybe the late Divine. And they might be unable to name anyone else. What do you think made you, above all other drag queens, a household name?

RuPaul: Probably my breath.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Which is marvelous, by the way, radioland.

Rico Gagliano: It’s a delight.

RuPaul: No, I don’t know if they’d be able to name Divine. Most people are really dumb. And — I’ll speak frankly — most people don’t remember anything.

Actually, I DJed at a party last night for Planned Parenthood, a benefit. And I really thought people my age — I’m 56 — would come out. It was from 7 till 11.

Rico Gagliano: Not a late night.

RuPaul: Yes. And I brought a playlist that was really suited for them. Well, the people who came were all children who watch our show! Children who can get into a night club.

Brendan Francis Newnam: The young people really like you. They like the show.

RuPaul: They like me, but they don’t know who Divine is. They don’t know. And that’s one of the reasons our show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” is so important because we end up teaching them about Divine. I think one of the seasons we had a Divine challenge, where the kids dressed up as Divine. You know in my day we had mentors and —

Brendan Francis Newnam: Who was your mentor?

RuPaul: I had several. When I found my tribe, I had gay mentors, who were like 12 years older than me, who taught me about Fellini, and Tallulah Bankhead, and Truman Capote, and all of the important things.

Rico Gagliano: All the cultural touchpoints that sort of undergird gay culture.

RuPaul: Exactly. But after the plague of the ’80s [AIDS], those people moved away, and the young people didn’t have mentors. So, what’s happened is our show has taken up the slack and really taught a generation of kids about “Grey Gardens,” the documentary, and lots of things that they should know about.

Rico Gagliano: What do you think is the hardest thing that you end up teaching them? What’s the hardest thing about drag that maybe the casual viewer or maybe the amateur performer doesn’t realize?

RuPaul: Well, what they really don’t realize is that the big message with drag is not about being a woman. It’s a commentary and an act of social treason, really, to say, “You are not the body you think you are. You are not what it says you are on your driver’s license. You are an extension of the power that created the whole universe.”

The season 9 cast of "RuPaul's Drag Race." (Photo Credit: VH1)
The season 9 cast of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” (Photo Credit: VH1)

We are not separate from one another. We’re one thing. And that one thing we are, for lack of a better word — I’m not religious — for lack of a better word, we like to use the word “God.” That’s what we are. We’re God playing dress up. That’s what drag is about. We’re mocking the ego. We are mocking identity. The concept of an identity. “I am a Catholic white from Devore, New Jersey.” Whatever. All those things.

Throughout the ages drag has been that: with shamans or witch doctors or court jesters who remind you that you are more than what you think you are. You are an extension of the power that created the whole universe. Don’t forget it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I feel empowered right now.

RuPaul: You are, you should. Good! My work is done here.

The protocol on drag names

Brendan Francis Newnam: Our first etiquette question comes from David in New Orleans. David writes, “What’s the protocol for addressing someone by their drag name as opposed to their name at birth?”

RuPaul: You know, it’s not important. Nothing’s really important.

When you are a sweet sensitive soul on this planet, what happens is, there are these stages of realization. The first stage of realization is that you’ve been lied to. That this whole world is really a hoax.

So, initially you get angry. And then you become bitter and you become cynical. And then the next stage beyond that is where you don’t take anything all that seriously. You can laugh about it. A lot of people get stuck in the cynicism and the bitterness, but if you’re really an ascended human you go on to the laughter and not taking everything too seriously.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m glad to know that’s next for me.

RuPaul: Exactly. So, in the laughter phase of this, all the pronouns and all that stuff is like, “Whatever. It doesn’t matter, it’s not important.”

Rico Gagliano: You don’t mind if they use your drag name or your name at birth.

RuPaul: It doesn’t matter.

Brendan Francis Newnam: David, I think you have your answer.

Dessert dictator

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Rachel in San Francisco, California. Rachel writes, “Say you’re hosting a dinner for a few friends. You send out an email to guests the day before with a menu that consists of say, Greek chicken, rice pilaf, a cucumber salad, and for dessert, peanut butter pie. Then you receive a response from one of the guests that says, ‘Just so you know, I don’t like peanut butter.’ How do you respond to that?”

RuPaul: I don’t respond. You know, your little things that you have going on inside of you…

Brendan Francis Newnam: Your little peanut butter problem…

RuPaul: Yeah. That ain’t none of my business. Bitch, you don’t have to eat the peanut butter pie! You can have a nice glass of ice water. How about that?

Rico Gagliano: Dumped on your head!

Brendan Francis Newnam: You would give them ice? That’s nice of you! I would just give them water.

RuPaul: People are very particular. You know, there’s a generation of young people who grew up, whose parents, you know, I guess they helicopter them. And everything is so particular and, “Me, me, me! What about me? What about my special needs?!?” Listen, that’s up to you and your life coach or your therapist. That ain’t got nothing to do with me.

Annoyed by PDA, regardless of sexual orientation

Brendan Francis Newnam: This next question comes from Iris in Chicago. That’s a great name — I’ve always loved the name.

