What RuPaul’s Drag Race Has to Teach Us About Corporate Authenticity
Huh? What could a TV show about drag queens possibly have to do with the corporate world? More than you could ever imagine.
For those who’ve never seen it, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a reality series where drag queens compete for the crown of ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar’. The process is both simple and challenging. Each week, a diverse group of men face a series of showdowns requiring them to do incredible hair and makeup, design and create costumes, put on skits, do improv comedy, lip sync, and a whole host of other wild and wonderful tests — all ultimately performed in their drag ‘alter egos’.
The contestants come from all over the world to take the coveted crown. As gay men, most have survived some seriously ugly crap in their lives. They come from big cities and small towns. Some are already renowned for their drag skills, while some are relatively new to the game. And they are all FABULOUS.
RuPaul Charles, who the contestants refer to as ‘Ru’ or ‘Mother’ is both their coach and their judge. When he’s in coaching mode, RuPaul always appears in his male persona; a tall, bald, soft spoken elegantly suited man. But when he judges, he transforms into RuPaul; a gorgeous Amazonian woman with a massive blonde wig, gowns that any woman would die for, curves that go on for ever, and an imperious attitude to match. While these characters appear very different on the surface, they are both 100% RuPaul.
What’s the T?
So what does all of this have to do with the corporate world?
What RuPaul aims to develop in these men is what he knows is the key to success; authenticity. Yup. Despite going from average men to glorious women, the secret is in finding the truth of who they really are and bringing it to technicolor life through their drag personas. Their ability to keep it real while completely transforming is their real challenge. In fact, one of the show’s recurring themes (and catchphrases) is “No T, no shade.” Which means telling the straight up truth, but with good intention. (And these queens know how to speak the truth — believe it.)
While the costumes might be different, the reality is the same for us in our business environments.
We all have personas. They’re the ‘coat’ we put on before we head out the door to work, the face we wear at meetings, the words we say that we’d never utter over drinks with friends. There is the ‘work’ us, and the ‘other’ us. For so many, these personas are completely different. And that’s where we’re the same as RuPaul’s protégées. Just like them, having personas that are not rooted in truth and authenticity will never get us the crown.
You Better Work!
So how can we transcend the external trappings to reveal who we really are without losing our credibility?
The secret is in finding our ‘swagger’. Not in the old school, show-y peacock sense, but in a newfound authentic and honest way.
Swagger, in the true sense, is the ability to manifest our real selves in the face of all the psychological bullshit that will try to squish it back down on a daily basis. It’s figuring out how to merge our ‘on and off screen’ personas into one complete person who’s able to be messy, flawed, human and still fabulous. And it’s about being fearless in the face of those who would seek to judge us against some imagined rules of behavior.
If a 24 year-old gay, black man from a small Louisiana town can have the courage to paint his face, pad his body and strut his gorgeous stuff on national television so that he can embody and reveal who he truly is, then anyone can show up for real at their company gig.
The only difference is how deep the desire to be seen as who we really are is.
In Rupaul’s words, “If you want it, you better work!”
Super Role Model of the World
As a trainer and coach, I’ve watched in awe how RuPaul teases the truth out of these men. The way he gets them to tap into their stories, fear, pain and ambition and bring it all into play is a thing of beauty. With tough love, compassion and humor, he walks the absolute talk on how you can be 100% yourself despite dressing a different part.
If only we could all have a role (super) model with his mad authenticity skills.
What RuPaul proves is that it’s not the outside that reflects authenticity. It’s the surfacing of our soft and vulnerable centers that matter. It’s being conscious of our truth, intention and self-belief and not allowing haters to get in our way. Despite the suit, the tie, or the skirt, we have to show up as our one self, with full swagger on display. It ain’t easy, but it’s doable. Just ask every contestant who has strutted through the Drag Race doors.
So seek out the people at work who you feel walk the authentic talk. Look for mentors who actively keep it real and learn from them. Surround yourself with the smartest and most humble people, and those who you know will tell the ‘T’ when it’s needed. And most of all, try not to get sucked in to the haters. There will always those who get intimidated by realness. That’s on them, not on you. Just smile and sashay away.
As RuPaul so beautifully sums up at end of the every show “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else. Can I get an amen up in here?”
Amen Mother. Amen. And that’s the T.
Leslie Ehm is a speaker, author and President & Chief Fire Starter at Combustion Training. Her book ‘SWAGGER’ about authenticity in the corporate world is released 2019.