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Interviews

Well, RuPaul Told Me to F--k Myself (And It Was AMAZING)

rupaul skin wars

And we might be getting engaged. I'm not sure. 

"Lester, it's Ru."

There's no, "Hi." Not even a, "Hiyyyiiiieeeeeee." RuPaul Andre Charles is on the phone. You know that feeling when your asshole gets sucked up inside your body so that it's resting somewheres about your chest cavity? Like, holy shit. This is happening. I'm interviewing RuPaul. I could die after this and be fine. But how do I survive the next 20 minutes?

I tend to shy away from doing interviews for a number of reasons, the most prominent being that I'm actually shy. I've always had a problem speaking clearly -- I mumble, speak very softly in a Kathleen Turner-esque baritone, tend to rush my words together when flustered and have a slight stutter on certain words. It's why I'm a writer.The written word affords me the eloquence the spoken one denies me. But it's also why I try to avoid talking on the phone at all costs.

But when RuPaul calls, you fucking answer.

The interview was supposed to be about Skin Wars, one of the handful of shows on Ru's plate when not hosting his eponymous Drag Race. Body paint artists compete on a series of challenges and tonight's episode features drag queens -- from RPDR, natch -- being made up to look like prominent pop divas.

How'd you get involved in Skin Wars?

They called me up and asked me if I wanted to get involved.

Okay....

What drew you to the program?

This was also the first of many times that Ru asked me to repeat myself. This was also the point where I began sweating. Profusely. I had turned off the fans in my room so I could better hear RuPaul...yell at me.

I like art...Lester, do you really want to ask me that? Don't you have some more interesting questions to ask me?

I do, I just wanted to get kind of warmed up...

Lester, Lester. You know I'm just going to answer -- I'm just going to do the thing with you. What's the point of doing the phone call if you can just answer those yourself?

At this point, I'd say my sphincter is gently resting about my larynx. But he's absolutely right. Here I have this opportunity to speak to one of my idols and I'm fumbling it. Hard. But I mean, what does one say to one's idol? How's your day? Whatcha doin'? Why are you so amazing? Excited for the Janet comeback? All my pretentions to bad bitchery lay in the pool of sweat collecting at my keyboard.

Okay...so....let's see....

You are fucking talking to RuPaul Motherfucking Charles!

I KNOW! You're RuPaul Motherfucking Andre Charles! I'm sorry!

Step your pussy up, bitch!

OKAY!

What drew me to fucking Skin Wars? That is outrageous. [Laughs]

Once I hear him laugh, however, a part of me relaxes and my rectum begins to slowly travel back home.

I saw a clip of the show with the Drag Race queens. Who were the queens?

Well, we have Alyssa Edwards, Detox, Tammie Brown, Vivian Pinay, Yara Sofia, Laganja Estranja. And of course, you've seen the clip where Laganja Estranja does a deathdrop. I fucking lose it.

laganja estranja gif

Of course, but homegirl brought it out within like the first five seconds on the show. I was like, Miss Thing, please.

I then tried to seamlessly seque into a question about Drag Race and the queens relationship to Mama Ru, but my tongue got in the way.

You know, Lester, some of your words get lost. I'm not the first person to tell you that, am I?

He wasn't. And he won't be the last. Throughout the interview I have to repeat myself, which only makes me more nervous and more anxious and more sweaty. As for Ru and her goils:

I am Mama Ru. Do we go on vacation together and braid each other's hair? Uh-uh. No. They're all very young and, you know, there are boundaries in relationships. In essence, I wouldn't say I'm their boss, but it's sort of a family dynamic. I'm Mama Ru.

And then suddenly I felt like one of those young queens under the aegis of Mama Ru's wing, being urged not to fuck it up. This is going -- well, it's going, I thought. And then it stopped. There's a good 45 seconds of silence and me hemming and hawing as I try to think of what next to say. "But seriously, that Janet comeback though?" doesn't seem to fit. I'm blowing it. I'm wasting RuPaul's goddamn time. Eff my life.

Why don't we just have a conversation?

My nerves had gotten the best of me, but -- and this really gets me -- Ru was fine just having a conversation. Which was all I really wanted in the first place. That and to listen as Ru waxed poetically on life:

I've had a great time. I've had a fantastic time. How do I compare it to other people's experience? I don't know! I gotta tell you, though, Iead with my heart and what makes me happy. I love art and colors and music and dancing and laughing. And I love love.

I know that young people love a 1-2-3 step at how to get what they want, but it's not that simple. You have to get out there and get bruised and beaten and find joy and love. In the end, you wind up where you wind up. There's no surefire way.

I think I'm a very lucky person. I think the fact that I don't really need a lot of other people's validation has helped me in my career and in my life. I don't know if there's a recipe for it. I just know what's worked for me.

