RuPaul Is Ready for His Legacy

With a new game show, Gay For Play, and more than 100 episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Mama Ru pauses for a moment of reflection: ‘I get to do whatever the f*** I want.’

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You dont question the motherfucking queen, bitch.

RuPaul Charles, at this point on a first-name basis with the world much like his fellow Unapologetic Bitch, Madonna, is nothing if not direct. 

The host of RuPauls Drag Racenot to mention drag icon, activist, actor, recording artist, spiritual leader to a horde of fabulous worshippers, and, thanks to a recent, provocative as it was profound real talk interview with Vulture, the newest dream candidate for presidentis on the phone the week after a rare and shocking elimination on his cult hit reality show. 

Asked to explain the atypical twist, RuPaul concluded his answer bluntly. Because the shows called RuPauls Motherfucking Drag Race, bitch. I get to do whatever the fuck I want.

Its an intimidating-bordering-on-terrifying reaction to a question, to be sure, were it not for the warm cackle he immediately delivers to diffuse any heart attacks. After all, the pulsing heart of nurturing compassion underwriting RuPauls unabashed realness is the driving force of his nickname, Mama Ru.

Besides, this is the RuPaul who, since the 1992 release of Supermodel (You Better Work) has become the face of drag, launched a long-running talk show, and became a spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics 20 freaking years ago, at a time when any conversation about drag going mainstream would have gotten you murdered with shade. 

To that end, RuPaul just celebrated the 100th episode of RuPauls Drag Race, now in the prime of its eighth popular-as-ever season, in an age when talent competitions are wheezing their last breaths. (So long, American Idol.)

So yes, to be fair, RuPaul can do whatever the fuck he wants.

(As Ru says on the show, You dont have to be gay to play. But it shore do help.)

More than that, as becomes increasingly clear over the course of our conversation, what RuPaul motherfucking wants is to make an impact, to leave a little something behind should he ever sashay away to the catwalk in the sky.

Hes passionate about it, too, as soberly earnest as he was playfully intimidating at the start of our talk. The fame, the money, all the stuff: after a whileIve been doing this 34 yearsits about the legacy work, he says.

Referencing the Drag Race contestants, he continues, The legacy lives through these girls. And the kids who love the show and who have learned so much about themselves and about the history of the bohemian through our show.

Make no mistake, Gay For Play is a very silly showloud and giggly and naughty and campy and, because of all those things, a whole lot of fun. But its also part of that legacy. Watch an episode and listen to the language, the proud way the celebrity contestants talk so very, well, gay.

Weve seen this language being tapped into by mainstream culture everywhere, RuPaul says.

He remembers when he first heard everyday people on the street saying, You go girl! and Hey, girlfriend! which has been taken straight from gay vernacular. It used to take about 10 years, he says, for the phrases to get to Betty and Joe Beer Can, the masses, but now because of social media the turnover is exponentially faster. 

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And so you have celebrities like Amber Rose and Ross Matthews being quizzed about Meryl Streep and Shonda Rhimes shows, with innuendos and entendres abound. There are hot, mostly naked male dancers everywhere. Michelle Visage, as always, reigns queen.

In many ways, RuPaul expects the appeal of Gay For Play to mirror what has become one of the more powerful hooks of RuPauls Drag Race. Again, its that vernacular. Its that language.

We encrypt Drag Race with the secret language that kept gay people linked for many years before the 80s, he says. Gay people had to be secretive. There was a certain way, a certain vernacular, a certain approach to pop culture that we maintained. We lost that in recent years, but we encrypt our shows with that secret language of our gay brothers and sisters past.

And for all of the shade, reads, and spilled tea that defines any stellar season of RuPauls Drag Race, the show and Gay For Play share another crucial elementagain, one that sets it apart from other talent competitions and game shows that populate TV.

Theres a palpable sense of fun that radiates from it. These people are enjoying themselves. In some ways, they feel free. The word that Ru uses: Joy.

Whats happening is that these kids are outsiders, and theyre coming together with other outsiders on this show, he says, speaking specifically about Drag Race.

Earlier in our conversation, he talks about the show being, at its core, about the tenacity of the human spirit, which is something that connects not just the contestants, but the fans who obsessively watch it as well. Especially those who feel disenfranchised from society, he says. Like, wow, here is my tribe.

He again brings up the secret code, the shared vernacular and shared spirit. Its why Judy Garland and Joan Crawford speak to us so much, he says. Theres a certain desperate, dark, painful element to these people that we can relate to. And in spite of that, they have overcome it and become glamorous, joyous, beautiful fun-loving people.

He pauses again, breaking a rule of his not to think about the past and reflect. Always think forward is a rule of his, as is not to have any expectations, a lesson learned the hard way in three decades of show business.

And certainly, theres no way he could have expected to launch the careers of 100 drag queens, or a fanbase that debates every lip sync, drag look, and challenge performance with rabid sinceritysome becoming encyclopedic scholars of the shows history. (Not to mention who worship the show even if theyre given a disappointing Snatch Game episode.) 

Its the tribe, RuPaul says, that theyre all connecting to, whether they realize that or not.

These are boys who were ostracized from everyone in the community and against all odds they were like, Fuck it Im going to do this anyway, he says. They made all the way to RuPauls Fucking Drag Race and here they are. Its so fucking awesome, I love it.

On Monday night, the night that Gay For Play premieres, RuPaul will host the 107th episode of RuPauls Drag Race. And, for the 107th time, at least on Logo, he will preach his famous affirmation to end the episode: If you cant love yourself how the hell are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an amen?

RuPaul has been saying that at every performance, not just on Drag Race, for 30 years, along with two other phrases he refers to as his doctrine: Everybody say, Love! and You were born naked and the rest is drag.

What is it like after all this time34 years and 107 episodesto say those words? Does he still feel them? Does the message change?

The truth is that I say that every single time not for the audience, he says. I say it to remind myself.

Again, he reflects. This time, back to when he was 14, maybe 15.

I was going through such a hard time thinking, Im becoming a young adult, how am I going to manage this fucking mediocre hypocritical world? Well, Ru, the only way I can do this is to make a pact to never drink the Kool-Aid, to never join the matrix.

Then RuPaul starts invoking the film InceptionI know, I was surprised, too.

Specifically, he references the totems that the characters in the film set to remind themselves that theyre in a dream. Ru has his totems, too. Theyre those three phrases. His doctrine.

Youre born naked and the rest is drag: Dont believe the hype, dont believe what it tells you on your drivers license. You are an extension of the power that created this whole universe. Dont forget it, and dont take any of this bullshit too seriously, because its hypocritical and mediocre at best.

The love yourself mantra, he says, is to remind you that it comes from the inside out.

The meaning behind Everybody say, Love! after our conversation, becomes more essential.

This is RuPaul, who began our interview with suchhow should I sayverve. Whose interview with Vulture clapped back at (and for good reason): Ellen Degeneres, David Letterman, the mainstream, the Emmys, Lip Sync Battle, the relationship between the drag and trans communities, educating youths, political correctness, and the wigs in The Danish Girl.

Everybody say love, indeed.

Its a neutralizing mantra to say to everybody, I come in peace, he says. I come in peace. Thats why its important.

Can I get an amen?

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