Since the inauguration of the Covid-19 lockdown in March, I have made some additions to my diet:
And wine. Definitely wine. Definitely extra wine.
If you know, you know. And if you don’t know, I’m talking about RuPaul’s Drag Race. And wine.
Over the past few weeks, when we were not busy working, washing dishes for the 47th time of the day, or making the most of our daily walk allowance, my boyfriend and I were binge-watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. And I mean aggressively binge-watching. We have blasted through every season, demolished every spin-off series, and even hit up relevant documentaries like Paris is Burning. More recently, we are having to settle for a Saturday morning drag indulgence – when the latest weekly episode of Season 12 makes its way to the UK.
For those of you unfamiliar with Drag Race, it is a competitive reality TV show in which contestants dress in drag and strut runways, impersonate celebrities, lip-synch, create their own outfits, perform choreographed musicals, and soooo much more – all in the hopes of being crowned “America’s Next Drag Superstar”. Since its debut in 2009, Drag Race has been a progressive platform for highlighting political issues, challenging societal norms, dismantling traditional concepts of gender, and modelling a vision of inclusivity and radical acceptance that could heal this wounded world. It’s also fucking hilarious.
I felt inspired to tell you about this for two reasons:
1. We are wrapping up Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK and this year’s theme is kindness.
2. I can’t watch Drag Race until next Saturday so I have a bit of time to kill.
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual campaign intending to raise awareness, provide education, and inspire actionable efforts to help make good mental health a potential for everyone. This year’s theme, kindness, was chosen because of its “singular ability to unlock our shared humanity”. According to the Mental Health Foundation (and arguably everyone else): kindness is an antidote to isolation, creates a sense of belonging, helps reduce stress, deepens relationships, boosts our self-esteem, and improves our sense of optimism and confidence. And while this all sounds cute, kindness isn’t always an easy choice. Sometimes kindness can be risky and may require a certain amount of courage. Sometimes kindness asks us to speak up, to go against the crowd, and to risk our own security in order to prevent the exclusion, rejection, discrimination, or mistreatment of another human being.
You know what this description of kindness reminds me of? Drag Race.
And so, in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, may I present to you:
10 Things RuPaul’s Drag Race Can Teach Us About Good Mental Health:
1. BE AUTHENTIC
Drag Race isn’t just about the hair, and makeup, and wigs, and costumes…it is about the revelation of each person’s unique identity and the distinct narrative that they were born to tell. The judges could care less about one dimensional characters and labels…often asking contestants to stop relying on being “pretty” or “funny”…because those superficialities as a constructed identity lack depth and meaning.
Authenticity is all about the honest, transparent, unabashed embodiment of our truths and the courage to show the world what we feel in the depths of our soul. It is a never-ending process of self-exploration and truth-seeking because we have to know ourselves in order to be ourselves. Why is this so difficult? Because when we worry that who we truly are will not be acceptable to others, we swap authenticity for shame and our mental health suffers. And this is why kindness matters so very much. Be a safe place for someone else’s authenticity. Be a safe place for your own.
“Drag doesn’t change who you are…it reveals who you are.” – RuPaul
2. EMBRACE VULNERABILITY
Vulnerability is the BFF of authenticity and is all about the uncertainty of emotional exposure. Many of us are taught that vulnerability is a weakness…but in truth, as expert Brene Brown suggests, it is “our most accurate measure of courage”. When we refuse to be vulnerable, we prevent ourselves from being truly seen (pro: we are not seen – con: we are not seen). When we struggle with vulnerability, we struggle with our mental health. We feel lonely, anxious, inadequate, unloved, and tend to implode under self-imposed pressures to be perfect.
So…if you need to show authenticity to win Drag Race…and you need vulnerability to show authenticity…you do the math.
