My Canadian friend Ming had sent me a copy of Season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race.
You may not be familiar with this program - I don't want to over-sell it, but it is without doubt the best television ever made. Anywhere. Ever.
Apart from the obvious appeal of a reality show starring drag queens (genius!) and the incredible talents of the icon that is RuPaul, what I love about RPDR is its empowerment.
It's not a "message" about empowerment, it's a demonstration of what empowerment means and it's transformative possibilities.
Towards the end of season 3 of RPDR, the final four contestants are asked to explain to the judges why they should be chosen as America's Next Drag Superstar. Each contestant gave heartfelt speeches of varying eloquence. It was the speech from contestant Raja that really connected for me:
"I just want to show all those little boys out there, struggling to express themselves, that it's okay to say Fuck You."
I wish that I had had the balls to say Fuck You when I was growing up.
Don't get me wrong, I had a pretty easy childhood - a stable and loving family. School was okay, I was smart and tall. Sure I was bullied occasionally, but no worse than anyone else really. Looking back, what I'm disappointed with and frustrated by was that I spent so much effort and energy trying to fit in. I even joined the freakin' football team. I hate football.
It's not that I wanted to be a drag queen, that's not the point, I just wish I'd been able to push the boundaries are a bit more and not been quite such a conformist.
I was in my mid-20s before I had the confidence to tell people that I was gay. In these days of Glee and gay marriage that is frankly embarrassing.
It's not just about being coy about your sexuality. That drive to fit in is something that seems to have defined most aspects of my life. I'm not very good with conflict, I want people to like me. I moderate what I do and what I say to try and be the guy that people want on their team.
Now in my early 40s, I'm finally beginning to realize that seeking approval and validation from everyone around you is a bit of a futile exercise. Editing and filtering your thoughts, actions and behaviors may be advisable in some situations - as long as you're not compromising what you're passionate about: Your thoughts; your opinions; and all the stuff that makes you interesting and a voice worth listening to.
One of my favorite performers in Pam Ann. I remember watching a recent performance of hers in London - she opened the show by launching into a filthy tirade about how much sex she'd been having that day. Filthy. The audience were almost groaning in discomfort at her graphic descriptions. She stopped mid-flow and said: "I don't care! I just don't fucking care!"
So what's the lesson to take from Pam Ann? From Raja? From RuPaul? From the cast of Glee? It's not about being offensive, or getting on a stage and lip-syncing for your life, it's about being fearless and uncompromising. It's about being authentic and honest. It's about being who you really are. The hardest part however is working out who that is.