Book Club: RuPaul’s Workin’ It – Part 1
For those of you who haven’t heard (which means you did not watch the newest season of Drag Race in its entirety, which, in turn, means you really need to rethink your priorities) RuPaul has recently come out with a new book: Workin’ It!: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style. In this multi-part series I will attempt to integrate some of the many profound insights contained in this rosy tome into my own ways of interacting with and thinking about the world. Come, friends, follow me on my mystical journey to attain Ru-vana.
“The most important thing… is to not take life too seriously.” RuPaul begins his introduction with the claim that this little nugget of wisdom is the most important piece of advice he has ever received. Now, at first that endorsement may come off as a bit of a contradiction coming from someone who is obviously so meticulous about the way they present themselves to the world. I’ve never done drag myself, but it seems to me that anyone who regularly engages in an intricate process of wholesale self-transformation on which their entire livelihood depends would be hard-pressed to maintain a carefree attitude. How are we, his disciples, to interpret this apparent paradox?
Though the importance of continually challenging yourself to succeed is stressed throughout the book, it turns out the crux of Ru’s philosophical argument rests not on the irrefutable strength of his own work ethic, but, in a much broader sense, on the transcendental nature of human identity. “Whatever you proclaim as your identity here in the material realm is… 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!”
What is alluded to in this passage is the true danger of “taking life too seriously”, of attaching too much meaning to a particular facet of our identity: we become a disconnected, hollowed-out mess of social categories rather than a fully integrated self. Buddhist doctrine has been grappling with this phenomenon for more than a millennium and, more recently, brilliant scholars like Jean Baudrillard and Judith Butler have made it their life’s work to deconstruct the systems of meaning-making which stifle rather than articulate our sense of being.
Anyone who has seen RuPaul’s show knows that, in an open-minded environment, concepts of gender which have been hotly debated in our society for generations can be rendered border-line meaningless. Likewise, anyone who has seen RuPaul at all, in any context can tell that she, as an individual, is something far more spectacular than all elements of her ensemble. This is a serious achievement, my friends, but not too much so.