The NYPL Podcast
Podcast #53: RuPaul on Fantasy, Identity, and Diana Ross
RuPaul was crowned the “Queen of Manhattan” in 1989 and has since published two books and released hit songs over the course of eleven studio albums. But perhaps his greatest claim to fame? Seven seasons as host and Executive Producer for Logo TV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, a show which extended the visibility of drag to a far wider audience; as he described himself in seven words: “Born naked and the rest is drag.” We were lucky to hear our LIVE from the NYPL guest discuss the dualistic nature of identity, the great Diana Ross, and fantasy.
RuPaul discussed the masculine and feminine aspects of all human identities. He compared the soul to a battery, highlighting the dualistic nature that creates energy:
“In this world we live in, and you know this in your soul, there are positive forces and negative forces—a battery: AC/DC—that's how things get propelled and how electricity works. To have both elements happening at once is when you're fully functioning on this planet. I didn't make this stuff up. That's what it is. So when you see a culture of men who are afraid of showing any type of femininity at all—and it's there; it's not like it doesn't exist there—it's very sad. And you know, you see guys with swagger walking down the street like, you know, doing this thing, you know, and you realize that they're so afraid. They're putting on this affectation that really just says how afraid they are. And I feel bad for them. I feel bad for anyone who doesn't allow their fully-functioned electrical charges work together.”
This duality became a bit of a theme for the night, and RuPaul returned to it as he considered the relationship between fantasy and the real:
“Most people are afraid to look beyond the looking glass. Most people are afraid to go there because they're afraid that they'll find out, like in that movie I love The Truman Show… that this is all a fantasy. Some people can live in both places. Most people cannot. Red pill or the blue pill? If you've taken the red pill, sometimes you think, 'Gee, I wish I hadn't.' You know, the fruit of knowledge and ignorance is bliss kind of thing. But if you do take the red pill, you have to also learn how to regulate your feelings and to navigate in that world.”
As a child, RuPaul found a handful of pop culture icons who helped him navigate. One of those most important? Ms. Diana Ross:
“Diana [Ross] had it, that thing that cannot be described—still has it. At that time—this was 1965, 1966—the promise, the optimism that her body language has at that point, and the songs, the optimism of the songs, and the joy, it's all there. And that's why I was attracted to it… you know, at that time for brown-skinned people, it was Diana Ross and Billy Cosby were the two people who could be in a room with anybody in the world. They could be there, and it didn't seem like, ‘Oh my God, who are you!?’ And Sammy Davis. Sammy Davis too. But it was important, and she spoke to me with her voice.”
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