You are about to read my most personal post to date, yet I dearly hope this is something many of my readers will either be able to relate to or find useful in some way. It might seem a tad theatrical to say this, but the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race literally changed the lives of my teenage daughter, my husband and myself.
The Worst Year of our Lives
About 2 years ago, at the age of 13, my eldest daughter suffered a breakdown in the relationship with her father. They had always been close and this was a huge shock to her and all the family. About this time, she began to experience bullying at school. She had never suffered at the hands of bullies before, and because bullies function in an odd and peculiar way, she did not understand why suddenly she had become a target. As a result of these horrid pressures, my daughter began to experience anxiety attacks. This greatly affected her school life as well as her social life, and she began to shut herself away from the world. My husband and I were at a loss. We sought professional help from our GP as well as other medical professionals, but no amount of counselling or therapy seemed to work. And eating disorders soon followed. For 11 months, we were attending an appointment of some sort at least once a week and yet we were watching our daughter wither away before our very eyes. Things became so bad for her that even attending my mother’s house on a Sunday for dinner, a long-standing family tradition, was all too much. School was impossible to attend as the panic attacks had taken over her life completely. My 13-year-old had transformed from an independent, strong-willed young lady into a shell of a person with no interest in life or desire to be in the presence of anyone. She had lost interest in all things.
Discovering Drag Race
An online forum for parents with similar experiences, told me the first step to her recovery would be to find an interest in something, no matter how tiny that interest was. We tried to get her to listen to some old CDs, to rekindle her love for music, for the old boybands she enjoyed as a child, such as One Direction. We had no success. Yet little did we know that this was the beginning of the road to recovery. Our suggestion had struck a chord somewhere and she logged into Youtube. As we talk after the events, she is unsure of how it came about, but a suggestion for a song performed by a Drag queen called ‘Alaska’ appeared. After listening to the song, my daughter loved it, so she listened to more of her songs. Seeking more information on Alaska, my daughter Goggled her. She discovered she had been a contestant on a then unknown show to my daughter – RuPaul’s Drag Race. So, her next step was to watch Alaska in the TV show.
The show is a reality TV series filmed in America hosted by the famed and respected RuPaul. The shows sees between 9 and 14 drag queens battle it out for the title of ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar’; a cash prize and other (varying) prizes are awarded to the winning queen. Each week, the contestants are asked to compete in a challenge, such as a comedy show, a dance or singing act or filming their own mock TV commercial or sketch from a tv show. The most famous challenge in the contest is a game entitled; ‘Snatch game’ in which the queens impersonate a celebrity while playing a hilarious version of the American TV show Match Game (similar to Blankety Blank in the UK). A panel of judges assist Ru in deciding which queens deserve to be eliminated. Ru selects two contestants at the end of the show (the bottom two) to ‘Lip sync for their life’ before deciding which of them should leave the competition.
How Drag Race Changed our Lives
One of the amazing things this show does is give a platform for the queens and encourages them to discuss some of the issues they have experienced in their lives. Some queens discuss suffering rejection form their parents because of their sexuality. Others have recovered from drug and alcohol abuse. Several have openly talked about their anxiety issues and bullying they have suffered as both an adult and as a child. My daughter found she had a lot in common with many of these individuals, she took solace from this. Throughout the show, it becomes apparent that the drag community really is a family. It highlights the fact that for those who are ‘different’ there are others like them and they too can belong. The contestants are relatable, real people.
After a few days of doing little else but watching the show, my daughter began to talk to me! It was a magical moment! She asked me to sit with her and watch the show. As the queens began to talk about some of these sensitive issues, my daughter nodded. One individual was referring to an incident from their childhood; I asked my daughter if that was how she felt and she said yes. She had finally found a way to communicate her feelings. As we watched the show in the following days, we laughed and cried. The more we watched, the more we talked, and the more we had to talk about! My daughter felt she could open up to me because others who had been through so much worse than herself could do so publicly and unashamedly. She has even made her step-father a fan of the show!
The doctors and other health practitioners began to see a marked difference in my daughter. We laughed as we told them the secret to her recovery and enjoyed the confusion on their faces as we tried to explain the show. Now, a little over a year since she started to watch the show, my daughter is in school (and has been for the past 8 months now) and has not missed a day. She will finish her GCSE’s this school year with high predicted grades. Her teachers adore her and admire the strength and endurance she has displayed. She is a school mentor now and helps others with similar problems. Her ambition is to become a psychiatrist.
As I said at the beginning of this post, the title might seem a little dramatic. However, I can never thank RuPaul and all the drag queens enough for giving me my daughter back (in a new and improved form with much more positivity and strength). As a present (I have showered her in well done gifts this year) I took my daughter to watch some of her favourite queens at the Manchester Apollo last weekend at a comedy show.
Whilst queuing for the toilet during the interval, quite unexpectedly and astonishingly, one of the queens marched right up to my daughter (out of a line of perhaps 30 people) and hugged her and said hi. They then had a selfie. My daughter cried with joy when we returned to our seats, she did not stop shaking all evening. I thought it incredibly kind that the queen (Charlie Hides) took it upon herself to mingle with the fans (something no one expected) and bring joy to so many admiring fans.
That moment was unbelievably powerful – for my daughter, a lot led up to that moment and she is eternally grateful that I needed the loo!