Many of us today who enjoy watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” forget that merely a decade ago this show would have never aired. Nor would we have seen drag queens making special appearances on the news or in music videos.
And we shouldn’t take this for granted. It’s thanks to the hard work of LGBTQIA activists and pioneers that Americans continue to become more informed and accepting of not only drag queens, but all people.
I remember when I first came out of the closet a decade ago that even I had prejudices against others within the very community I suddenly found myself belonging to. I grew up during a time when “gay” and “faggot” were terms that everyone threw around as an insult. I tried to hide who I was and I even resorted to putting down fellow queer people using these terms, as a defense mechanism.
When I was younger, I used to harbor resentment towards others in the LGBTQIA community who, in my view, strayed too far from the societal norm and made “us” (the collective gays, in my mind) stand out in a “bad” way. I didn’t want others defining me as any less of a man, so I hated seeing men dressed up as women becoming a stereotype of gay culture.
It took me several years of living my own truth and getting to know a much more diverse group of people for my misguided thinking to finally evolve. Now, I not only appreciate the work of drag queens, but I’m one of their biggest fans.
And whether you’ve seen a drag show or not, they offer five key life lessons:
1. “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
This quote is RuPaul’s finishing line on every episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and it’s arguably her biggest life lesson.
A common theme from the show is that when we as humans feel emotional pain and physical suffering, we tend to blame and belittle ourselves as a way to cope. In doing so, we often mask our insecurities and experience negative feelings toward ourselves and others. RuPaul confronts these issues head on and offers a clear message: we must first love ourselves and take care of our pain and suffering, if we hope to make a difference and help others too.
We all have baggage, so let’s not be ashamed of it. For too long, I carried the pain of being a “faggot” and I used that pain against others just like me. But when I started embracing who I was, I started living my best life and enjoying the message that drag queens highlight through their work. Love yourself so that others might see your truth and love you for it too.
2. Success doesn’t come without sacrifice.
People often look at drag queens and think that by impersonating a woman that makes them weak or less of a man. I definitely used to think this and that’s why I didn’t want to associate my gay identity with theirs.
However, the art of drag not only takes courage in the face of haters, but also an incredible pain tolerance. I mean, the critical factor that distinguishes any good drag artist from simply a man in a dress is what’s known as “the tuck.” This challenge is definitely not for the pain intolerant. Then on top of that, try artfully applying layers of makeup, styling and gluing on an enormous wig, slipping into multiple pairs of tights and a dress, strapping on high heels, and then performing in all of this under hot lights. And some even perform stunts like the splits or cartwheels!
Needless to say, being a drag queen is not for the faint of heart. But every good drag queen is not afraid of the challenge. They take on the physical pain night after night to delight their fans and they do it without batting a fake eyelash. Drag queens, just like any person dedicated to a craft, know that there is no success without a little blood, sweat and tears.
3. Confidence outweighs actual ability.
The top attribute that sets apart drag queens is their stage presence. How they are able to create the illusion of female impersonation, strut down the runway, work the crowd, and lip sync for a living comes down to the confidence they exude in committing to their alter-ego persona. The best drag queens amaze and impress, because they have so much confidence in their ability that the audience gets lost in the performance.
Everyone struggles with confidence at some point in their lives. Everyone will face criticism and doubt from other people. But drag queens teach us to push the haters aside and walk confidently in the direction you choose. I used to be one of those haters, but now I admire drag queens for their fearless bravado.
And we can all take a lesson from their playbook, because the best way to get noticed and get people to take you seriously is to be confident enough to stand out. Because, as any drag queen will tell you, when you look fierce, you feel fierce too.
4. Labels do not matter.
As in life, there are a lot of labels and stereotypes for drag artists and the LGBTQIA community at large, but also just as in life none of these labels matter. It’s easy to group people into categories, that one drag queen must be just like another, when in reality this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I was always afraid that by being gay I was going to be stereotyped and shamed. This led me to not accepting myself or others and instead hold on to hate and ignorance.
In showcasing more diversity in pop culture, such the art of drag, people are getting to see that labels are just a feeble attempt at categorizing people when underneath we are all unique individuals. There is diversity within group labels and we should all recognize and celebrate these differences.
5. We all share common ground.
All of our special personal qualities sometimes work to divide us from others who might have different opinions. We can quickly become enemies of each other, because we’re too stubborn to find common ground. This happens even within a group of people with shared characteristics fighting for the same cause, such as drag queens or the LGBTQIA community at large.
Drag queens are notorious for reading each other for their drag. They have many creative disagreements about their makeup, wardrobe, lip syncing, and performance choices. Yet despite all of these differences, they often show respect toward each other and form sisterhoods, even with their enemies. Drag queens will tip each other and dole out accolades when they introduce each other during shows. They recognize each other’s hard work and are quick to lend a helping hand in mentoring the next generation of drag queens.
Because ultimately, all drag queens do what they do because they are passionate about it and this commonality conquers all of the divides. The same can be said for all people, everywhere. Although we may disagree with others, at our core we’re all human beings. We let differences of opinion divide us — especially in today’s political climate — when instead we should remember the common ground we share.
The increasing popularity of drag queens shows this acceptance and they offer us all important lessons on living our best lives. So take note and remember to love yourself, work hard for what you want, be confident in who you are, ignore the labels others may attribute to you, and overcome differences to find the commonalities that connect us all.
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