U.S. Markets close in 1 hr 47 mins

'RuPaul's Drag Race' judge Michelle Visage on how the 'queerest show on television' is helping troubled kids

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music
Michelle Visage with a young RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2016. (Photo: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage)

Against all odds, RuPaul’s Drag Race has become a massive pop-cultural force. After 10 seasons (plus three all-star seasons), it’s surprisingly bigger than ever, racking up its highest ratings yet this year. Musical contestants like Adore Delano, Blair St. Clair, and Trixie Mattel have landed albums on the Billboard charts; Drag Race catch phrases like “not today, Satan!” and “hieeeee” have become part of the mainstream vernacular; the RuPaul’s Dragcon conventions draw thousands of fans on both coasts; RuPaul Charles has won two consecutive Emmys for Best Reality Host; and now the show has a very good chance of sashaying away with this year’s big Emmy prize, for Best Reality Competition.

Longtime Drag Race judge Michelle Visage tells Yahoo Entertainment that the slowly building success of the series surprises her. “It’s just the queerest show on television. Yes, even queerer than Queer Eye. You can’t get anything gayer than RuPaul’s Drag Race!” she says with a laugh. But the tough-loving judge and pop singer, who found salvation and acceptance in the gay community when she was a troubled teen in the ’80s, believes that behind all the colorful costumes, racy one-liners, and fierce lip-synchs, the show serves a more serious purpose: helping troubled young people and bringing families closer together.

“It comes down to the fact that we creative minds — loving, compassionate, sensitive souls — are in this fight together,” says Visage, an LBGTQ ally and doting mother of two daughters, one of whom is queer and has publicly struggled with depression. “And that’s really what this show is about. It’s about heart and integrity and journeys. It’s not about boys dressing up like girls. I mean, it is a little bit, but there’s so much more to it.”

Yahoo Entertainment: I am always amazed, when I go to RuPaul’s Dragcon or Drag Race events, by how young the show’s audience skews — and by how so many of the fans are actually straight, cis teen and tween girls. Any theory as to why girls love and look up to these queens? 

Michelle Visage: I think the young girls that connect to this are usually the same kind of girl. These girls are all kind of the same horrible age, which is usually 11, 12, 13, 14. I know those years were the most self-harming years of my life. They were when my eating disorder kicked in. I wound up hating myself the most. I felt so alone. I was an adopted kid into a Jewish family, and this neighborhood and school system had no Jews. Not that I identified as one, but my family did, and I didn’t understand why we were different. I was really into punk rock, but also into musical theater. I did not fit in the Lynyrd Skynyrd/Ozzy Osbourne mold. I really didn’t. I felt fat, I felt ugly. No boys liked me; girls weren’t even an option at the time. It didn’t make sense why this was happening or why I was alone.

I feel like the girls that love our show are those exact girls. Now, they have a little more opportunity to explore sexuality today than they did in 1982, ’83, or ’84, but they’re still confused, and they still don’t like who they are or the changes in their body. They think they’re too fat, too skinny, all those things. So, I think identifying with these drag personas lets them be somebody they are not, and the drag queens make them feel that they are loved no matter what. I think that’s a critical point in a girl’s life. That’s why the fanbase is the age that it is.

How in general do you think RuPaul’s Drag Race has helped young people, especially LGBTQ youth?

A lot of our kids that watch the show don’t have maybe the people in their life that understand. Now, a lot more mothers and families and people have understood them through the communication of the show, the method of the show. There’s still a lot of kids that don’t feel comfortable in telling their family, and they feel that they’re alone. They are afraid to be who they are, and maybe saying, “Hey, watch this show with me, Mom” can help them come out. So it’s helped a lot of families understand who their child is. … What it does for trans kids and other kids — nongender, nonconforming, or gender-nonbinary kids — is amazing, because these conversations weren’t happening on mainstream TV before.

