TV shows don’t come much more feel good than NOW TV’s latest offering, We’re Here. Starring Ru Paul Drag Race icons, Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O'Hara and Shangela Laquifa Wadley the sassy trio embark on a road trip to some of America’s most problematic towns to recruit individuals to participate in a one off drag show. In the process the contestants let go of long held fears, prejudices and personal conflicts and we, as an audience are left in tears. Think Queer Eye but with a load more sequins.
Here the three Queens talk about discrimination, powerful transformations and share their powerful words of self-acceptance. Including Shangela who likens self-love to this… “I think loving yourself is like a vehicle with a gas tank, honey, you're going to drive it, you're going to run out and you're going to have to fill it back up.” Just. Yes…
What was the drag transformation or the story that stuck with you the most or taught you the most about yourself?
Eureka: Okay. Honestly, for me, I think the story that hit home was in the first episode, working with the mom. She struggled with her kids and I come from a pretty broken family base in East Tennessee. My mom and my dad split when I was one. There's a lot of my dad's side of the family I didn't see. My mom was from Germany, so I didn't really know a lot of her family either. It really stuck with me also when I had lost my mom. The love that Erica had for her kids really resonated with me. I was also very sensitive at the time because it was shortly after I had lost my mother. And I think sometimes we forget even as the queer children, that our parents also need time to kind of understand, learn, grow and I think as a society, we're learning that too. We have to give people the chance to grow and to learn, and that's including our parents and I think that that's what Erica was doing is she was just trying to show that she was willing to learn and willing to grow from the mistakes she had made. I think that this really hit home for me.
It's so important to remember people can change their opinions too, right?
Yeah. We live in a society where we're raised to think certain things or to act a certain way which can go against how you want to live. So, I think that was the demons or the issue she was fighting within herself, to get to a place of understanding and acceptance. So, you're correct, 100%!
Bob and Shangela, what was the transformational storyline that really stuck with you the most?
When I was in Twin Falls, Idaho, working with the three queens from Twin Falls, something that Amelia said that I think about all the time, at least once a day, is when she says that, "Everything about me has been used against me at one point in my life.” Imagine you have an existence where everything about your existence has been somehow weaponized against you and then you find a community that tells you that actually all those things are good for you. All those things are actually attributes, not detriments. That's how I felt when I joined the drag community. I was watching TV, I was watching RuPaul's Drag Race and I saw BeBe Zahara Benet on my screen, so someone who was dark-skinned, someone who's effeminate, someone who was really extra, doing the most flamboyant thing, being told that you're not great despite these things, you're great because of these things. I would say being queer is the best thing that ever happened to me. I mean, I don't know what I'd be. I don't know where the hell I'd be right now if I was some straight dude.
Eureka: Some straight guy with a wife and kids probably!
Shangela: Twin Falls, like Bob said, was a very special place and my drag children, Brandon and Mikayla’s story really inspired me so much because it was about love. It was about this love that you have to fight for and not just fight for and deal with between each other, but there are so many outer forces that are against you. They were believing and standing up for love above all else. Brandon is a member of the transgender community, and Mikayla is a pansexual young lady and people like their family did not support them. They had to build a chosen family out there and start to have difficult discussions with their family about their type of love and why it was still valid. The fact that we were able to give them this wedding experience that they had not been able to experience before because of other factors, and to see that love triumph, was something that I will always, always remember.
The idea of choosing your family is such a powerful thing. For you, when have your chosen family and your actual family helped you the most?
Shangela: I am thankful to have a family unit that I grew up with that I love and cherish. I'm thankful to have that with my mom, my grandma, my aunt, but also as I'm figured out who I was and started to be more comfortable with the person god created I started to build up this amazing community around me, this amazing queer community and ally community that I do consider family as well. Hopefully, what people will see in this show is that, in watching We're Here, that they will be reminded that there is a family unit somewhere out there for you. A lot of times they just don't have a platform or a space, especially in small conservative spaces to come together. But that's what We're Here was able to do for them.
Bob: That’s such an important point. Just because you have a chosen family doesn't mean that your family threw you out. There's a narrative that anyone who goes out and chooses a family must have been thrown to the curb and stomped down to the ground by their families at home. That's not always the case, but sometimes you just need love from people who have extremely similar experiences.
Eureka: I think chosen family is important because our blood family doesn't understand like our chosen family can. It's just the truth. I mean, we need queer people to teach us how to navigate through queer existence. I know, I did. In a small town, my queer mother, before I even started doing drag, taught me how to be an adult as a queer person in a small town.
In going to these small communities, what prejudices surprised you?
Eureka: Honestly, there were moments like when we walked up to the young lady scouting for locations, she was very obviously tense and had the phone for us to talk to the owner instead of allowing us to come in. Those moments, I think, we kind of expected in a way in these towns. So, it wasn't actually as surprising or shocking to me, even coming from a small town, that there were people that were against us. The shocking part is always the turnout of people that come to our shows that supported us, the types of people that show up, the people that we meet in the town that actually do accept it, or just are excited to see a drag queen or are celebrating this moment and that are extremely positive. It's always the people that you don't expect, honestly, that show up the loudest and enjoy it the most.
Drag is such a celebration of living your life in its truest form which in turn is so positive for your mental wellbeing. How has drag helped you with your mental health and wellbeing?
Bob: Well, no one's ever asked me how drag has helped my mental well-being! I mean, first of all, I'm not a mental health professional. If you need help with your mental health do not seek drag as a therapy, go to your therapist. So now that that has been said out loud and clearly, I know that, for me, I was able to see a sense of worth in myself where I've found worthlessness. I felt that society had told me out loud clearly and in no unclear terms, that there were several aspects of my personality, my life, my body, and my existence that were quite worthless. And then I found a community that said, "No, girl. You're actually nailing it. All these things are great."
Shangela: Drag really helped me to discover, really support and to live in all parts of who I was as a person and celebrate those parts. I think the more that I did drag, the more I learned to change the box and to shake off the box that society tries to get you to live within a lot of times. That you need to look a certain way if you're a male, certain ways you're supposed to behave and walk and talk. The more you do drag, you find out that I can do anything I want and as long as I live for myself and hopefully I'm being a good person and sharing love into the world, if I can do that, then I'm good. I can walk into a room, I can have a wig on and lipstick and still know that, for me speaking as Shangela, that I identify as a male but I can go in here in this wig and these heels and I can tip around here and I don't care what people say or how they may turn their head or feel the weight of stares.
We go into these small conservative towns and a lot of times there's not a lot of visibility. There's not a huge queer community in these spaces. So, people feel discriminated against. You actually feel that. I remember we walked into a breakfast spot in one of the episodes, it was like you could hear the forks drop. But when you love who you are, when you go on this journey of self-discovery you realise that they're going to look anyway, so you might as well give them something to look at!
When did you start to love yourself? What was the turning point in that for you?
Shangela: I think loving yourself is like a vehicle with a gas tank, honey, you're going to drive it, you're going to run out and you're going to have to fill it back up. Sometimes the more you run it, you going to have to fill it up on a daily. And, honestly, there are stages to that, it's ebbs and flows. It's not like,” oh, yesterday I learned I love myself and it's done.” It's a constant thing that you have to do. You learn more about yourself. Sometimes it's daily affirmations, sometimes it's writing, sometimes it's just how you see yourself in the mirror. However, you just have to work on it and continue to know that there are times that you're going to fall short and then you just have to find ways to build it back up.