“He’s going to be called RuPaul Andre Charles because he’s a motherfucking star.” ~ (RuPaul’s mom, before he was born, when asked what she planned to name him.
It’s a rainy, gray Sunday so I decided to stay glued to the sofa in my sunroom, sip coffee while reading the New York Times, ignore the laundry, and make my children fend for themselves. I came across a link to the New York Public Library’s series of talks called Live from NYPL, which is currently in its 10th year. Thank God I did, Honey, because what I heard was more spiritual, true and real than most church sermons I’ve endured. This morning’s devotional was in the church of The Realness and RuPaul was preaching.
Live from NYPL features one-on-one conversations in front of a live audience at the New York Public Library, and these talks are full of such deliciousness that my podcast lineup now has a new star with a deep archive of episodes.
I’ve heard snippets of these conversations before, but today I ended up down the rabbit hole of finding and listening to the full interview with the amazing RuPaul Charles, drag queen extraordinaire. He’s Capital-F Fierce when he’s in drag. Asked how he managed to have such confidence stepping into the flamboyance of drag and living out loud so publicly, he said he credits his Mom’s “eff you” attitude and something she used to say to him about listening to the detractors:
“If they ain’t payin’ yo bills, pay them bitches no mind.”
RuPaul’s fierceness is way more than skin-deep though, it penetrates to his core. He’s funny, thoughtful, smart, introspective, and dialed into authenticity at depth. When he speaks it’s the opposite of a dry, intellectual exercise. His heart seems accessible. He’s convincing without trying to be. He seems to intuitively understand something essential about this human experience.
The locus of the interview around which all else pivots is his belief that we are all expressions of God, we are all one, and awakening to this is the essence of true freedom in life. This concept was summed up beautifully toward the end of the interview in a letter from author Elizabeth Gilbert read by interviewer, Paul Holdengräber. She said she once heard RuPaul say, “We are all just God in disguise.” That resonated for her and she wrote the following:
“It’s a very familiar idea to me. They taught me the same idea at the ashram where I studied in India. It’s an ancient, mystical belief prevalent in Hindu shamanism. The belief is that God entertains himself in the Universe by putting on a constant play, by showing up in costume in disguise as all of us. And then God stands back to see if we can ever discover our true Divine identity. When we do realize we are God, the mystics call it the Splendor of Recognition. You can never be depressed or in despair again once you see it, which is what I mean when I say ‘the Ultimate Cross-dressing’ – the idea of God as a cross-dresser playing all these different roles in costume.”
RuPaul agreed with that completely, and it tied well to another major point he made – that it is essential we find our people, those who wholeheartedly support us showing up fully and unapologetically in the world.
“When you find your tribe, you gravitate toward them…You want to find your kind. You need your kind, you need to be in touch because these are the people who will be the Sonny to your Cher, you know. They will be the Barry Gordy to your Diana Ross, because you need both. You need someone who can say, ‘Girl, Girl, you know what? Don’t wear that.’ or ‘Girl, you look fierce!,’ or ‘Girl, I just love everything about you. You are everything to me. I just love you!’…
“The book Animal Farm is one of my favorites because it talks about the fact that we forget. That’s what we humans do…You need friends who are gonna remind you of who you are. ‘You go out there and you knock ’em dead because you are a WINNER, BABY!!!’…Yes, you are. You are the power that created the universe, and don’t you ever forget it. And if you ever forget it, you better find someone to remind you.”
RuPaul also spoke about choosing optimism and looking for the best in people and in the world. He discussed the “ingredients” he initially drew upon to fashion his drag persona as a full-time blonde into a brand that was easily recognizable.
“I added two parts Diana Ross, a pinch of Bugs Bunny, two heaping spoonfuls of Dolly Parton, a dash of Joseph Campbell, and three parts Cher. It worked. I worked.”
With respect to optimism, he said that he included a smidge of Dolly Parton because she’s two parts Pollyanna, and that…
“Pollyanna is an ascended master, because she knows about the darkness. She’s not a dummy. She has chosen to see the light.”
Just think about that for a second. That’s intentional optimism. Practically every time someone refers to another as a Pollyanna, it isn’t a compliment. But this is a beautiful shift in perspective on Pollyanna – she’s not a naïve, hopeful dimwit; she sees the world clearly, understands it as it is, and still she chooses to see the light.
With respect to looking for the best in others, RuPaul takes to heart something Tammy Faye Bakker once told him:
“Focus on people’s innocence, not their guilt.”
In other words, he tries to look for the best in people – their innocence, their kindness, their best intentions, their good deeds. He’s convinced that kindness and love make the biggest difference in the world.
The rich interview is long, but should you find yourself with an hour an a half, it’s well worth the time. RuPaul’s soul is as beautiful as he is.
He has a new album out called The Realness. Here’s the title track. Is catchy, no?!