“Vulnerability is power.” – RuPaul
3. YOUR DEMONS ARE NOT YOURS TO FACE ALONE
Secrets. Fears. Insecurities. Mistakes. Regrets. We all have them. You might feel yours are unique, and of course they are, but they are also a universal part of the human condition. In Drag Race herstory, many queens have been brave enough to reveal their inner demons…only to discover that in doing so, those demons lessened their painful grips. Those demons have looked like: an HIV diagnosis, an incarceration, extreme poverty and homelessness, familial rejection, addiction, conversion therapy, horrendous abuse, gender reassignment surgery, and more. We tend to battle our demons in the privacy of our own darkness because we worry we will lose love if we battle them in the light. Yes, your demons are your own…but they are not yours to face alone. Talk to someone who you trust. Demons hate when you do that.
“The only thing wrong with me was that I thought there was something wrong with me.” – RuPaul
4. SELF-EXPRESSION IS A SUPERPOWER
Drag as an art form has existed since ancient times and is the epitome of self-expression and creativity. Let me tell you, these queens serve some highly inspired looks. Inspiration, as a word, was originally used to describe the process in which a divine or supernatural being imparted a truth or idea to someone. Nowadays, we tend not to assume our creative musings are the whisperings of spiritual beings…and yet self-expression seems to be a highly spiritual practice. According to an abundance of mental health research and neuroscientific evidence, creativity and self-expression are significantly correlated with feelings of fulfillment, purpose, meaning, and connection.
“Express yourself.” – Madonna
5. FOCUS ON YOURSELF
I am sure it is difficult not to worry about what other people think of you when you are stood in full drag in front of a panel of judges who are about to critique you. It’s kind of an ironic part of the show. The queens who take the critiques personally, are easily distracted by the other queens, or are unwisely focused on creating drama…well, they are usually asked to “sashay away”.
Clients come to me for all kinds of reasons…but they all seem to have one thing in common: they experience a certain amount of suffering in worrying what other people think of them. In this way, living an authentic life can be easily compromised due to an overwhelming fear of judgment or rejection. To me, the ultimate sadness would be to leave this world with a dream in your heart that you never tried to actualize, simply because you were afraid of what someone might say.
I personally used to be someone who was very concerned with what other people thought. Until one day, I had to make the most difficult and painful decision of my life and got extremely mixed reviews about this choice. Some people told me I was brave…other people told me I was stupid…and I suddenly realized there was no sense living my life for anyone else because there will never be a consensus as to what that life should look like. How could one decision elicit such polarized opinions? Because reality is simply a matter of perception.
“What other people think of me is none of my damn business.” – RuPaul
6. CREATE YOUR OWN FAMILY
Drag is one of the most unique art forms in that it is not formally taught (I certainly didn’t see it as a course elective in school). This is why many of the queens have a ‘drag mother’…an experienced drag performer who acts as a mentor and guide. And so, drag families are formed.
Not everyone is blessed with the experience of unconditional love and acceptance in their own family. Many of the Drag Race queens told horrendous stories of being mocked, disowned, rejected, or abused simply because members of their family did not agree with their sexual orientation or the way they expressed themselves. Some queens had families who didn’t even know they did drag.
As you might expect, a lot of my work as a counsellor and coach involves helping people heal from unhealthy family dynamics. All children want to experience love and acceptance. All adults want the same thing. The difference is, as adults we are able to create our own families. We get to choose our friends…we get to choose who we love…and, ideally, we get to choose relationships with our actual family.
As humans, we are born hardwired for connection because as a species our survival depended upon our ability to formulate groups and care for our young. We still need groups to survive. We need love. We need acceptance. And if you weren’t born into it…please know you deserve it…and don’t stop looking until you find it.
“We as gay people get to choose our family and the people we’re around. I am your family. We are a family here.” – RuPaul
7. CONNECT WITH YOUR COMMUNITY
Drag Race has had an unprecedented impact on the LGTBQ+ community and has served to educate non-LGTBQ+ audiences about the social and political issues that this community faces. The show has also helped to give drag a mainstream cultural platform, thereby offering a more widespread invitation and sense of community to those who might potentially feel supported and understood within drag culture.