RuPaul: Iris? I do too.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So Iris writes, “My brother came out of the closet last year and now has a boyfriend. My family is 100 percent accepting of his sexuality and happy to welcome anyone he cares for into the family. But they” — [her] brother and his boyfriend — “are very, very affectionate to the point that it makes everyone uncomfortable. Now we would be uncomfortable if he were doing this with a woman, but we feel like we can’t say anything without coming off as homophobic. Is there a way to ask them to tone it down without making him question our acceptance?”

RuPaul: Oh, see now, the problem with that question is that she is worried about what he might say afterward. And that’s in the future. You have to stay in the now. If your focus is what might happen down the road, that’s already a problem.

You just come out and say, “You know what? I don’t want to see that! Man, woman, I don’t care. I’m trying to eat my peanut butter pie over here!”

Rico Gagliano: “My delicious peanut butter pie!”

RuPaul: “Delicious! Followed by a glass of ice cold ice water!”

Brendan Francis Newnam: “Do you want some ice water on your lap? Because you guys are getting too close!”

RuPaul: That is exactly right.

You know, in acting class there’s this thing where you’re taught about a phone conversation. A phone conversation when there’s another person in the room. Say you’re sitting over there, and I’m talking to Rico on the phone. Everything I’m doing on the phone, talking to Rico is actually for your benefit. They teach that in acting class. So, when people are doing that public display of affection, it’s not for them, it is actually for the other people in the room.

RuPaul and Lady Gaga in the season 9 premiere episode of "RuPaul's Drag Race." (Photo Credit: VH1)
RuPaul and Lady Gaga in the season 9 premiere episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” (Photo Credit: VH1)

Rico Gagliano: Whether they say so or not.

RuPaul: Whether they say so or not. So it’s important for the other people to say, “Listen, I’m onto you. I got your number, hussy. I know what you’re doing. And you know what? Don’t.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Iris, I think you have your answer. You just come out and say it.

Rico Gagliano: Do it. Stay in the now.

Bachelorette parties in LGBTQ spaces

Brendan Francis Newnam: Justin writes, “What are your thoughts on bachelorette party etiquette at drag shows/gay bars?”

RuPaul: You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.

You know, this is an important thing: People who live in the mainstream and the status quo think that everyone else is there to serve them.

So I’m a brown-skinned gay man. You know, I do drag. Early on, I learned that I could do it well and make money. So people automatically ask me about beauty tips. And I get kids who write me and say, “I wish you could do my makeup for my prom?” Or, “I wish you could do my makeup for my wedding?” I’m like, “Bitch, I’m not a makeup artist. I’m an enter-taint-er! OK?”

But people don’t know how to place me in their consciousness. They think “Oh, you must be here to make me look good. That’s what gay guys are, right? You’re an accessory for my straight life.” Just because your limited view is that everyone’s there to serve you and that you’re the only person in the world. It doesn’t work that way.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But on the one hand, a bachelorette party going to a gay bar, in a way, could expand their consciousness.

RuPaul: But if they’re going as a group of girls, traditionally — not always, but traditionally — they’re going as a group of girls as a way of saying “Oh, let’s go together, let’s go together!” So that they don’t really have to go outside of their wheelhouse. They’re tourists. It’s not really saying, “You’re fierce, and I’m going to respect you, you queen, for who you are.” It’s like they’re there as a party clown.

Brendan Francis Newnam: “So entertain us.”

Rico Gagliano: How do you think they should express their appreciation in a more respectful way do you think?

RuPaul: Oh, I can tell you in one word: cash. Cash.

Rico Gagliano: All that philosophy, and it boils down to “cash.”

RuPaul: Get the money up front girls!

Drag gear etiquette

Rico Gagliano: Do it. Here is something from Connie in San Francisco. It’s a beautiful and sort of heartbreaking question. “My husband recently passed away,” writes Connie. “He was just getting interested in drag. When, if ever, is it appropriate to give his wigs and makeup away? We have some friends whose car got broken into, and all their drag stuff was stolen. Is it weird for me to offer my husband’s things to them? Will they feel compelled to accept it because I’m grieving? What is the etiquette here?”

RuPaul: I’m sorry to hear that about her husband.

You know, nobody gives us instruction books with life. And handling grief, and all of that stuff… we have to unfortunately learn it on our own. And this is less to do with the clothes, and more to do with holding on to the people that we love. And those people who we love and move on, they stay in our hearts, not in the things.

So it doesn’t matter what you do with [the clothes], you know, you could throw them away. You can throw it away.

Rico Gagliano: Or offer it to these people, it sounds like.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You can offer them up and say, “Hey if you don’t want these, you can throw them away.”

RuPaul: Sure. Sure. We want to put this importance on things. Things are just things. The things that really matter, that stick, are — I’m gonna get teary eyed, I get choked up when I say this — the love that we give and the love that we allow ourselves to receive. Those are the things that stick.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So things aren’t important.

RuPaul: Nope.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Can I have your Emmy award?

RuPaul: Sure! [He laughs.]

Brendan Francis Newnam: RuPaul, thanks for telling our audience how to behave.

RuPaul: Yes! Yaaaas.