TORONTO – International drag queen extraordinaire RuPaul is taking a moment to hang up the wig and evening gown to get serious with Canadians.
The sassy performer, known for steering the ship on reality TV competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” will appear at Toronto’s Pride celebrations on Sunday to address the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse night club in early June.
It’s part of a speech where RuPaul Charles, his name off the drag runways, will reflect on the new meaning of Pride and the importance of LGBTQ people coming together as a community in the wake of tragedy.
Charles, who is scheduled to speak at Yonge-Dundas Square in downtown Toronto at 7 p.m., spoke to The Canadian Press about Pulse night club and lightened the mood with some hints at whether a Canadian contestant could soon be on “Drag Race.”
CP: You have a particularly close connection to Pulse because a few queens from “Drag Race” were once employees of the club. What was your reaction when you heard about the shooting?
Charles: It’s absolutely horrible for so many reasons. Just as humans on this planet that we’re still in this place that’s so primitive where we … haven’t figured out a way to override the negativity. All these killings around the world – with bombings of airports and mass murders – really speak to the human condition.
(They’re) alarms that should force us to collectively come together.
CP: Celebrities like Drake and Nicki Minaj have been criticized by some gay activists for not speaking out against Orlando on social media, while responses from Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift were called too slow. Do you think celebrities need to address tragedies like this?
Charles: People deal with grief in many different ways. And some people in show business parade their relationships around like an accessory and others like to keep it separate from business and commerce. It’s perfectly fine to say “I actually don’t want to talk about my love because that’s not part of the fantasy world I created in commerce.” The same with grief.
CP: Did you feel a responsibility to react?
Charles: I was stunned for days after (Orlando). I don’t even know if I’ve talked about it on social media. I’ve talked about it on television and interviews. When I was asked about it on television I said “I don’t want to minimize the impact and tragedy by putting my words into some celebrity soundbite. This is much bigger than that.” I’m still stunned by the whole thing. (Note: Charles retweeted media stories where he was quoted, but didn’t directly tweet about Orlando in the aftermath.)
CP: What do you plan to talk about on stage at Toronto’s Pride festivities?
Charles: My focus is on love and inclusiveness. We’ve had this adolescent outlook on life for far too long and it’s time for us to take the human race to the next level. I believe that LGBT people can do that. We’ve always been on the forefront of human development, at looking at life from a broader perspective. We look at it from a place where we’ve been shunned. In my life I’ve been able to really examine society in a way most people who aren’t outsiders don’t get a chance to do.
CP: You’ve had an absence of Canadians on “Drag Race” over the years. Could we possibly see a Canuck contestant next season?
Charles: It’s an immigration issue, honestly. That’s what it comes down to, that’s why we have American queens. In fact, I don’t want to give anything away, but we’ve spoken to some queens who have papers to work in the United States.
CP: Looking back on your experiences since bursting onto the mainstream in the early 1990s, do you feel things have changed much?
Charles: Humans are pretty much the same. That’s why these tragedies are a huge benchmark in the history of humans on this planet. We have an opportunity and an obligation to the people who lost their lives, to really shift and take off this mask. Are we gun totin’, stand-your-ground cowboys or are we going to evolve this race to the next level?
CP: There has been a growing focus on transgender issues, but there’s a big difference between trans people and drag – drag being a colourful stage performance and transgender people a serious lifestyle. Where do you think drag fits into the broader conversation?
Charles: Drag is very important because it’s an elevated consciousness that says, “I’m going to be on this planet and play with all the textures and all the colours, and I’m not going to confine myself to night or day, black or white, male or female.”
I’ve never personally differentiated a person who dressed up in a three-piece suit and goes to Wall Street from a person who dresses up in a polyester uniform and works at McDonalds. I think it’s all drag.
CP: So what makes drag performers unique from the rest of society’s drag?
Charles: Drag queens who perform in clubs are actually putting emphasis on that. We’re having fun with it. It’s more obvious in a laughing kind of way – a way to say “Ha ha ha, we’re shape-shifters.” But when you really break it down, that’s the message, everybody is shape-shifter. To limit yourself to one thing, it’s your business, but you have a choice.