America’s foremost drag queen, RuPaul — his last name is Charles, in case you’re wondering — hit superstardom with the 1993 CD Supermodel of the World. He has spent nine seasons hosting the Emmy-winning reality competition RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has become an LGBT cultural touchstone.
While appearing at OZY Fest in New York City’s Central Park, RuPaul sat down for an interview to discuss activism and why Judge Judy is the best role model. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Do you see your show and your contestants as activists who are changing minds?
RuPaul: I wouldn’t call the girls on our show activists in the traditional sense. But absolutely in terms of moving the dialogue forward, because these girls, these kids are on the front line of what it means to be an outsider and to succeed. With DragCon, which is the convention that we do every year, all the kids who watch our show get to converge and speak to one another face to face. Usually they talk online, but once you get people in a room together, things change. Things happen. A dialogue is started. I really have faith in the young people taking our culture to the next level, because they’re not afraid of sexuality. They’re not afraid of different identities, and that’s what needs to happen.
In this world, where everything is spun and recalculated and nobody tells the truth, Judge Judy tells the truth.
Why is that one-on-one dialogue so important?
RuPaul: Because some magic happens when two people are in a room together and they’re able to see themselves. I just talked about the fact that we’re not separate from one another. Once we’re able to look into the eyes of another human being, we’re able to see our own reflection looking back at us in a way that can’t happen on your own or even online. When you see someone face to face, some molecular evolutional change happens. That’s how the movement — that’s how our conversation is moved forward.… I can’t tell you how important this is. We need the emotional evolution of humans on this planet to catch up with the technological evolution.
When we have a new team member, our co-founder and editor-in-chief, Carlos Watson, puts them in front of a room and asks for a fun fact — something about them that people don’t know. Can you give us a fun fact?
RuPaul: My role model is a lady who goes by the name of Judge Judy. She is my ultimate role model at this point in my life.… In this world, where everything is spun and recalculated and nobody tells the truth, Judge Judy tells the truth. You can always find the truth at 4 o’clock on Channel 2. She’s there for you, and she breaks it down. Because by the time people get to the point where they need a mediator, they’ve lost all right to try to haggle. The other part is she really reminds me of my mother. My mother had the same high cheekbones, same hair and was the same type of person, so it enables me to spend a little time with my mother as well.
What advice would you give to a young person questioning their sexuality?
RuPaul: My advice to them is, don’t try to figure it out. It will all make itself clear. It will reveal itself. It’s not that important. Your job on this planet right now is to enjoy yourself. Figure out what you have to bring to the party. That sort of narcissistic “Oh, what am I doing?” [attitude], I tell you, I’ve been there, I’ve done it. It’s a waste of time. It really is. Figure out what you can bring to the party and brang it.