Meeting your role models and people you look up to can be a dicey proposition. You love them and their work, and you’ve probably built up certain expectations about them, an idealized version of who they are and how they might behave. Almost always, these expectations are wrong, and in the worst cases this can lead to a loss of respect, shattering your halo of admiration with their all-too-human flaws. Knowing this, I was excited and a little nervous about meeting JuJubee, star of RuPaul’s Drag Race (both the 2nd and “All Star” seasons) and Drag U, because I wanted so much to like her. Many of the contestants on RPDRcome off as catty and self-involved, and I’d always admired JuJubee for her ability to progress through her time in the competition with a really open and compassionate presence. Even when she served up some sass, she did so in a way that didn’t undermine her integrity and wasn’t all about pushing herself and her ego.
It was amazing to see that wonderful TV persona in the flesh. JuJubee was just as open and giving as I had hoped she would be and she helped the Wayne State College PRIDE event, “Cancer is a Drag,” come alive for both the audience and the participants. She entertained the crowd with three numbers and interacted with the audience, which filled the ballroom to its 500-seat capacity with some taking up standing room in the rear. Backstage she took time to speak to every one of the evening’s performers, both seasoned performers and nervous amateurs alike. It didn’t matter where you were form or how much experience you had; JuJubee made time to talk to you and find out a little bit about your story. She found something to complement about everyone, but did so in a way that let you know the complement was truly genuine. She was attentive, really listening to whoever she was talking to, and she spent a lot of time after the show taking pictures, signing autographs, and speaking with excited fans.
Seeing how open and compassionate JuJubee was with performers and fans made me feel rejuvenated. There is so much drama in the drag world, so much animosity bourne out of competition for attention and titles, that I often feel worn down and forget the reasons why I started doing drag in the first place: to entertain and to help build community. As performers, we all want to be stars, but we sometimes get so caught up in what that means that we forget that someone else’s light doesn’t make ours any less brilliant or luminous. By sharing the spotlight and being compassionate to one another, we all move forward and focus on what is really important: putting together quality entertainment that allows all involved, both audience and performers, to have a good time and to grow.
This warm feeling was especially important to me as I returned home from my trip to find myself once again caught up in stupid, petty drama. I heard from a couple of friends that someone had put together an image of several of our local performers in less than flattering moments during their career, with the caption “Drag Queens of North Dakota.” The image, included below, was clearly meant to mock and undermine these performers, myself included, by showing them in an unflattering light, perhaps even calling into question their capabilities as performers.
That someone felt the need to create this image is childish and sad. All of the pictures used are live performance shots, which anyone who performs or who photographs performers will tell you is tricky. You aren’t posing, adjusting your angles for the most flattering look (and if you are, you probably aren’t putting on a very good show!), and the camera catches only a fragment of a living and dynamic performance. It’s Mean Girls all over again: making fun of another performer and showing them in a moment of weakness doesn’t make the person who created it a better performer or a happier person and it doesn’t demonstrate anything about the quality of performance in North Dakota, by these queens or any others.
And maybe it’s just the leftover warm fuzzies from my encounter with JuJubee, but I look at this image with pride because it speaks to me about growth and experience. I see Amy Rae Summers in a very early appearance, and I think about how far she has come as a performer in terms of both her makeup and her stage presence. I see Kelly Coxsyn pushing her limits as a performer, willing to look a little ridiculous for a Gender Fuck show. I see Anastacia Rose standing against the old back drop at the I-Beam and I think about how much sweat and time she put into making those shows successful. And I see myself, and think about how much growth and change I’ve experienced since that picture was taken. I’ve had some pretty major life events happen. I lost my beloved grandmother to breast cancer, sitting by her side for much of her last few days. I got divorced and had to take a long, hard look at what I think about relationships and about what I want out of life from a husband and a partner. I’ve moved, I’ve changed jobs. So much life has happened since that single moment was captured, and I’m much more interested in THAT experience, and in what came out of it, that about how I look in a single photograph.
As I look to the future, I hope that this community and others like it can learn from JuJubee’s example. I would book that fierce bitch in a hot second, and I hope that I’ll have the opportunity to do so. She clearly loves what she does and finds so much joy in it that she wants to share it with the world. That’s the kind of community I want to believe in, and it’s the kind of performer I want sharing the stage with me. That openness, that celebration of the art of drag, is the sweetest gift a performer can give, to their audience, and to each other.
Tags: Amy Rae Summers, Anastacia Rose, breast cancer, Cancer is a Drag Show, divorce, drag drama, drag king, drag performance, drag queen, drag show, drag troupe, Drag U, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, JuJubee, Kelly Coxsyn, life experience, Mean Girls, RuPaul's Drag Race, Wayne State College, WSC, WSC PRIDE