The fact my Pap thought you were sexy endeared you to me way back in ’93.
You were sashaying down a cat walk in a skin-tight white dress and hair stacked high and mightily. Despite your perfectly applied eye makeup and impeccable lip liner, I knew – we all knew – you were a man.
Although never a fan of the new fangled music featured on MTV, he would sit in the living room while it was on, reading the newspaper or suffering over the last few clues of the daily crossword puzzle.
I had been waiting for him to look up, see a man in full-on glam mode and utter a less-than-kind assessment of your talent, Ru.
But when he finally looked up, a sly grin had worked itself across his wrinkled face and there was no trace of disdain.
“That’s a good looking woman,” Pap said, his eyes fixed to the screen.
In my head a record had screeched. Had my 70-something-year-old Pap just called a drag queen a siren?
I could have let it go, and perhaps should have let it go. But leaving well enough alone has never been my best look.
So I said: “Pap, you realize that’s a dude, right?”
His response was dubious.
“You’re crazy. Look at her…”
And then he did. For a good minute he drank you in. But when he spoke next, it wasn’t what I expected.
“Well, he’s a good lookin’ woman,” he said simply, shrugging his shoulders with a little surprised chuckle before going back to that day’s 43 across or 27 down.
We’ve come a long way since 1993. Since then, you’ve become the symbol of drag queen glamour, and most recently introduced main stream America to the inner-workings of gender bending through your hit cable television series “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
I regret that I did not see that first season. By the time I got on the ‘Drag Race’ bandwagon, you had assembled a second ensemble for your sophomore effort.
And I was hooked. It was really quite compelling. From famous taglines such as, “Shantay, you stay” and “It’s time to lip sync… for your life – and don’t (bleep) it up” to the wonky challenges, I tuned in regularly.
I’ll admit my 50-something bachelor uncle was less than pleased when I declared I was watching an episode I had saved on the DVR one evening. He groaned and uttered the appropriate “I’m a straight alpha male, what is this crap?” grumblings by the first commercial break.
By the end of the first show, he told me, “If you tell anybody I like ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ I will adamantly deny it.”
By the end of the second show, he informed me Jujube was the queen to beat. I, of course, politely disagreed – Raven was clearly the front runner.
As it turned out, we were both wrong (but both of our chosen queens still made it to the top three, so there’s something). And to me, there was as much sentimentality as humor in the show, which I appreciated.
Forgive me for this sort of “Wonder Years” revelation, but the contestants’ backgrounds showed the humanity behind the makeup.
As they put on their padding and applied their foundation and lashes, they also dished about their lives. About how they want to marry their longtime partners and aren’t legally permitted to. How their parents disowned them when they discovered their sexual preference. But at base, how they all found a sort of security and newfound sense of self in their female alter egos.
Having attended Point Park University when it was still just two buildings in downtown Pittsburgh and a Playhouse in Oakland, some of my best friends are fabulous gay men and some of those fabulous gay men are even more fabulous drag queens.
So I thank you for helping people put a more human face on the whole culture, all while maintaining the levity that allows people like my uncle and even my Pap to see the beauty in what may at first seem too different for folks like then to be comfortable with in a more sanitized setting.
I’ll be watching your newest venture, “Drag U,” which will help actual ladies get in touch with their inner divas with the help of your instructors – your “Drag Race” contestants. And I can’t help but wonder what my Drag Point Average would be.
Amanda “Raven needs to teach me the smoky eye technique” Gillooly