Of course, it definitely depends on the parent. There’s a lot of parents who would be completely appalled and disgusted, and that’s a reality that we have to face. And it’s my job as an ally to try to change that, especially as an ally and a parent and a parent of a queer child [Visage’s older daughter, Lillie] to do my part in changing people’s viewpoints and stances. At least if you can’t change it, try to open their minds to education, instead of hate or yelling or shaming.

Drag Race has indeed opened up the conversation of all of these things that matter. I’ve had lots of parents come up to me and say, “Thank you for helping me understand what my kid was going through.” That’s what our show does. Our show helps parents understand their children that never really fit in. Now the parents say, “I love my queer, gay, bi, trans, gender nonconforming” — the list goes on and on — “child.” You have no idea how that makes me feel, just parent to parent, to look them in the eye and say, “Thank you for loving your kid no matter who they are.”

Michelle Visage with daughter Lillie Case in 2017. (Photo: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

You have many troubled or lonely young fans that look up to you as a mother figure. That must be a heavy emotional responsibility to take on sometimes.

Well, for me it’s an honor. I would never try to take the place of anybody’s parent, but there’s a lot of these kids who don’t feel like they can talk to their parents — or, more importantly, have been shunned, kicked out, or disowned by their parents. Why would they feel like their parents love them if they’ve been thrown out on the street and told that until they either stop transitioning or live their lives like a “normal person,” they’re not allowed back in their lives? It always breaks my heart when I hear that, because I’m adopted. I lived in foster care until I was 4 months old. If my parents didn’t adopt me, what would have become of my life? I met my biological mother and she had to give me up, for various reasons, but more importantly my father told her to have an abortion and he left her. She was 18. I think of me, and then I think of these kids, and I’m going, “Oh my God. They’re not wanted. I wasn’t wanted.” Different scenarios, but my heart is undeniably connected to theirs.

So, them unloading on me is the least I can do and the least I could offer and expect. If I can offer one little nugget of advice or help, then it was worth it.  I can do my own detoxing and emotional cleansing at home and burn my sage and meditate, fill up with all the love and joy of my daughters, but these kids are going back onto the street. These kids are going back into their car, living in their car, because they’re not welcomed anywhere. It’s heartbreaking. I don’t have a magic wand and I’m not Glenda the Good Witch, but if I could, I would have a place for all these kids to take shelter. I told my husband, “I would love more than anything to adopt one of these younger kids.” When I was on [New York City’s] Christopher Street [back in ‘80s], I remember kids as young as 11 out there every night. It’s not fair for any kid, because of their sexual identity or gender identity, to not have love in their lives.

You mentioned Christopher Street and your awkward adolescence. Can you talk about the New York nightlife that, as an insecure young girl, introduced you to the drag scene, the LGBTQ community?

When I moved to New York City to go college, my mother said, “If you want to be recognized, you need to go out to a club.” Because we didn’t have computers, we didn’t have social media, we didn’t even have cellphones. So you had to go out to be recognized. My mother got me a fake ID and I went out to a club called the Underground. I went with my roommate. We were petrified; we had never gone out to a nightclub in New York City. This one beautiful brown-skinned Puerto Rican boy came up to me and he said, “What’s your name?” And I’m looking around, like, “Are you talking to me?” He said, “You have the most beautiful face I have ever seen in my entire life.” And I literally have never thought I was beautiful, so for me it was a moment. He said, “Come with me, come with my friends.” And I felt like I was safe. He brought me back to this little backroom where all these people were the biggest weirdos and freaks and misfits that I’d ever seen, but they were doing something … at that time, I didn’t know what it was called, but it was voguing.

I always say, Dorothy clicked her heels three times and ended up back in Kansas. I clicked my heels three times and ended up on Christopher Street. I knew that I was home. I walked back there and a sense of calm just washed over me. I was like, “Holy s***, these are my people. These are people that are never going to judge me.” These are the people, apart from my mother and my first boyfriend who thought that I was beautiful. And they didn’t want anything from me. They definitely didn’t want sex. It wasn’t that. It was like, “Holy s***, this is it. This is what I came here for.” That’s where it all began. That’s where I feel my life as an ally, began because that’s when my education began. It began on a Christopher Street pier. I can’t even explain it, but it was a very transformational time in my life.

