"If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else? Can I get an amen in here?"
These words have provided the benediction for every episode of the hit series "RuPaul's Drag Race," which is entering it's fifth season today (Jan. 28) on LOGO.
RuPaul, who is one of the world's most famous drag queens, has been a pop culture phenomenon since her 1993 breakout single "Supermodel (Of The World)."
I used to see her around town in New York, most memorably at Wigstock, the drag festival that took place in downtown Manhattan. I remember her captivating a rowdy crowd of 5,000 saying: "Let me hear you all say Love!" "LOVE!" yelled back the audience.
And it felt like church to me.
I recently had the chance to talk to the Lady herself and ask her about the spiritual element within her life and her work.
It turns out that spirituality, in her words, "is the only game in town."
PBR: Tell me about the spiritual upbringing you had. Do you still pray or attend church anywhere?
RP: My Mother grew up Catholic and, when she was a teenager, she wanted to become a nun. Obviously she didn't, but she loved the Catholic religion and loved the Bible and could recite it verse by verse.
But what made her really special was she didn't push any of that with us kids. She said: "Look, there is something there; if you want it you can have it." But she never pushed it.
Later she really loathed organized religion and stopped going to church. But she still read her Bible and prayed. She taught me how to pray and I still pray to this day. I'm not religious, but I do have spiritual practices like yoga and meditation and I do pray.
What do you think of spirituality or God?
I think we are spirit. The spirit doesn't end where our bodies begin. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. Spirituality has always been part of my life, always. It's something I'm always conscious of -- I breath it, it's like air.
When people say I don't see God or I see no presence of God. I'm sorry, but that word has been so bastardized, it has so much baggage attached to it. But when I use God I mean "that which cannot be described."
In the last episode of "Drag Race All Stars" you sat with the final four and went really deep with each of them. JujuBee (one of the contestants) later said that you have a God-given ability for reaching people. Do you view yourself as a spiritual mentor to these up and coming queens?
Do I give spiritual advice? All the time. Everything I ever say is spiritual advice.
It's not like I'm a guru or anything, but it is the only game in town. It's the only conversation I can ever really have. As drag queens, we have taken the position of being shamans and witch doctors and people who remind the culture not to take itself so seriously. What it says on your driver's license isn't really who you are -- you are something much greater than that.
A lot of the queens coming on the show are just beginning to realize that. They know it on an unconscious level, that they wanted to transcend the labels and boxes that society would have them be in, so they turn to drag because it is a natural thing. It is what we are all doing -- God masquerading in drag.
There is an honored tradition of two-gendered shamans in many cultures.
I love the end of the show when you say: "If you can't love yourself how you gonna love someone else, can I get an amen?" There is a joy and power in that moment. Do you do that because you want people to be uplifted?
Yes. We are playing a game. We have television cameras; it is a production. That is the moment when I bring it right back to what this is really all about -- having fun, loving yourself, and understanding that you are not separate from the girl standing next to you, or the person out there in the audience -- that there is only one of us here.
That mantra has been with me since day one.
I remember in the Village in the '90s hearing you say, "Let me hear you all say love, let me hear you say revolution." And every one was with you. It felt like good church -- when everybody is feeling love for one another and transcending the difference we might normally see.
Absolutely. It momentarily wakes you up from the collective dream that we are in. When we say "Everybody say love," in that moment, everybody jumps out of their dream.
How do you counteract the viciousness and pettiness between the queens that comes out in the show?
Well, it is a television show, we are there to entertain, that part makes for good TV.
So when I talk to these girls, I tell them they are not really competing against the others, they are competing to tear down some of those walls and transcend their own limitations.
Just like someone else I know. And that someone else represents the potential that lives in all of us. Several figures represent that -- Jesus, Krishna and Buddha all represent the potential we all have to transcend our limitations.
What happens when we die, when we all pass on?
I'm sure something happens. Our brain wants to put it in a linear fashion -- first a then b then c -- the brain is limited in that way needing it to be 1, 2, 3, then 4 -- but it is more abstract than that. I don't think that time is real. I don't think that space is really real. Even this conversation isn't real.
I'm feeling you. There is a mystical encounter with the transcendent that is in all religions. I'm hearing a lot of that in what you are saying.
That mystical encounter is always happening. It is happening in this very moment. You chose heaven or hell in this moment. Because you are conscious and have free will you can choose whatever you want at any given time. So it is not about what happens then, because 'then' never comes. The future doesn't exist. There is only "right now."