The Queerty Interview

Raymond Braun on getting painted and tucked for Asia O’Hara on ‘Drag Race’

It’s no secret that activist and social media star Raymond Braun is a huge fan of RuPaul‘s Drag Race. He’s seen every episode since the show premiered on Logo back in 2009. But today, he won’t just be watching the latest episode of season 10 on VH1—he’s actually in it!

For the make-over challenge, the remaining six queens will each be paired with a guest social media king to turn into a drag diva.

Braun and newly adopted drag mamma Asia O’Hara will go head-to-head with fellow influencers Chester See, Kingsley, Anthony Padilla, Frankie Grande and BFF Tyler Oakley.

But before the 28-year-old—who is currently hard at work on his upcoming feature documentary United States of Pride—gets painted and tucked, he checked in with Queerty to chat about Drag Race and LGBTQ advocacy in the age of Trump.

What was it was like getting the offer to be on Drag Race?
When I got the offer I literally was speechless because it’s my favorite television show. The first season came out around the time that I came out of the closet. So it was one of the first pieces of entertainment that I was able to watch and really enjoy as I was going through my own journey of coming out and exploring being part of the community. It really is a water cooler show for us, our version of Monday Night Football. You can be with a group of queer people and a lot of them will have an opinion about Drag Race. To be able to step into the workroom on my favorite show and take a little peek behind the curtain and feel what it’s like to walk the runway—it was really surreal and dreamlike.

Related: Drag Race contestant The Vixen wasn’t surprised about the backlash she faced

So, what was it like getting a drag makeover on the show? Was this your first time in drag?
I had been in drag one time prior to Drag Race. It was my good friend Kurtis—Miss Fame, who is one of the icons of drag makeovers. He invited me to do a “Painted by Fame” video on his YouTube channel. He transformed me into a version of himself that was inspired by a music video he had just released.

I think everyone should try doing drag at least once. Ru talks about how it unlocks something inside of you, it awakens something. Ru has always talked about how the makeover episode is one of his favorites because you see people getting to experience the magic of drag and how it gives you permission to color outside the lines.

What did it unlock in you?
It’s complete freedom. You’re able to inhabit this persona. Drag can be over the top, it can be super expressive and creative, it can be subversive. Right before I walked into the workroom [on Drag Race] I said, “Raymond, you are never going to get a chance like this again in your life. You better leave any insecurities and inhibitions outside and just go full tilt!”

How did being made over in drag as part of the competition differ from just doing it with your friend Miss Fame?
With Miss Fame, we were in my apartment and it was a full day experience. We’d film a little bit and then we’d chat, take a break, have a snack. I think all told that experience was about six hours. You definitely don’t have six hours to get into drag [on Drag Race]. You felt more pressure, obviously, because you were seeing the other queens transform at the same time. Also, with Fame it was all about the face. It was a makeup tutorial. I didn’t tuck, I didn’t have to walk in heels, I didn’t have to do a performance. So on Drag Race, I had to learn how to tuck and walk in heels and to pad and all of the other elements that it takes to be a full-fledged queen.

So you’re paired with Asia in the episode. How did that go?
Well, going in, I obviously didn’t know who was going to be on the show—except for Eureka, because they said in Season 9 she’d be coming back. But I actually knew who Asia was. I love drag culture and Asia is truly like a drag legend and one of the ultimate pageant queens. She’s super well respected in the scene and a lot of the Drag Race girls cite her as inspiration. So, Eureka paired me with Asia, and you can see it on my face, I was so excited! I knew she was gonna turn it. But being paired with her was incredible. I learned so much. She’s obviously so talented, but you also see that she really is passionate about what drag does for our community and the impact it has. We talked a lot about that. She also just has so many great tips—I hope they make it into the episode—about how to command the runway, how to serve face and work towards the light and the camera. I feel like I definitely know how to walk a catwalk now.

If you could pick any queen from any season to dress you up in drag, who would it be?
Just for the record, I would pick Asia! [Laughs] If you asked me to pick someone from another season… One of my favorite queens from the entire franchise is Latrice Royale because she is so giving and loving and has such a presence. It would be really cool to learn from her in the same way I learned from Asia.

