If you think that drag is just about a man wearing false eyelashes and a pussycat wig, or it’s just a woman wearing a pair of glued-on sideburns and an Elvis jumpsuit, then you have not heard the Gospel of RuPaul.
If you’re a smart and sensitive soul, and your eyes are wide open to the ugly mediocrity and hypocrisy of this world, and you’re angry and bitter, then you have not heard the Gospel of RuPaul.
RuPaul’s Gospel takes the ordinary sense of what drag is and completely transforms it into a spiritual philosophy; and it heals the anger and bitterness. It “tickles the brain.” That’s how RuPaul himself puts it. “It gives people something to live for.” “When you become the image of your own imagination,” he says, “it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.”
Now, even if you happen to be a Jesus or a Buddha, you just don’t invent your Gospel out of nothing. Others are always helping, others are always contributing to the Good News vision that’s going to be born through you. One of these folks was RuPaul’s tenth-grade drama teacher, Mr. Pannell. “At the time,” says RuPaul, “I was going through a teenage drama of my own. My bad grades had finally caught up with me, and I was being faced with expulsion from the only school I had ever really enjoyed going to. My teacher, seeing how shaken up I was, calmly pulled me to the side and said with an even tone, ‘The most important thing to remember, RuPaul, is to not take life too seriously.’” Hearing this, RuPaul said to himself “Excuse me? … I am about to get kicked out of the only school I ever loved, and your advice for me is ‘don’t take life to seriously’? Are you for real?” “Of course,” says RuPaul, “the truth and wisdom of his advice was lost on me then, but I never forgot it. In fact, over the next thirty years, it would become the creed I live my life by.” It was “The best advice I’ve ever gotten”
How many of you tend to take yourself too seriously? Why did I even ask that question?
Someone was telling me about how he has a running joke with a friend. From time to time they look at each other and declare, thunderously, “Do you have any idea how important I think I am?” And whatever real struggle they may be dealing with actually gets a bit smaller, in proportion to how much they laugh.
Our lives always get tangled up, but if you are taking things way too seriously, instead of finessing things so they get untangled, the opposite happens. A tangle becomes a hard knot.
Stressing out is the worst problem-solving strategy there is.
But we do take our lives way too seriously. In part, it’s because we’re traumatized, and traumas tend to lock a person down. You were born, you had natural human needs, but the people who were supposed to take care of you, for some reason, could not. Trauma. Or, in growing up, you tended to draw outside the lines, and you got punished for it. Like RuPaul, you’re a guy but you liked to run around the yard with a pink dress on. And you got punished for it. You still get punished.
Trauma makes us take our lives way too seriously. And so do our social roles. They just tend to take over, and we end up thinking that their limits define the limits of our total potentiality. You become your gender, your skin color, your job, your politics, your marital status. That is what you are, and you are nothing more than that. You’re stuck in a box.
Growing up, like the rest of us, RuPaul heard the message, learned it, knew it by heart.
But again and again, lessons contradicting it came.
One day, when RuPaul was five, his sister Renata put some chocolate chip cookies in a paper bag, grabbed a blanket, and then led him out into the back yard, spread out the blanket, opened up the paper bag and gave him a cookie, and said, “Ru, Ru, this is a picnic!” It taught him that you can turn something that is completely mundane into something magical. Take the situation too seriously and all you have is a blanket and a bag of cookies. But imagination, unleashed, reveals that there’s always more than meets the eye.
Beyond this, RuPaul happened to see African American comedian Flip Wilson on TV, in drag. Geraldine. Oh how funny it was to him, fabulous. He wanted to sing and dance and do like that. Extravaganza eleganza!
On TV he also saw Diana Ross. It was on the Ed Sullivan show and she’s singing “Baby Love” and she scrunches her shoulders up and he does that too, he’s imitating her, he’s practicing her big eyes and big smiles.
All this is happening in San Diego in the 1970s and it was very white and very conservative and people wanted him to take his gender and his race and all the other labels way too seriously. But for him, that meant playing dumb.
You see, there’s an equation forming in his mind. As in: taking yourself way too seriously, just like a lot of people want, is equivalent to playing dumb. It’s a kind of deprivation. It’s nothing less than a denial of the fundamental freedom, creativity, and playfulness that is at the core of human nature.
And he’s just too smart for that.
So was David Bowie. About him he says, “Everything that I felt on the outside he was doing on the inside.” David Bowie’s genderfluidity was a symbol of something way bigger than gay or straight or male or female or any of the other labels or traumas that tend to take people over and make them forget their essential selves.
Thus the Gospel of RuPaul: here it is: “Drag isn’t just a man wearing false eyelashes and a pussycat wig. Drag isn’t just a woman with a pair of glued on sideburns and an Elvis jumpsuit. Drag is everything. I don’t differentiate drag from dressing up or dressing down. Whatever you put on after you get out of the shower is your drag. Be it a three-piece suit or a Chanel suit, a McDonald’s uniform or a police uniform, the truth of who you really are is not defined by your clothes.”
