Masks That Reveal: The Spiritual Lessons of Drag Queens

I love me some RuPaul. I am already looking forward to Episode 3 of Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. While some of you may play fantasy football, I play fantasy Drag Race, and my team of queens are doing fabulous.

Current contestants on RuPaul's Drag Race.

Having followed the show for awhile, and being a big fan of drag queen movies, I’ve come to realize there are some real lessons that can be learned from these glamazons:

1. “If You Can’t Love Yourself, How The Hell Are You Gonna Love Somebody Else?”

RuPaul closes every show with this line, and it’s one of her signature sayings. It’s a huge concept. Sometimes I feel it should be illuminated in a medieval manuscript, or cross-stitched onto a pillow. The most important thing to understand about drag queens is that they don’t transform themselves so dramatically out of self-hate. Their metamorphosis is instead proof of the amazing things you can accomplish when you love yourself and make peace with yourself.

Not bad for a skinny bald black guy in his early 50's.

Forget “getting right with God,” and work on getting right with yourself. Your inner-strength, self-love, peace, confidence and calm will cause every aspect of your life to blossom.

2. No Excuses

We all have crap to process and overcome. Each of us comes with a different set of baggage. Each of us have to learn how to cope, compensate, work through and carry our own baggage. But we have to carry our baggage. We can’t drag it. We can’t stare at it in despair, stuck in the mire. We can’t ask others to carry our baggage for us.

Every season there are drag queens who have come from a troubled background. Their family doesn’t speak to them. Their loved ones are in combat. Their loved ones have passed. They have been beaten, bullied, ostracized and worse.

Stacy Layne Matthews proved even a queen from Back Swamp, NC can be sickening.

Being a drag queen means you hide behind a persona, but it also means everything is exposed. These queens are laid bare and all their insecurities brought to the forefront. Those with self-love make it through with grace. Those without fall apart. Either way, there are no excuses. You have to bring your A-game every single time. Because everyone else has their own baggage to carry too.

3. Everyone Can Be Beautiful

I find it fascinating that season after season I watch some of the most unattractive (to my perspective) men become beautiful women. As RuPaul’s other show, DragU, proves, anyone can be beautiful, glamorous and confident.

Someone once told me that the Greek perspective on beauty was that it wasn’t something that you were intrinsically, but something that you did. Beauty, intelligence, kindness, wisdom, grace, strength were all things you did. Beautiful was something you could attain with a little work. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it’s an enchanting thought.

Beauty is within everyone's grasp and you can completely transform your life.

Drag queens illustrate that beauty is within your reach if you want it. Your body can be a work of art. You can shape, mold, drape, paint and decorate yourself like a grand temple.

4. Attitude Is Everything

Season after season, queens strut across RuPaul’s stage looking drop dead gorgeous, but they have no personality or talent. They don’t last. Good looks only get you so far. If all you have to offer is beauty, you won’t get far.

Even when she looked busted, Shangela was hard to ignore because her personality was loud, funny and memorable.

Be unique. Be loud. Get heard. Make a statement. Stand for something. Be memorable.

Life is short. Leave behind stories that will carry your name into the future.

5. Have A Sense of Humor

You should have enough self-knowledge to see what is funny about yourself and work it to your advantage. Drag queens do this all the time, with tongue-in-cheek names and ridiculous skits. Don’t be too rigid and uptight to laugh at yourself. When you laugh at yourself, you become more relatable to others and you reveal your most precious gift: your humanity.

6. Learn to Read and Be Read

A key part of drag culture is reading: critiquing someone in a clever and/or humorous way. Reading must be true. If you say someone looks like Big Bird, then they better be sporting yellow feathers. While reading can be mean at times, it’s also constructive.

Maybe they really do mean to look like Big Bird...

At the end of each show RuPaul and the judges read the contestants. Sometimes they praise, sometimes they criticize and sometimes what they say can be harsh. A succesful contestant will take being read as a challenge rather than an insult.

