Lessons from RuPaul

RuPaul Charles’ 2009 lecture titled “Observations from the Inside” at Claremont McKenna, where I was a student in the audience , chronicled his journey as a young man, his identity, and, conscious of the college-age audience, ended with a glass-half-full ode to self-construction. During the question-and-answer round, he took on the issue of whether “things are getting better.”Charles said he couldn’t be sure because cultures open and close. They go through periods where anything seems possible, buoyed by boundless optimism. And immediately afterward come periods of constriction and retreat to traditional value systems. We seem to be doing well now, he said and overall things are better. But then he pointed out that there had been periods like this before in the eighties and the nineties which were followed by what seemed to be like cultural droughts. Recent years have been replete with watershed moments–Laverne Cox appearing on the cover of Time, Aziz Ansari launching a successful show on Netflix, Chris Rock calling the Oscars “White People’s Choice Awards,” #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #ReadWomenWriters movements, just to name a few. And then, on the other hand, there are the shootings, the videos, the riots, the young men dropping dead. The cultural atmosphere hasn’t necessarily reflected the political landscape. With the rise of Trumpism, I wonder if we are culturally entering into another drought–admittedly socioeconomic issues are driving the movement but politics will manifest in the mainstream too. There could be another long night ahead before the sun breaks.

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