Michelle Visage and RuPaul. (Photo: IndieWire)

Is it true that were the first biological female to vogue in the ballroom scene competitively? 

Back then, that’s what I was told. Biological cisgender females didn’t vogue. … There wasn’t a category for biological girls in 1987. There just wasn’t a lot of us in that ballroom scene, especially ones with my complexion. That’s why it was a big deal for me to be in my house, because my house was all Dominican, Puerto Rican, and people of color. I was the only white person, period, in my house.

What do you remember as your ‘education’ from that time?

I remember talking to trans women about transitioning, when transitioning wasn’t even called “transitioning” — you were gay or you were a queen, but you lived your life as a woman. I remember talking to [famous transgender performer and founder of the House of Xtravaganza] Angie Xtravaganza on the pier, talking about taking hormones and what it was like. And even getting hormones was so difficult for girls back then. And dangerous. This was all new to me, this middle-class, white, heterosexual girl from central New Jersey. It was crazy but so interesting and so intriguing, and I wanted to help and I wanted to be part of it. And that’s kind of where it all started. Then I started going to Pride marches and balls and defending and standing up for things I  believed in. And I haven’t stopped since 1987.

Obviously, things are a lot different now than they were in ‘87. And a lot of people think Drag Race has helped bring these issues to the mainstream.  

You know what? I think “mainstream” is such a big word. It’s bigger than we actually think it is. Mainstream is like Roseanne. I hate to say it. That’s mainstream. I think that [Drag Race] is where it should be, which is on the lips of everybody who understands pop culture. But we don’t bring in the sheeple. We just don’t and we never will. We are so proud of the art that we create and the dialogue that we’ve opened up, but at the core we are a queer-centric show, and we cater to that. Those are our people, that’s our tribe. That’s what we’re always going to cater to. If the regular folk want to come along, we welcome them, and yes, I absolutely believe that there’s been a shift. But the shift is not just for RuPaul’s Drag Race. There’s also been a paradigm shift because of the current administration, giving people basically the OK to be completely bigoted, hateful, racist, anti-Semitic, transphobic, xenophobic … the list goes on and on. To be a**holes, basically. There’s both sides of that pendulum. You’ve got the one side that has opened this conversation. The dialogue is here now about trans people, trans life, gender equality, the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, everything that’s f***ing necessary and life-affirming. Versus the other side, which is … well, you know what it is.

Then there’s another school of thought, with some naysayers complaining that drag has become ‘too mainstream’ and ‘too PC’ because of the show.

First of all, I don’t think drag has become too PC. If you go to a drag bar, you’ll see that it’s not. I think we, as a human race, have become too PC, because of everything that’s happening in the world. You can’t blame that on drag queens! When I grew up where I grew up, things were very, very different and nobody had a filter. And that’s what brought us together. We could all make fun of things, give a big middle finger to society, and be like, “This is who we are!” Becoming too overly politically correct is what’s killing society in general. We can’t blame that just on drag.

So, yes, the topic of drag has become more mainstream. But if we have people like [drag queen] Ada Vox on a mainstream show like American Idol, why is that bad? That’s our community infiltrating. It’s not Milton Berle or Flip Wilson. It’s a queer person loving what they do and who they are and feeling confident enough to say, “F*** you. You can’t tell me who to be and who I am. I’m going to sing with my privates tucked and my breasts made of foam, and I’m going to go out there in heels and change the world!” To me, that should be celebrated. I don’t think that’s watering down anything. I think that’s us finally getting recognition for what we’ve been doing for a very, very long time.

The way I came up in drag, drag was marginalized, not accepted, kind of in the gutter, and looked at as a joke. It was not considered an art form. But I always believed that it was an art form, and it always mesmerized me. And I was always obsessed with drag and drag queens, because I thought, “This is the coolest thing ever.” It still, to me, is the coolest thing ever.