Do you have your next drag gig lined up yet?
[Laughs] You’d have to call Asia about that! I don’t know that I could do it without Asia. It’s funny, most of us [in this episode] had never done drag or had very little experience with it, and we’re put in this Ph.D. master class. So it would be hard for me to put myself in drag now after being painted by Asia. I would want my drag mom with me in order to do it again.

I think the drag experience that I would love to have would be to do something with Miss Fame and Asia. I have so much respect and love for them both and I think the three of us doing something together would be really interesting.

Can you spill any tea about the other social media influencers in the workroom on this episode?
[Laughs] What I’ll say…I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but Tyler [Oakley] is one of my best friends and being able to go through that experience with him made it even more special. I didn’t tell him I was going to be doing it, so it was cool for both of us realizing we’d be going through the experience together.

So you didn’t expect to see each other there?
We were both, like, shook when we saw each other. That was a really surreal experience for us both. We had a lot of pinch-me moments. And, you know, in addition to getting in drag we learned how to throw a little shade from our queens!

Not to switch gears too drastically, but I want to talk a little bit about your activism. What is your responsibility as a social influencer in the Trump era?
What I’m most passionate about is trying to create space to uplift a diverse range of voices and perspectives. I personally am really curious about how we can reach people who don’t currently agree with us. The point of advocacy, in my view, is to change the hearts and minds of people who don’t agree with you, to move towards equality and acceptance. So when I think about what’s happening right now politically and culturally, there are a lot of people who don’t currently support the community, and I think a lot of that is simply because they don’t know us. One thing that I like to focus on is actually engaging with people who are actively anti-LGBTQ and trying to personalize the issue, put a face to it. It’s harder to be homophobic if they sit across the table from me.

Do you have a particular strategy for dealing with people who disagree with you, maybe in not the most respectful way, on social media?
I think there are a lot of motivations for why people troll, but I think at its core, hurt people hurt people. A lot of times when people are being nasty online they’re working through some of their own pain or issues they have with themselves. If someone’s giving me constructive criticism, I want to engage with them. If someone’s just being really hateful, I don’t want to give it any oxygen.

But I had someone who commented on every single one of my photos on Instagram with a really nasty slur for gay people. It was so excessive, it surprised me. I felt compelled to DM that person. I said, “I don’t normally do this, but I’ve found that you hate things in other people that you might not like in yourself too, and I just want to let you know that if you happen to be struggling with your own sexual orientation or with being gay, there are some resources I would love to direct you to.” The person wrote back and it turns out he was a closeted teenager in a really conservative family. So I ended up getting him connected with some resources. I don’t often respond, but there was just something about that seemed like a cry for help to me.

I really believe in amplifying the positive. Instead of saying what the problem is, offer a solution, so I think about trying to engage with people in a productive way that’s going to move the conversation forward.

As an activist, what advice would you give anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the number of fronts on which we seem to have to fight right now?
Well, I love this quote from Ru: “You need to put on your oxygen mask before helping other people.” I think that applies to the concept of self-care in this climate. It’s important to rely on the community. I see it as a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s a marathon that’s like a relay race. You can say, for this particular issue I’m going all in! And then for another thing, I’m gonna pass the baton to someone else in the community who might be more knowledgeable on this particular issue. If you need to sit something out to recharge, know that there are people in the community who will take that baton and you support them behind the scenes however you can.

What are you most looking forward to this Pride season?
Like I said before when you know someone who is gay, it’s hard to hate us, it’s hard to ignore us. Whether that’s knowing someone face-to-face through your school or church or community, whether it’s getting to know a character on a TV show, the more our stories are out there and visible, the more opportunities we get to have people empathize with us. So the thing I love about Pride is that it helps recharge people to feel more confident sharing themselves and being open. When that happens we accelerate acceptance because the more of us that are out there telling our stories, being proud, supporting others—it has this ripple effect.

Every Pride season there’s an uptick in interest in LGBTQ stories, and that visibility, in turn, helps put more names and faces and stories to our community, which leads to more acceptance.