In the early 90’s RuPaul burst on the pop culture scene with attitude, verve, and the best legs on either side of the gender line. RuPaul quickly became America’s ambassador “Supermodel to the World” and had everyone shaking their ass to the huge dance hit “Supermodel (You’d Better Work).” Movies, television, duets with Elton John, and a stint with MAC cosmetics kept RuPaul in the spotlight, working indeed.
But even a Supermodel needs a break, and after the millenium America didn’t hear much from its favorite Glamazon.
This month RuPaul is back, as outspoken and glamorous as ever, with “Red Hot.”
While on hiatus RuPaul spent time in his hometown of Southern California reconnecting with family and examining his life. “I spent that time taking a breather,” he said during a phone call with BTL from Los Angeles. “It’s just been fantastic and I spent a lot of time being back in Southern California just reconnecting with what I’ve left behind.”
The breather was much deserved. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years and when you push and push and push to get recognition you don’t take it for granted, you work and work and work until you can’t work any more.”
Being a pop culture icon is, after all, exhausting. “After being away for a while I’ve really come to love what I do – five years ago I was basically running on fumes,” he said. “Now I can have fun with it again. I can appreciate how important it is to have that icon, to have that image out there; how important it is for young people out there to see that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Those who missed RuPaul’s refreshingly direct presence have, in part, George W. Bush to thank for his return. “Red Hot” is, quite possibly, one of the only positive things for the LGBT community to come out of the Bush Administration.
Today’s right wing social and political climate compelled RuPaul to get off his ass and back on the scene, and he has no patience for LGBT folk who claim they aren’t political.
“First of all, if you are part of the community and you’re not political you really need to think again because there was a war and we lost it. I don’t know where I was when the war was won by the other side but we’ve clearly lost it and it’s time to regain what so many of my old friends died for and the ones before me fought for,” he said, referencing the 1969 Stonewall Riots that sparked the LGBT rights movement.
“Especially in the season of gay pride it’s important to really solidify an organized front,” he said. “The most political thing you can do is be yourself. That’s a perfectly fantastic great start and if you can do more, come on board.”
The Bush Administration has fostered a hostile climate in this country. “We’re basically living in the 50’s, maybe even worse than that right now. In my lifetime I’ve never seen it so closed off and restrained,” he said. “It’s all fear.”
RuPaul said that the culture of fear Bush has created is straight out of the Chicken Little story. “An old timer like me knows when they pull out ‘the sky is falling’ routine…it means don’t pay attention.” RuPaul cited the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal and Dick Cheney’s involvement with Haliburton as just a few of the things the Bush Administration would like to divert attention away from.
The lack of media scrutiny baffles RuPaul. “I’ll tell you what, I’m under so much scrutiny and people try to catch me in lies or try to find holes in my story…and rarely do I see them really go after the White House or the President on those same terms. People go after the good guys and I consider myself a good guy.”
One of RuPaul’s most well known quips is, “If you can dance you can start a revolution.” So, does RuPaul think George W. Bush can dance?
“I don’t think he can,” he said. “I don’t think he has the ability to connect with that organic force. There’s an energy that surrounds this planet that each of us can connect with. That’s what I mean by ‘If you can dance you can start a revolution.’ If you can let yourself go and become part of that energy you can start a revolution.”
On “Red Hot” RuPaul tackles issues with songs that get you dancing and thinking at the same time. “Love is Love” takes on the issue of marriage equality. “I was inspired to write ‘Love is Love’ because of the government and religion’s take on where I should focus my love. I can’t believe that someone who believes in love and who’s ever been in love could ask someone else to not follow their heart,” he said. “If I pay my taxes and do my share with the business of government I should have every right to love who I want to love or to marry or for them to share in the benefits that the government gives in terms of marriage. I can’t believe that we even have to explain that this is important. It’s something that everybody should be able to understand.”
To RuPaul, marriage equality is a no-brainer. “It comes down to just fear and love in this lifetime. You’re either operating from a place of love or a place of fear,” he said. “Why would you be afraid of love?”
Love is certainly not on RuPaul’s list of phobias. “Red Hot” is a very positive album with songs of self-acceptance and love like “Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous” and “Coming Out of Hiding.” Through pop, dance, and a little R&B, RuPaul seems determined to make self-esteem chic.
This is especially important for LGBT youth. “I think [positive energy] is missing. I think it’s missing for a lot of the gay kids. There is ‘Will and Grace’ and there’s ‘Queer Eye’ but I don’t think that’s enough,” he said. “Unfortunately most of the kids who are out in the midwest still don’t feel like they’re part of anything, still don’t feel like there’s a place for them. This album I wanted to do all the fun sassy things I do but wrap it around positive messages.”
Messages like, “Accept me as I am or don’t accept me at all – it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to change how I feel about myself,” he said.
“When you watch those talk shows where a drag queen or a gay person comes on, the audience somehow has carte blanche to treat that guest as a second class citizen,” he said. “They boo, they hiss…. At what point was it okay to treat a human being like that?”
Somebody has to have the courage to counteract the negativity. “I think it’s very important to have the positive images,” he said. “They can boo and hiss all they want but there has to be the other side of that. And I haven’t seen a lot of that in recent years.”
But expect to see it now, because RuPaul is back. “Everything today is so homogenized. Everything’s so slick and has been spun and is sterile and basically, I think, lifeless. My fans can expect an energized RuPaul, the way they saw me the first time.”