So if RuPaul’s Drag Race won the Best Reality Competition Emmy this year, what would the significance be, especially in the year 2018? What message would it send?

I think there is a big message to be sent, and the message is the message that the community’s been fighting since the beginning — since [LGBTQ activists] Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, everybody we’ve lost to the AIDS virus, and all the great brothers and sisters before us, that have fought for equality and a voice. When you try to tell us we don’t matter, we fight louder, we fight stronger, and we fight harder. This award is a voice for all those people who don’t have one.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

Follow Lyndsey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Amazon, Tumblr, Spotify


  • These are the bad things about early retirement that no one talks about
    News
    MarketWatch

    These are the bad things about early retirement that no one talks about

    For all the glamour of living an early retirement lifestyle, there are plenty of negatives I’ve come to discover since I permanently left my job in 2012. As a result, you’re repeatedly forced to will yourself into action.

  • Bank of America's lagging loan growth overshadows profit gains
    Business
    Reuters

    Bank of America's lagging loan growth overshadows profit gains

    The No. 2 U.S. bank's profit rose 35 percent, helped by cost controls, but investors focused on the underlying businesses. "It was definitely a surprise when some of the other banks had better-than-expected loan growth," said R.J. Grant, head of trading at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Bank of America's total loan book grew 0.3 percent to $930 billion during the third quarter compared with the year-ago period.

  • Brits Are All Making the Same Joke About the New Royal Baby
    News
    Time

    Brits Are All Making the Same Joke About the New Royal Baby

    Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is expecting her first child with Prince Harry. The news, announced Monday morning by Kensington Palace, has already been greeted by hundreds of messages of congratulations for the royal couple on social media. The U.K. is set to leave the European Union on March 29, exactly two years after Prime Minister Theresa May started the formal process for doing so by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

  • Sears bankruptcy could make these 5 big companies multi-million-dollar losers
    Finance
    Yahoo Finance

    Sears bankruptcy could make these 5 big companies multi-million-dollar losers

    Being an unsecured creditor of Sears (SHLD) right now is not a good place to be. The 125-year old former retail icon filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection early on Monday, crippled from years of losses and mounting debt. Sears plans to close about

  • Finance
    Bloomberg

    Tesla Skeptic Surprised by How Much He Enjoyed the Model 3

    In a broader note about positive electric-car momentum, Jonas said he observed workers at Tesla’s lone auto plant in Fremont, California, who were “extremely busy cranking out Model 3s” for delivery in the U.S. He also drove the dual-motor performance version of the vehicle, which he sees as having better value-for-performance than the Model S sedan. “Frankly, our enjoyment of the high-spec version of the Model 3 took us by surprise,” Jonas said, adding that it’s “hard to say how much this matters.

  • 2 Hot Marijuana Stocks Listing Soon on U.S. Exchanges -- Are They Buys?
    Business
    Motley Fool

    2 Hot Marijuana Stocks Listing Soon on U.S. Exchanges -- Are They Buys?

    Two marijuana stocks that are currently listed on Canadian stock exchanges soon plan also to list on U.S. stock exchanges. Aurora Cannabis (NASDAQOTH: ACBFF) (TSX: ACB) expects to trade on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) by the end of October and Aleafia Health (NASDAQOTH: ALEAF) should soon trade on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Are these hot marijuana stocks that are coming soon to U.S. stock exchanges smart picks to buy now?

  • This Sin-Stock ETF's Marijuana Moves Have Missed the Mark
    Business
    Motley Fool

    This Sin-Stock ETF's Marijuana Moves Have Missed the Mark

    Marijuana stocks have never been more popular, as investors seek to take advantage of the coming opening of the recreational marijuana market in Canada. Although those who want to invest in marijuana can choose from several individual companies with ties to cannabis, many of those who are more cautious about the sector would prefer to get more diversified exposure through an exchange-traded fund. There are some ETFs that specialize in marijuana stocks, giving concentrated exposure to the industry.

