She’s the first lady of RuPaul’s Drag Race that’s always surrounded by passionate queens as she stands up for gay rights all across the world.
Internationally renowned television personality, radio show host and now author, Michelle Visage has made a name for herself in the entertainment industry for the past three decades.
I caught up with Michelle in Glasgow.
AJ: Last night you spoke about not fitting in and finally sticking up for yourself and others when a gay friend was being bullied at school. Can you tell me a little more about that…
MV: I was an oddball kid who never fitted in. I started considering myself an ally aged 17, in my senior year of high school, when I stuck up for the only (obvious) gay boy in my school. He was not out and he was constantly getting picked on by the “cool kids”. One day in class I couldn’t sit by and watch any more so I stood up and got in the kid’s face and let him have it. Then I decided to embrace who I was. I didn’t care what anyone thought: I was going to dress and act the way I wanted and be me to the fullest, despite the crazy looks, and I did. When I first moved to NYC to go to university, I had no-one. I went to a club on my own the first weekend I lived in Manhattan and found some of the gayest, craziest and amazing people I’ve ever seen and they embraced me immediately. They became my family and I saw what they went through on a daily basis, simply walking down the street. I just knew I had to speak up for them.
AJ: The hugely successful RuPaul’s Drag Race, it’s not just a competition to the contestants but a journey. Some of their stories are heart rendering… do you feel an empathy with the contestants through your experiences?
MV: It brings families together, people don’t see that. It’s not just about finding the next America’s Drag Superstar it’s about getting to know these kids, the dramas in their lives, what they’ve been through and how they work through it. There are so many layers to our show. It’s a life-changing show about rooting for the underdogs. We are all humans and it’s a human right to have equality. It’s not gay rights. It’s human rights.
AJ: Why do you think the show continues to be such a success?
MV: It has a heart. It has a soul. It has integrity. People have opened up to the idea of drag being a meaningful art form. So the more mainstream it goes, the bigger it is going to get and that is what is happening. And Ru Paul is an icon, I think every kid who aspires to be something different and make a name for themselves need only to look to Ru Paul
AJ: Does the show receive any negativity?
MV: Of course. I mean homosexuality is still not completely accepted in mainstream, you can’t always have things going your way and that’s fine. But the more we keep fighting for what we want the more positive the outcome is going to be.
AJ: You have been on tour with Battle of the Seasons – do you enjoy being on the road?
MV: I love being on the road but naturally miss my husband and children, the loves of my life. I love the queens and spending time with them. I get to know them personally, on a different level. I love seeing fans and meeting lots of people but the biggest compliment I get when touring with these kids is when a mother comes up to me and says “thank you for helping me with my child.” Or “my child is trans or my child is a drag queen, thank you for helping me understand.” And I just say “thank you for loving your child unconditionally” because that’s what we need more of.
AJ: What has been the response from UK audiences?
MV: We were in Manchester and London and I can’t even put into words how incredible the response has been. I knew it would be big but didn’t realise just how big it would be.
AJ: How close are we to getting Drag Race UK?
MV: I’d love to do it here in the UK, my other homeland. Jonathan Ross has been a big champion of making this happen. I know it’s going to happen, I know it in my heart, it’s just a matter of timing for that.
AJ: How important do you think it is for younger people to see positive role models, from all walks of life, in the media?
MV: For me silence equals death for any cause, whether it is cancer or racism or Whatever the cause is, if someone is not out there speaking about it then everyone forgets about it. So yeah, we need visible people.
AJ: We’ve got to talk about Big Brother. You were in one of the most explosive series ever – what was it really like in there?
MV: It was far worse than anything you saw, you have to remember it was 24 hours edited in to 44 minutes. You missed a ton of stuff because, well, it’s a one-hour show.
AJ: So, what was your reason for taking part in the show?
MV: Part of my motive for going in to the house was for people to see how beautiful our world is and what drag is all about. Because people don’t know what it’s about about, and people don’t know how amazing these kids are. Not just how they look but there is so much more to drag. There is so much heart in drag. This is the most ostracised part of the gay community. Transgender people and drag queens. Now they are finally getting the attention they deserve in a positive way. Drag is such a viable art form, it used to be such a niche, but it’s grown and grown.
AJ Did you want people to see another side to you?
MV: You see me at my work, on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’m there to do a job. For me, the other side I wanted people to see is my truth. I was in there for the gay community. And not just the gays but for any kid who feels like they’ve never belonged to a group. All the freaks, all the weirdos, all the misfits who never felt like their life was worth it or have questioned if their life was worth it. I was in there for all of them.
AJ: You’ve been so busy but have found the time to write a book; The Diva Rules – Ditch the Drama, Find Your Strength, and Sparkle Your Way to the Top…
MV: Yes. It’s part memoir, part self help and all things fabulous. It’s my stories about how I did something, I failed. Did something, I failed. But I pulled myself up. Us women tend to put our children first, our career first, then we forget ourselves. We forget to nurture our inner diva. Fabulous is not always on the outside, fabulous comes from within.
AJ: Will we being seeing more of Michelle Visage in the UK?
MV: I’m not going to sit here and say I have this project lined up or that lined up but I’m working on a few things that I’m hoping to get off the ground here, so I won’t talk about them until they are done. But you’ve not seen the last of me here, that’s for sure.