It is not often that one is knocked over by reading an interview, but I found myself adequately floored after sailing through RuPaul's recent boundless and lethal interview with E. Alex Young. Now, before I go any further, it would be a little duplicitous of me not to confess to you that RuPaul and myself believe in the same things. Andy Warhol also got it. David Bowie definitely got it. And Gore Vidal got it before them all. To what I am referring, is the truth about human nature, about identity, and what RuPaul cunningly calls "The Matrix". Considering the achievements in human rights, it would not be at all irrelevant to address some things.
Since the late 80's, RuPaul has definitely been, and remains, the most recognizable drag queen in Western Pop Culture. RuPaul's Drag Race, his reality show competition, features the most splendid and fierce drag queens around, it started back in 2009, and has since increased in strength. It is currently on season 8. RuPaul also hosts the television shows Skin Wars and RuPaul Drives, as well as the kick-ass podcast that never fails to inspire or uplift, "What's The T", which is co-hosted with his partner in crime, Ms. Michelle Visage. It has brought Drag to a much bigger audience, in the same way the acclaimed documentary 'Paris Is Burning' did back in the 80's. It makes a case for Drag being recognized as a legitimate and powerful form of performance art, and a pillar of counter-culture for decades. Often misunderstood by most people, and not really seen as the art form it is.
The thing about Drag, is that it is not Gender Specific. It is an inversion, a liberating mockery, a challenge to inherited stereotypes devoid of reason. "Some people take identity very seriously," he told Clarke in the interview. "I don't. I choose to laugh at identity and play with it . . . Life is not to be taken seriously. Most people are dumb as fuck. If you look at their voting habits and their eating habits, you realize people are stupid." This is a very empowering notion, that the boxes we have been given by our ancestors are inadequate, and we don't have to sit in them. We have been lied to by people who really don't know better.
All of us have multiple selves, understandings, aptitudes, and desires. Oscar Wilde made a great case for this notion throughout his literary oeuvre, as did James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust. Patti Smith, whom I recently seen in New York City's Public Library, said the same thing. She is at once a Mother, a Writer, an Artist, many things simultaneously. The active self, the person we feel we are at this given moment, those characteristics from different constituencies of the psyche at any one time, constantly change. We are never the same, twice.
Olivia Laing, who has recently written a poignant and powerful book on loneliness and identity, 'The Lonely City', addressed something close to this. Regarding Nan Goldin, the photographer. She writes wonderfully: "Goldin has explicitly said that she doesn't believe in a single revelatory portrait of a person, but aims instead to capture a swirl of identities over time. Her people pass through moods, outfits, lovers, states of intoxication. Forget the clunky opposition between masked and authentic selves. Instead there's fluidity, perpetual transition." This is an innately true belief system. It pays tribute to the beautiful complexity of identity, the multiplicity of the human psyche, and the unconfined potential for individual evolution.
RuPaul told radio interviewer Marc Maron, "I believe you can be whatever the hell you wanna be, I ain't stopping you. Don't you dare tell me what I can't do or what I can say. It's just words, some say words hurt me, you know what, bitch, you need to get stronger. If you are upset by what I said you have bigger problems than you think." It is no surprise that Drag Race's audience is increasingly appealing to teenagers. The up-and-coming generations need to hear this. Those on the fringes, those who feel apart, those who feel neglected and discarded are seeing people who "have prevailed and succeeded against insurmountable odds". There are also generations of new performance artists who have been inspired by the philosophy the show embodies.
In the interview with Clarke, RuPaul attacks what one might call the regular lifestyle. Those who never really live a risky life, who go into an office and come out decades later asking themselves what the fuck happened to their lives. "I don't think there is a life in the mundane 9-to-5 hypocrisy. That's not living. That's just part of the Matrix. And drag is punk rock, because it is not part of the Matrix. It is not following any rules of societal standards. Boy, girl, black, white, Catholic, Jew, Muslim. It's none of that. We shape-shift. We can do whatever we want."
I remember considering this at one point. Living in New York City, I seen many of my friends were living very predictable and fairly, truth be told, conformist lifestyles. Many still are. It really created in me a very strong sense of anxiety and also a lot of loneliness. I naively presumed that we would all charge out into the world and tear it up. But what has seemed to happen is that my friends began to start working in very bland jobs and turning into their parents. This was not supposed to be part of the plan. I rejected that and moved to New York to meet the people whom lived the way I want to, and am beginning to. Part of this actualisation is that I must divorce myself from the conservative ambitions of my parents and, unfortunately, many of my friends. I'm talking about pursuing the kind of creative work I want to do, expanding my understanding of how it is possible to live, to party and have a damn good time, and to achieve something culturally significant. Instead of being told I should be more realistic, more like them, I have discarded their restrictions and lived, what I hope to be, a more interesting life. The examples of my predecessors empowered me to do this.
RuPaul and these gender-defying performance artists are creating a dialogue that could be a catalyst for cultural change, a revolutionary belief system that has roots in the counter-culture of an era. This way of living, and more so the philosophy of drag, challenges irrational and useless stereotypes, and provides a beacon of hope and a template for creative people outside the sanitized main-stream culture. It says to these young people, that you have worth, you have potential, you have a place, you are not alone.
What the opposition might put forward, however, the conformists and the Matrix, is ignorance and self-loathing that manifests itself in hateful and unreasonable behaviour towards minorities. Discrimination inspired by self-hatred. "People," as RuPaul told Maron, "who feel threatened by your party. They are the wildcard." There are also a fringe group of people who are looking for storylines to strengthen their own identity as victims. So one is being challenged on many fronts, both the outside and the inside. But RuPaul condemns that. Any type of identity confinement, any label for gender or sexuality you throw at him he will take a swing at. Just like Bowie, Warhol, and Vidal did. A person cannot be confined by their sexual preference, because it is a trivial human act. Our race is generally divided into male and female. Many people enjoy sexual relationships with people of the same sex, many do not, and many respond to both sexes. This diversity is a simple fact of human nature that is entirely natural, for if it was not, it would not occur.
In living we must consider what the point of being here is about and who we actually are and what we want. When RuPaul described what he calls "The Matrix", that "mundane 9-to-5 hypocrisy", it reminds me of the concept of earning a living. In order to live, one must like who one is, like what one does, and know what one wants, and accept oneself. There is no reason for you to try to become like them, to capitulate to The Matrix, not if it costs you your creativity and your energy, and this assumption you need to be accepted by everyone else is bullshit. It is you that must accept them. If you can live like this, you will be a successful person. You have to confront the ignorance of others, the irreverence and hypocrisy of our society, and the self-loathing other people will project onto you. Do not buckle. And just like RuPaul, make no apologies.
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