Season after season, there’s always a few queens who refuse to listen when they are being read. They take it as an insult and complain about being read. After being read for the same thing week after week, it’s apparent they won’t last.

The same thing for drag queens who read out of insecurity without truth. Bad reading just reveals your own insecurities. Your reading should make sense and be useful to the person being read. Saying someone is disgusting for dating another queen isn’t constructive criticism. Reading someone for having an unstyled wig or run in their hose is an appropriate read.

In real life you have to learn to take criticism and give it. I’m lucky to have friends who will read me when necessary, and I try hard to read others when appropriate and when constructive. Dealing well with criticism is an important life skill to learn. Sometimes you need to listen and take criticism to heart. Sometimes you need to remind the person reading you that you are sickening and sashay away.

7. “What Other People Think Of Me Is None Of My Business”

Having people you trust to give you constructive criticism is good, but for the most part, who cares what other people think?

If you intend to accomplish anything in this life, you need to be concerned with your own business. You need to attend to your own affairs. You need to work on being fierce.

What other people say or think is a waste of your time. It’s none of your business. It’s just something that will sidetrack you from your goal. You know you are fabulous. You know you are sickening. You have better things to do than worry about petty nonsense.

8. You Are A Person Of Parts

We are a multitude within our own bodies and minds. We have many roles and sides to ourselves. We are parents, lovers, friends, coworkers and more. Some roles fit certain situations better. Sometimes we need to utilize certain parts of ourselves and not others.

In other words, sometimes we need to tuck.

Transformation into something different and new can be a good thing. Carmen Carrera doesn't sport heels and a wig 24/7, you know...

Tucking doesn’t make a drag queen less of a man. A full set of male genitalia still exists, fully operational and revved on testosterone, underneath that ballgown. Drag queens are not transgender. They are biologically and mentally still male, but that doesn’t stop them from completely transforming themselves into this fantasy female creature.

Just the same, while we should love every part of ourselves and not be ashamed of one bit of our being, we also need to recognize it’s ok to transform, to emphasize certain attributes, to de-emphasize certain traits, and adapt to what we need to be at the time.

Pagans are good at this. We can go from suit to sarong with ease. One is not better than the other, or more right or true. And that’s ok.

9. You Better Work!

The world will give you nothing. You get oxygen and sunshine. Sometimes rain. For everything else, you better work. Anything you want to achieve will only be achieved by hard work. If you want to look sickening, then you need to sew that gown, learn how to paint a Persian eye, wear a pair of heels, tease that hair out and strut your stuff. Work it!

10. “We’re Born Naked, And The Rest Is Drag.”

We construct ourselves. We are born with very little. We are a blank slate at our first breath. We have some physical, and mental characteristics. Some genetics, some environment. But by the time we’re an adult, we’ve begun to construct who we are, to strip away the layers applied to us that we don’t like, and to build up who we want to be.

That means that if we don’t like something, it’s really probable that we can change it. W e can change our gender, our appearance, our religion, our politics, our friends, our home, our nationality, our language, our job, our education, our lifestyle, our lovers and our vocation.

On DragU, biological women learn from drag queens that they have the power to transform their lives and be as fabulous as they dare!

All we need is Creativity, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent. All of these are learned behaviors that can be developed and improved over time.

Whatever you proclaim as your identity here in the material realm is also your drag. You are not your religion. You are not your skin color. You are not your gender, your politics, your career, or your marital status. You are none of the superficial things that this world deems important. The real you is the energy force that created the entire universe!

— RuPaul

There are many Gods and myths that have a lot to do with transformation. Many stories about masks or disguises that reveal. Maybe drag queens represent an element of ancient religion we need to reclaim. A Dionysus element. A bit of pageantry we have lost. Maybe a bit Cybele is present in drag culture.

At any rate, I find drag queens to be an inspiring symbol of how we can dramatically change our lives, transform ourselves and find ourselves in the process.

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