RuPaul Andre Charles
Drag queen, author, singer, host, supermodel of the world
“You know when I started out, they told me I couldn’t make it,” RuPaul said in the 1995 documentary Wigstock: The Movie. “They said, ‘ain’t no big black drag queen in the pop world and you ain’t gonna do it.’ And look at the bitch now!”
Born in San Diego, California, RuPaul Andre Charles developed his drag persona in Atlanta and New York in the 1980s. Since her 1993 breakout single, “Supermodel,” Ru has kicked her size 12 stilettos even further into the mainstream with more pop hits, a cult-favorite talk show, movie roles, dolls, books (including the self-help book RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style) and even a figure in Madame Tussauds.
And that’s not even including a little show called RuPaul’s Drag Race.
RuPaul, now 51, can also be credited with challenging perceptions of what it means to be gay, black, and for that matter, a drag queen. Her 2004 album, Red Hot, featured appearances by blackface drag personality Shirley Q. Liquor, stirring up dialogue about race and racism. Last year, three teachers at Los Angeles’ Wadsworth Avenue Elementary School were suspended over allowing students to carry photos of “questionable” African-American role models, including RuPaul, at a Black History Month parade.
But to Ru, her drag persona is a means, not an end: “The superficial image I project is a social commentary on the world we live in,” RuPaul said in an interview in the Willamette Week. “I’m saying, ‘Look, I’m beautiful with all this stuff on, but that truth is who I really am has nothing to do with any of this stuff… It’s not real at all. I never said it was.”
Can we get an “amen” up in here?
NEXT: Bill T. Jones steps it up
Photos: David Shankbone, Logo