Can we talk about your drag persona in the '80s and how that kind of shifted in the '90s?

rupaul is everything

Well, I'm in business. And I'm very sensitive and I'm aware of what is happening. If I wanted to go above 14th Street -- metaphorically speaking -- or hit the mainstream, then there were adjustments that needed to be made. I was having fun. I knew that this was my time as a young person to have fun. I was in clubs, I was doing whatever made me feel, what made me feel good. Then in the '90s, when I decided what I wanted, I made some adjustments with my image and with how I spoke and presented myself. I think there's a way, an adjustment for everybody to be conscious of what the market can bear, what the market can stand.

Did you find it hard to reconcile your artistic ambitions with your commercial ambitions?

No, I didn't find it hard at all. I don't stand on ceremony and I understand business, which is: don't take anything too personally; buy low, sell high; and someone turns 18 everyday. Which means you can market the same old shit to people who've never heard of it before.

Ha, that happens a lot in pop culture right now.

Oh, it's always happened. It's never been different. How old are you?

I'm 29. I turn 30 in November.

November what?

Fifth.

Oh! You're a Scorpico.

Yes, I'm very much a Scorpio.

Scorpico!

When are you?

I'm November 17.

Oh, so you're closer to Sagittarius, but you're still a Scorpio.

FUCK YOU, BITCH! I'm a Scorpio!

[dying of laughter]

What do you mean, sorta -- FUCK YOU, CUNT!

Aaaah, I can die happy now! RuPaul told me to fuck myself!

Closer to Sagittarius. That's ridiculous.

So a Scorpio through and through.

Yeah.

With gay marriage being legal, do you want to get married?

Are you asking me?

Yeah.

I've never met you. What, no comissary or nuttin'? At least take me to dinner first.

Okay, let's have dinner then.

[laughs]

I'll have a tic-tac. Just throw it in the blender for me.

blender

Exactly. Again, I don't stand on ceremony. If there's a tax break in it I would do it. I wouldn't do it out of the romantic fairytale that most people do it for. I'd do it for business reasons.

I'd like to talk about race and the gay community for a bit. Do you think you've experienced more racism within or outside of the gay community?

I think that people are people. I think that -- and most people wouldn't agree -- I think everybody's racist. Everybody is. Most people look at another person and size them up based on their experiences. Out of context, people would call that racist. I don't. Humans are humans and we do lots of things out of fear. Do I hate people for that? No, I understand how people are. I remember growing up, my friends at school would talk about "niggers" or something and they would look at me, "Oh, but not you, Ru." It would be very stunning to me, but I understood where that was coming from. In a politcally correct culture, the context and the intent behind those statements become lost and people do this blanket statement of what is right and wrong.

The same is true in drag culture and gay culture. We've always been irreverent and we've always found solace in the irreverent because we see through the hypocrisy, but when you try to explain that to other people, they don't get it because they don't get nuance. They don't get intent. So is there more racism somewhere? No, I think everyone's fucking racist. But not everyone is willing to admit it. Or, not everybody even knows that they're racist.

RuPaul is an enigma, wrapped in a question, cinched in a corset. On the one hand, he is all business. "Lester, it's Ru." On the other, he's a little kid who just wants to have fun and play with colors and dance around. He sees the beauty in the world but is not blind to its harsh realities, though the harshness leaves a lasting impression. To survive in this world, he's had to guard that inner child -- the source of his creativity and life force we're all drawn to -- with this stern exterior that keeps you away just far enough so that he can get a good look at you. He's a walking, strutting contradiction. The bitter and the sweet. In short -- he's a Scorpio.

Anything else you wanna say?

You have nice tits.

I have nice what?

TITS. T-I-T-S.

Oh! Why thank you...they cost enough.

[laughs]

That RuPaul cackle made my day, year, and life. I assumed he looked me up before or while talking to me since RuPaul didn't strike me as someone who doesn't know what's going on at all times. Though this 17-minute phone call was simultaneously one of the best and most horrifying experiences of my life, it also reaffiremd for me why Ru was one of my idols, for lack of a term less fawning.

Not because he's a black gay man who "made it" in spite of the odds. But because he defied and rejected labels, learning to say what he feels -- and to say it articulately --without worrying whose feathers he may ruffle. Ah, to truly not give a fuck! That's the real American dream. And RuPaul has lived it with the kind of self-possession to which I can only feign and aspire.

As a sidenote, for any aspiring journalists, this is basically how not to conduct an interview. But it makes for one hell of a story. In telling it, I managed to confront my fears and my idol in one fell swoop, realizing that neither is that scary. Well, no -- RuPaul is, in fact, terrifying. Terrifying and, of course:

rupaul is everything

Oh, and Skin Wars airs tonight on Game Show Network at 9pm EST.

amy sedaris period

Les Fabian Brathwaite -- I literally can't.

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