  • Ark Invest CEO: Tesla 'is a replay of Apple'
    Finance
    Yahoo Finance

    Ark Invest CEO: Tesla 'is a replay of Apple'

    Tesla (TSLA) and Apple (APPL) have at least one thing in common – and it’s a big factor leading one analyst to project a price target of $4,000 for the electric vehicle manufacturer. It comes down to the chips, ARK Invest CEO and CIO Cathie Wood said in an interview with Yahoo Finance on Friday. Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed in August that the company would be making its own computer chips for automated driving, pivoting away from hardware produced by chipmaker Nvidia (NVDA).

  • Ford Escape sales are down — here’s how it compares with other small SUVs
    Business
    American City Business Journals

    Ford Escape sales are down — here’s how it compares with other small SUVs

    Sales of the Ford Escape aren't what they used to be. The Escape, made at the Louisville Assembly Plant, saw sales decline by 20 percent in September 2018, compared with the same month last year. Ford and its Lincoln Motor Co. subsidiary have been successful in increasing sales of larger SUVs, such as the Navigator and Expedition this year.

  • The Sears Bankruptcy Is Likely to Inflict Pain on Mall Owners for Years
    Finance
    Bloomberg

    The Sears Bankruptcy Is Likely to Inflict Pain on Mall Owners for Years

    Mall owner Macerich Co. struck a agreement that year with the struggling department-store operator to redevelop a 300,000 square-foot store at Kings Plaza Shopping Center, a high-traffic mall in Brooklyn, New York. After Sears filed for Chapter 11 protection early Monday, Macerich’s lengthy -- and expensive -- process is worth keeping in mind. Other mall owners, who have been grappling with the retailer’s store closings and diminished ability to attract shoppers for years, must now contend with the possibility of a full liquidation, which would mean a glut of retail real estate in an already oversupplied market.

  • This Is the Average American's Salary. How Does Yours Compare?
    Business
    Motley Fool

    This Is the Average American's Salary. How Does Yours Compare?

    In an age of oversharing, many of us are remarkably tight-lipped when it comes to talking salary. But in reality, knowing where you stand can help you determine whether you're in a good place or whether you should be taking steps to boost your earnings

  • 3 Reasons 62-Year-Olds Should Take Social Security Now
    Business
    Motley Fool

    3 Reasons 62-Year-Olds Should Take Social Security Now

    As people approach retirement, it's natural to want to claim Social Security as soon as possible. Even though waiting beyond the earliest claiming age of 62 for retirement benefits can give you larger monthly checks, you still have to make it through

  • 3 Top Small-Cap Stocks to Buy in October
    Business
    Motley Fool

    3 Top Small-Cap Stocks to Buy in October

    This fall, think small. To be more specific, think about buying small-cap stocks. Why? Small-cap stocks have the most growth potential. It's hard for a stock with a market cap of $500 billion to double. But it's a different story for stocks with market

  • Sears' bankruptcy: Stanley Black & Decker, Apex Tool among largest unsecured creditors
    Business
    American City Business Journals

    Sears' bankruptcy: Stanley Black & Decker, Apex Tool among largest unsecured creditors

    A couple of tool manufacturers with big presences could lose millions of dollars as a result of Sears filing for bankruptcy protection. Sears Holding Corp., which owns Sears and Kmart, filed for Chapter 11 protection on Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, New York. Apex Tool Group, the privately held Sparks-based company, has a $6.6 million unsecured claim against Sears, according to the bankruptcy filings.

  • Warren Buffett predicted the fall of Eddie Lampert and Sears over 10 years ago (SHLD, BRK.A, BRK.B)
    Finance
    Business Insider

    Warren Buffett predicted the fall of Eddie Lampert and Sears over 10 years ago (SHLD, BRK.A, BRK.B)

    Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy early Monday, the culmination of a downward spiral. CEO Eddie Lampert, once called the "next Warren Buffett," will also step down. Incidentally, Buffett predicted the retailer's and Lampert's downfall in 2005.

