The rise of RuPaul Andre Charles from a kid knocking about the streets of 1970s San Diego to the most famous (and most fabulous) drag queen in the world has been much mythologised. Not least by RuPaul himself. Just listen to the spoken-word intro to his 1992 breakout hit “Supermodel (You Better Work)”. But the real story of how RuPaul became RuPaul? That’s one that the 12-time Emmy Award-winning entertainer has kept deliberately close to his chest over his decades in the spotlight.
Until now, that is. On 5 March 2024, RuPaul will publish his bracingly candid memoir, The House of Hidden Meanings. The book charts a course from his tumultuous home life as a child, through to coming to terms with his sexuality as a teenager, his wayward years in the punk and drag scenes of Atlanta and New York, and all the way up to finding sobriety and true love with his now-husband Georges LeBar.
Yet despite the very individual circumstances of RuPaul’s journey, he also sees it as a universal narrative. “I think it’s a very American story,” he says. “I wanted to show how you can not only navigate a life on this planet, but also create something that isn’t just for you – something that’s exploratory and adventurous and selfless.”
What may initially surprise readers is the fact that the book focuses entirely on the first 40 years of his life, ending well before the worldwide phenomenon of RuPaul’s Drag Race began. But equally surprising is its raw, introspective tone. A chapter covering his late teens dabbling in hard drugs and losing his virginity is striking not for the candour with which he describes what happened, but simply for his remarkable way with words – as a writer, his sparse, elegant prose (with the occasional dash of his signature sparkling wit) makes it all the more powerful.
“I can’t determine whether people are going to accept it or understand it, but it was very cathartic for me to just get it all out,” he says. “I feel like I’ve kept up a poker face and held my cards close to my chest my whole life, and I still do that, because it’s a protection mechanism.” Yet it’s also – very much intentionally – leavened with the wisdom RuPaul now has, looking back on the unruly years of his young adulthood. “The book is called The House of Hidden Meanings because underneath every story is another story that really tells you what’s going on, and I wanted it to look back on the past and uncover the hidden meaning behind each event,” he says.
Did he discover more of those hidden meanings as he got deeper into the writing process? “Oh, absolutely,” he says. “Absolutely. And that’s where a kind of fearlessness comes in. A lot of the time, we, as humans, carry with us guilt about certain things. And then you realise, Oh my goodness, that had nothing to do with me. That was their issue. Right now, I’m talking about my parents. But when you look at it as an adult, you realise it had nothing to do with you, and you can relieve yourself of some of the pressure and blame you’ve assigned to yourself.”
For RuPaul, the past few years spent writing the memoir became an unexpected process of self-discovery – whether he was reexamining challenging moments from his childhood, or simply recognising how pivotal that turbulent period was in shaping the performer, producer, and entertainment powerhouse he is today. So you might think that as he prepares to put the book out into the world, RuPaul must be feeling more fearless than ever. But he isn’t – and that was exactly the point of writing it. “It’s pretty scary – although the scary part is really this part, where I’m actually having to talk about it,” he says, before breaking into his infectious laugh. “But I’ve always carried the truth of who I am inside of me.
“It’s one of my navigational tools in life: to remember who you are, and then to share it with everyone – especially in a world where people are sometimes looking to tear you apart and to use your kindness against you, to say that you’re weak,” he continues. “But the opposite is true. Your vulnerability is where your real power is.” And in The House of Hidden Meanings, that sentiment – the core of the RuPaul philosophy, really – has never been more beautifully expressed.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.