Do you see my drag? It’s this stole, this suit, these colorful socks.
Look at your drag.
And now think: what more could there be? What more wants to be, through you? Perhaps all you think you’ve been given in life is a bag of cookies and a blanket in the back yard.
But are you taking that way too seriously? Could there be more? Could there be different?
“The biggest obstacle I ever faced,” RuPaul says, “was my own limited perception of myself.”
And he’s not alone in that.
RuPaul says, “I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses?”
He also says, “I don’t dress like a woman; I dress like a drag queen!”
You see, drag is bigger than just dress considerations. At least for RuPaul, it’s trying to get at something far larger. “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag,” he says, which means that human nature is at the core fundamentally free, creative, and playful.
Which leads to the big question: what will do with all our freedom? If, in some grand sense, we are all drag queens, what are we going to do with our drag?
One thing is to mock culture, which is really about taking back freedom. Culture wants people to play dumb, but no, RuPaul is too smart for that. Thus, the mockery. “And it’s not only drag queens who have blown the lid of culture’s lunacy and hypocrisy,” he reminds us. “Comedians, rock stars, and even Bugs Bunny have built celebrated careers on irreverence and challenging the status quo…. [A]ncient cultures … relied on drag queens, shamans, and witch doctors to remind each individual member of the tribe of their duality as male and female, human and spirit, body and soul.”
This is a great connection to make. Shamans and witch doctors and drag queens all were, in ancient times, living symbols of the fluidity at the heart of all humanity. And they still are. And they wake up the sleepwalkers by poking at them. By making fun. Seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses are all about making fun. Names like Jinks Monsoon, Pearl Liaison, Trixie Mattel, Acid Betty, and others that I can’t mention in this rated G context but they are hilarious! They are making fun of what too many people take too seriously, seriously enough even to hurt others over, even kill.
What will we do with our drag? Besides mocking culture, another thing we get from RuPaul is the invitation to look back at ourselves growing up from a drag queen perspective. Remember the clip from earlier, when RuPaul invited Pearl Liaison to do this? “You were born naked,” RuPaul says, “but you’ve grown to become a fierce drag queen. Here’s a photo of you as a little bitty boy. Now if you could time travel what would Pearl have to say to little Matthew?”
And Pearl says, “Ahhh god, I’d have to start with a warning. You’re about to enter the toughest years of your life and it’s gonna suck really bad for a long time and people are going to [mess] you up and take advantage of you and people are going to be looking at you from across the room for so many years and you’re not going to understand why.” And Pearl cries and cries….
And then RuPaul asks, “Do you understand why now?” Pearl nods yes, yes, yes, and then RuPaul says, “You’re a star baby.”
Two quotes from RuPaul will help make sense of what’s happening here:
“When you become the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.”
And then this: “If you are trigger-happy and you’re looking for a reason to reinforce your own victimhood, your own perception of yourself as a victim, you’ll look for anything that will reinforce that.”
It all adds up to this: To look at yourself from a drag queen perspective is to remember the pain of your life and to feel the temptation to reinforce your own victimhood, but you don’t. You step back from that. You choose to become the image of your own imagination. It’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.
Today, I want each of you to look at yourself from that fierce powerful drag queen perspective. Because you are a star, baby.
And you are even more than that, according to RuPaul’s gospel. There is yet another level to all of this. The truth is that “You are an extension of the power that created the whole universe.” “The truth,” he says, “is that you are a spiritual being having a human experience. The human part of the experience is temporary. Think of it as a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Your spiritual being is not temporary. It is eternal. Think of it as the sun and the moon. That’s why the saying ‘You’re born naked and the rest is drag’ couldn’t be more true.”
And this is the full and entire Gospel. Our drag actually does not end with our nakedness but extends even to include our physical human body and our basic individuality that comes with a name and a history. Before all of that, you were. You are eternal.
A Vedanta Hindu would put it like this: Atman is Brahman.
But RuPaul just says: “You are God in drag.”
[Head exploding sound]
[More head exploding sound]
Perhaps you came this morning really thinking that drag is just about a man wearing false eyelashes and a pussycat wig, or it’s just a woman wearing a pair of glued-on sideburns and an Elvis jumpsuit. But now you’ve heard the Gospel of RuPaul.
Perhaps you came this morning with eyes are wide open to the ugly mediocrity and hypocrisy of this world, and you’re angry and bitter. But now you’ve heard the Gospel.
The biggest obstacle people ever face is their own limited perception of themselves.
Abundance is the truth of who you are. Extravaganza eleganza is you.
Don’t let anyone steal that.
Take that power back.