RuPaul is a genius. Crowning Sharon Needles as "America's Next Drag Superstar" on RuPaul's Drag Race sends a message. Sharon, a self-identified outsider who was bullied relentlessly as a kid, is now a symbol of triumph over such adversity. Dan Savage started the "It Gets Better" campaign to share stories about life after bullying. RuPaul shows it getting better right in front of our eyes.
During this season of Drag Race, Sharon Needles was different, odd, unlike his fellow contestants. But the traits that make Sharon weird are the very traits hailed by RuPaul. When Sharon was a boy, high school bullies victimized him because he was effeminate, goth, wore makeup, and was unabashedly gay. In an earlier episode of the Drag Race, Sharon shared stories of being bullied by kids and ignored by school administrators. But today Sharon is fierce, proud, funny, and strong. His drag persona is spooky, a little bit frightening, off-putting, and wildly creative. Sharon Needles is a force. He is a gay male Lady Gaga. By choosing Sharon as "America's Next Drag Superstar," RuPaul is saying it is OK to be a non-conformist, to be who you were meant to be.
This past week we lost another gay teen to suicide. Bullying is real and terrifying. Sharon Needles represents what happens when a tortured teen pulls through. RuPaul's Drag Race is filled with examples of this type of turnaround. In a previous season another inventive queen, Pandora Boxx, revealed past suicide attempts. Today, Pandora is one of RuPaul's most popular and fun alumnae (and a HuffPost blogger). RuPaul's Drag Race acknowledges that bullying is a genuine threat to our nation's youth, and it is one of the few television programs trying to do something about it.
This was the fourth season of the show, and for the first time RuPaul asked the show's audience to give feedback to help pick the winner. This was a brilliant idea. Thousands upon thousands of people wrote in to vote for Sharon Needles, praising his creativity and distinctive personality. When RuPaul announced Sharon as the winner, the nation had already given its stamp of approval. People were actively engaged in supporting the weirdo, the victim, the vulnerable one. Hopefully, this outpouring of love managed to find its way to the kids out there who are being bullied right now. The message to these kids is loud and clear: you are Sharon Needles, and RuPaul loves you; the nation loves you.
Sharon's mom sat in the audience for this final show, beaming as she watched her son. Other queens' mothers were in attendance. Sharon's boyfriend was there, too, another drag queen whom Sharon clearly adores. These are family values, displayed vividly.
Willam, this season's villain, revealed that the reason he was kicked off the show was because of conjugal visits from his boyfriend during filming. That was the "crime" fans had been waiting breathlessly to be revealed. No drugs, no sabotage, too much love. Even the negative is turned into a positive on RuPaul's show.
Latrice Royale, the Earth Mother of this season, read a letter from a fan, a mother of a young girl who is bullied. The mom revealed that this girl had developed an "inner Latrice" to combat the torture. On RuPaul's Drag Race, drag is not merely female impersonation. Drag is a shield against the harshness of the world. Drag is self-esteem. Drag is a reason to live.
This is a pageant that means something. As the anachronistic Miss America and Miss USA pageants provide embarrassing examples of misogyny, RuPaul's contest proves that real beauty starts from within and is manifested, fabulously, on the outside. The feminine image is not objectified but exalted. The contestants' female personae give these gay men tenacity, backbones, and clear voices.
These queens are filled with, as RuPaul says over and over, "charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent." It took me almost two seasons to see the acronym in that phrase, but the words themselves reveal that all the contestants are valued for who they are, for being themselves, and for being their own creations.
RuPaul's Drag Race is amazingly popular amongst a certain audience. It is a shame that it is not more widely watched. It is filled with positive affirmations like, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?" This is a television show that teaches love, acceptance, self-worth, and family values.
Can I get an "amen!" up in here?