US: The Oral History of RuPaul

Even as a 12-year-old growing up in San Diego, RuPaul’s focus on fame propelled every choice he made, especially when his teenage years arrived.

RuPaul I knew that I would be famous and I knew that I would be a star, but I knew I couldn’t go directly to Los Angeles. I knew, based on my reading Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, that I would have to go to New York, become a downtown superstar, and that would be the way I could transfer into mainstream stardom and get into Hollywood. I’m telling you, I knew this at 12 years old. So I moved to Atlanta when I was 15, went to the School of Performing Arts, worked in my family business [selling used cars] for six years, and then started my act.

No, RuPaul did not immediately become the drag queen you know today. Discovering the city to be a mecca for drag queens, Ru instead developed an interest in using drag as a political statement. He flocked to a sloppy, rebellious style, known briefly (and beautifully) as gender-f—k. 

RuPaul Drag was a tool because it was the most punk rock antiestablishment thing we could do. It had nothing to do with being gay, nothing to do with wanting to be a woman. It was about challenging the status quo, challenging ideals of identity. I decided to start doing drag more as a way to get a rise out of the existing drag community and the preppy Reagan ‘80s anti-disco story line. It was a way to capture some of that Warhol fun and make a statement. Smeared lipstick and combat boots and ratty wigs. It was a great golden era of drag—there was a tradition and a language attached to it. But we busted in and broke all the rules.  Read more via Entertainment Weekly