Why Bob the Drag Queen Is Golden

A comedian and activist champions intersectional identity.

Posted Oct 01, 2020

We live in a world full of people struggling to figure out who they are and where they fit in. This process can be confusing and complicated and often lasts a lifetime. Sadly, part of the reason why this process can be so difficult and take so long is that we often face stigma and discrimination based on our racial, gender, sexual, and cultural identity. So, it can be difficult for many of us to fully understand and embrace who we are and connect with the people who support our best self. For those of us who figure out our identity, life can be fulfilling. But for those whose identity development is thwarted by bias, the effects can be devastating. So, what we need are people who are willing to work through their own identity to serve as role models for the rest of us who are hoping to do the same.

Jacob Ritts, used with permission
Source: Jacob Ritts, used with permission

Enter Bob the Drag Queen. Many of us know Bob as the Season 8 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and star of the Emmy-nominated HBO series, We’re Here. And many of us know that Bob is an outspoken advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (or Questioning) (LGBTQ) rights as well as a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter. Central to Bob’s comedy and activism is his bold and unflinching willingness to take a look at the complexities of intersectional identity.  

Bob’s identity is a product of many facets of his life including his gender, race, and sexuality. I spoke with Bob for the Hardcore Humanism Podcast and as he describes it, being Southern is also central to his identity. “I'm a Southerner … I was raised in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. And I think that has practically everything to do with, you know, my formative years,” Bob told me. “I'm also black. So, this is what we're talking about, intersectionality, right? I'm also queer. And I'm also non-binary. And I think all these cultures have contributed to every essence of my being.”

Unfortunately, one of the ways that we often become aware of our identity is when we feel different or “other” from the world around us. Bob explained how being Black in Alabama made him more aware of his racial identity. “We were the first black family in this particular neighborhood,” he recalled. “I had never been so aware of my blackness as when I was surrounded by people who weren’t black.”

Bob recognized at an early age that he identified as queer. “I am pansexual as I actually remember also being attracted to women as well and thinking that maybe this like, thing where I was attracted to men was just like some weird phase or if it was something I could just ignore,” he said. “My mom is queer and I have a queer uncle. So, I wasn't completely, you know, shielded from queer representation.”

But Bob felt indirect pressure from his mom, who struggled with her own sexuality at one point for religious reasons. “My mother went through a phase in her life where she … stopped being queer for religious reasons,” Bob explained. “I remember, my mother rebuking her sexuality … Queerness was not okay. She basically just said it wasn't okay for her … This is what, in my experience, religion can do to a queer person. And I'm sure there's people out there who have great experiences with religion. I've not had a lot of those myself.”

Like many people who come to realize that their true identity is different from what society tries to impose on them, Bob had a choice. He could have suppressed his identity or chosen to have a more open mind and embrace his diversity and the diverse identities of others. He chose open-mindedness because it allowed him freedom to explore his self-concept. “In my experience when you open your mind to other things, you have so many more options to explore who you are as a person ... The musician, Mika … has a song called “Golden” and there's a really great lyric that says, ‘We are not what you think we are. We are golden,’” Bob described. “It’s this insinuation that we are so much more than people give us credit for being.”

And while Bob opposes stereotypes, he recognizes that when people who are similar to him and close to him assume certain things it can actually feel inclusive and strengthen their bond further.  “I don't like when a white person or anyone who is not black looks at me and assumes I'm going to be angry, violent, and steal. But I do like when I go over to my black friends’ houses and their moms assume I'm going to like her Southern black cooking,” he explained. “And she's right. And I do like being stereotyped in that regard. I do like when I gather with my queer friends and we laugh about the stuff that makes us uniquely queer. You know, me and my friends in private use a lot of words to describe ourselves that I imagine you probably wouldn't want to, you know, put in the press. But I do like that — like those moments feel good. You feel seen and validated because someone recognizes the common bond we have.”

One way that Bob addressed the challenge of bias is to surround himself with likeminded people and tries to avoid situations that expose him to discrimination and bias. “I do my best to surround myself with queer people,” he described. “I don't go to straight bars and it’s quite frankly because I don't feel comfortable there … I've had experiences before, like in a straight bar ... I would just have to pause before I go in there because of past experiences, because of being called a f*ggot on the streets, because you know when people would see me in drag on a train, they would throw some transphobic slurs at me. So, it just makes you not want to go to any of those places. Like if this is what you get when you go there, then I'm just not gonna go there.”

While Bob does try to create a protective buffer around himself, he does not shy away from being a vocal advocate of the Black Live Matters movement in the fight against systemic racism. “Black people have been asking for reparations for years, and America was essentially spinning a story that it just wasn't in the budget. But then all of a sudden, we found enough money to give every single U.S. citizen over 18 who has filed taxes $1,200,” Bob said. “So, it was in the budget. You did have it. You had it the whole time. And you knew that it could actually help bridge the gap.”

And he feels that there is a natural connection between his black and queer identity that is strongly represented in the Black Lives Matter movement. “The queer community has everything to do with Black Lives Matter. One of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement is queer, for crying out loud,” he explained. “And I think that's a testament to everything that queer people bring to this nation, this world.”

Bob is also committed to increasing representation in the media to support people who may feel isolated because of their identity. Bob explained how seeing comedian Wayne Brady on television provided that representation for him. “There are moments where I think to myself, ‘I am on an HBO show that has been greenlit for a second season. And I am a little queer kid from Columbus, Georgia.’ I think the only other famous person from Columbus, Georgia is Wayne Brady, you know. There aren't a lot of people where I'm from who get opportunities like I have,” Bob said. “And I hope that it can inspire someone. The thing is, I remember seeing Wayne Brady on my TV when I was younger. And I talk about where I'm from a lot because if I would have known that Wayne Brady was from Columbus, Georgia, I can't even imagine how much like, essentially, life that would have given me to know that people where I’m from can make it really far.

“I hope you can obviously see why it is important for me to see queer people, black queer people on my TV. And I’m so happy that I am a black queer person on someone’s TV ... I mean, I recently did an episode of We're Here in Farmington, New Mexico, where I'm speaking to indigenous queers … I can't think of a single time I've seen an indigenous queer person on my TV, literally ever. It makes you feel alone, it makes you feel like you're the only person like you ... who can you relate to when you don't see yourself?”

I think we all feel a little less alone and a little more golden because of Bob.

References

You can hear Dr. Mike's conversation with Bob the Drag Queen on the Hardcore Humanism Podcast at HardcoreHumanism.com, Apple Podcasts, or your podcast app.