  • Harris, L3 merging to form $34M defense giant
    Business
    Yahoo Finance Video

    Harris, L3 merging to form $34M defense giant

    Harris Corporation and L3 Technologies are joining together in a ‘merger of equals’ to create a $34M defense giant. Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous, Brian Cheung, Ethan Wolff-Mann and Melody Hahm dig into what it means for the defense industry.

  • How Investors Reacted to Walgreens’s Fourth-Quarter Results
    Business
    Market Realist

    How Investors Reacted to Walgreens’s Fourth-Quarter Results

    Walgreens Closes Fiscal 2018 with Mixed Results (Continued from Prior Part) Walgreens stock after fourth-quarter results As we’ve already seen in this series, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) posted better-than-expected fourth quarter of fiscal 2018 earnings

  • Microsoft Earnings: Mark Your Calendar
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Microsoft Earnings: Mark Your Calendar

    Software giant Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has continued to impress investors in 2018 amid its ongoing progress becoming a more cloud-centric company. Microsoft reports its first-quarter earnings for fiscal 2019 on October 24. Ahead of Microsoft's earnings release, here's an overview of some of the key areas investors will want to watch. Core to Microsoft's momentum recently is the company's rapidly growing commercial-cloud revenue.

  • Here’s How Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Baby Will Change the Line Of Succession
    News
    Time

    Here’s How Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Baby Will Change the Line Of Succession

    Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expecting a baby in spring 2019, Kensington Palace announced Monday morning. Harry and Meghan married in May, becoming the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Now, the question is where the new arrival will fit into the line of succession of the British royal family.

  • Better Marijuana Stock: Aurora Cannabis vs. Auxly Cannabis Group
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Better Marijuana Stock: Aurora Cannabis vs. Auxly Cannabis Group

    One is market cap: Aurora's market cap is nearly 18 times bigger than Auxly's. Then there's stock performance. Here's how Aurora Cannabis and Auxly Cannabis Group stack up against each other in the areas that do matter.

  • Bank of America Earnings: Better Margins, Strong Asset Quality, and an All-Around Good Quarter
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Bank of America Earnings: Better Margins, Strong Asset Quality, and an All-Around Good Quarter

    Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) is the last of the "big four" U.S. banks to report its third-quarter earnings. Not only did Bank of America beat expectations on both the top and bottom lines, but the business looks pretty solid all around. First, looking at the top and bottom lines, Bank of America did quite well in the third quarter.

  • What Should Investors Expect When Shopify Reports Earnings?
    Business
    Motley Fool

    What Should Investors Expect When Shopify Reports Earnings?

    E-commerce platform provider Shopify (NYSE: SHOP) has had quite a run since going public three years ago, gaining over 400% compared with the 30% gains of the S&P 500. The biggest contributors have been the recent market rout and fears caused by Shopify's slowing growth. Investors will be keeping a close eye on the numbers when Shopify reports third-quarter results before the market open on Oct. 25.

  • What Investors Should Know about AT&T’s Growth Prospects
    Business
    Market Realist

    What Investors Should Know about AT&T’s Growth Prospects

    What Investors Should Know about AT&T’s Growth Prospects AT&T’s earnings in Q3 2018 AT&T (T), the second-largest wireless service provider in the United States, is looking to showcase its strength as it nears its third-quarter earnings release. The company

  • It’s Official -- These 5 Social Security Changes Are Coming for 2019
    Business
    Motley Fool

    It’s Official -- These 5 Social Security Changes Are Coming for 2019

    For workers, Social Security's maximum taxable earnings are increasing, and more income will be required to earn a Social Security "credit." Beneficiaries who claimed Social Security early and still work will be happy to learn they'll be able to earn more without a benefit reduction in 2019, and for high earners, the maximum possible Social Security benefit is also on the rise. With all of that in mind, here are the recently released details of these five 2019 Social Security changes. As I mentioned, Social Security beneficiaries are getting a 2.8% COLA starting with their January 2019 benefit payment.