We all need somewhere to belong. Inclusivity and acceptance are pivotal requirements for our felt (and actual) sense of physical, mental, and emotional safety. Finding a network of people who share our beliefs, values, intentions, and interests can have an extremely positive impact on our mental health and emotional wellbeing.
You can find your community through socially connecting with other people who share your interests, hobbies, passions, or curiosities. You can make your own community. You can belong to more than one community. There are communities within communities! If you feel alone or disconnected, become inquisitive about the things that make your heart say, “OMG YESSSSS!”…and follow the trail of breadcrumbs. There are 7.954 billion people on this planet…trust me, you’ve got people.
“The show’s focus on contemporary conversations within the community has, in turn, managed to bring us all closer together.” – Bebe Zahara Benet
8. EMBRACE CHANGE
One of the things I love most about Drag Race is watching the queens grow and evolve during each season. I mean, you have to stay on the show long enough for this to be possible, but to watch these queens embrace change, push their boundaries, and try new things…it is truly an inspiration. Queens that can only hit one note never last…even if that note is amazing…and to me this is akin to the analogy that in nature, the only things that stop growing or changing are dead.
Change is not easy. It’s often painful and daunting. The unknown can feel like a scary place to be because our brains tell us that what we have to lose might be greater than what we have to gain. And our comfort zones are usually just as comfortable as that oversized, worn out pair of sweats we all seem to have. Good mental health is very much linked to our ability to adapt, to be flexible, and to make positive lifestyle changes when they are needed. So…if you’ve been having a nagging feeling that it’s time to leave something behind, pick up something you dropped, or start something brand new…see this as an invitation to begin.
“If you like it, do it. If you don’t like it, change it and move on.” – Bianca Del Rio
9. TAKE PURPOSEFUL CHANCES
“Better safe than sorry” isn’t sage advice on Drag Race…it’s more like, “Play it safe and you will be sorry”. The queens on Drag Race don’t want to be safe…they want to win…and that involves making bold moves sometimes. Now, this tip is about taking purposeful chances (not careless ones)…which basically means: know what you’re trying to do and know why you’re trying to do it.
Life would be insanely boring if we didn’t take chances. If you reflect upon your own life, you might find that your most rewarding and meaningful experiences were directly connected to a chance taken. So why do many people shy away from a wholehearted ‘JUST DO IT’ life motto? Usually because we are so terrifically afraid to fail. Our mental health depends upon our ability to strive, develop resiliency, build our character, face our fears, and cultivate an attitude of persistence and determination. Imagine the power of turning your ‘what-if’s into actual things.
10. YOU ARE BRAVER THAN YOU THINK
Drag is still alive…despite years of hate-violence, oppression, harmful misconceptions, and societal attempts to conceal queer culture…because drag is brave. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: bravery is the cheat code for everything else on this list.
Most of us don’t think we are brave…especially when we are struggling with our mental health. Fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and worry aren’t exactly preferred states of being…but they are prerequisites to bravery and courage. We can’t be brave if we are not afraid. And you are not alone. History is filled with all kinds of heroes and sheroes who have fought their way through terrifying adversity and left an impression on this world…and those very people are no different than you or I…they are made of exactly the same stuff. You do not lack anything. You are brave. How do I know? Because you are alive…which means you are guaranteed to have felt pain and fear and doubt and have moved your way through it, one step at a time. And so the next you are fearful, I hope you won’t see it as a shortcoming…I hope you will see it as an opportunity to be brave.
“To win at life and to win in this competition, you have to be willing to die a thousand deaths and be reborn a thousand times.” – RuPaul
Thank you to RuPaul and all of the amazing drag queens who have inspired me during this challenging time and who have reminded me that we truly live in a world where we can be anything. And I hope we will choose to be kind: kind to the world…and kind to ourselves. Because “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else! Can I get an amen?”
Amen, Mama Ru. Amen.