It’s 20 years since The RuPaul Show first aired on VH1… Yeah, yeah, OK, so we’re taking any excuse to let Jen Lavery wax fabulous about Mamma Ru. Deal, bitches!
To start us off, a dramatised scene of how me getting ready to go for a night out has changed since subscribing to The Gospel According to RuPaul.
*looks at classic black dress that have worn many times*
*looks at tight jeans and colourful top*
*looks at fully sequinned secondhand bridesmaid’s dress bought in a charity shop for a fiver*
MUSES FOR A MOMENT. CONSIDERS POSSIBILITY OF LOOKING LIKE A FANNY.
*remembers there are six foot men out there brave enough to put on glitter heels, ballgowns and hair bigger than my entire head*
*puts on ‘sequins’ dress. Adds cowboy boots. Leaves house purse first. SLAYS.*
But enough about me.
RUPAUL GOT LONGEVITY (and that bitch has done EVERYTHING)
RuPaul has been around FOREVER. Who’s that shakin’ their starbooty two minutes into the video for Love Shack by The B-52’s? That’s RuPaul, baby, looking as sickening then as she does now.
That song was out in NINETEEN EIGHTY-NINE, people. Some of you weren’t even born then. But d’ya know who was already werkin’ it? Mamma Ru, hunty, that’s who. She even managed to pick a song that people still like nearly THIRTY YEARS later.
And what else has happened in that 30 years?
Number one single? Check. (On the dance chart, sure, but still, what’s your highest chart placing, gurl?)
Duet with legendary icon? Check.
Present the Brit Awards? Check.
Appear in movies? Check.
Become the first drag queen to front a major cosmetics campaign? Check.
Front your own makeup line? Check.
Present your own TV shows? (And I don’t just mean Drag Race). Check.
Win a mutha-freakin’ Emmy? Check.
RUPAUL DON’T WANT TO HEAR NO GODDAMN EXCUSES
I remember watching Chasing Amy and hearing black homosexual character Hooper X describe himself as “a minority, in a minority, of a minority”. This was probably the first time I’d heard what’s been come to be known as intersectionality explained so succinctly.
Think you’ve got it tough? Try being a black gay man in America who also likes to dress up as a woman. You got that much holding you back?
But this being said, RUPAUL CAN TAKE A JOKE
Some of you may not have been born when Ru was first headin’ down the Atlanta highway – BUT I WAS. I was alive then. So it’s good to see that not only is she still bringin’ her jukebox money (the Love Shack references will stop soon) but she’s also not RuPaulogising for being a sickening (almost) senior.
So confident is Miss Ru in her ability to take a joke, the main challenge in one episode of season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race, was ‘The RuPaul Roast’, where contestants had to compete against each other to see who could roast that host the hardest. Ru’s reaction?
RUPAUL KNOWS HER HERSTORY
Though she can take most of the credit for the recent resurgence of drag, Ru is never slow to acknowledge that she is standing on the padded shoulders of giants. Like many other folks, I’d never heard of seminal drag documentary Paris is Burning before first being introduced to it by RuPaul, who continues to honour it every season. Why? Because reading is FUNDAMENTAL.
RuPaul has taught viewers about the Stonewall Riots, the origins of Pride, the history of icons such as Divine and John Waters, and has invited gay men serving in the military and straight athletes on to the show to be made over into drag superstars.
Plus, the most important lesson of all.
RUPAUL MAKES THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
Seriously though – how many reality TV presenters can actually say that their show has made the world better?
And I don’t just mean in terms of gagworthy eleganza and a whole host of new words and phrases to use. Shakespeare may be credited with inventing the word ‘drag’ (dressed resembling a girl), along with roughly 1,700 other words, but these queens are doing what they can to match that record.
Before RuPaul’s Drag Race, how many TV shows can you name with more than one (often ‘token’) gay person involved? Many cheered when Sex and the City’s Anthony pooh-poohed Charlotte’s attempt to set him up with Stanford by asking, “Why? Cos he’s gay and I’m gay?”, but then they ruined it by having them get married in the end for no reason whatsoever.
In Drag Race, we see a bunch of gay men taken from the relatively small community of drag queens, and gurl, there’s enough diversity just among the drag community to put anyone looking to stereotype firmly in their place. Which of course, can lead to some disputes…
But overall, showing gay men on TV in high volume and as individuals, rather than a one-note character foil, cannot be anything but a good thing. Many contestants who reported being estranged from their families while doing the competition have found it gave them another chance to connect with the parents who couldn’t understand them.
And plenty of those watching at home have praised the show for making difficult conversations in their own lives easier.
On a personal note, having begun attending live drag nights not long after first getting into Drag Race, it is genuinely heartening to see the number of fierce queens climbing at each new event. And with a new generation of queens first inspired by the show now beginning to audition themselves, this lady’s legacy is all but assured.
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Journalist. PR. Presenter. Film and TV Geek. Feminist. Roller derby enthusiast. Scot.