“... the true deity is neither male nor female—it encompasses and goes beyond both, to find a higher, genderless perfection, like RuPaul.” - Anthony Lane reviewing a recent version of The Bible, The New Yorker, 1995
He stands in his horrifying perfection,
a black man/blond woman, his head of lacquered frothing
like a glimpse of ocean spray
as contained as an image on TV.
His fierce gaze
says he could raise his girdle from under that tight fabric
and hold it up like a shield against a sea of snakes.
We remember the repeated frames of his slap
of a rude sailor’s cheek in the video, his wagging finger in the mirror—
“You better work it! You better work!”
He holds inside his structured body
the memory of a woman,
warm, melting, but no,
held tight under shiny belts
and stretch pants as stiff as a Chrysler.
He has turned himself into Athena, finished with leading her worshippers
from the streets, all traces of shadow and blood
erased, shrieking from a screen with a laugh,
a sheen of mousse—“Buy, you are products anyway!”
Her implied and tightly sheathed slot
is the final tease, the luscious crotch
nullified inside this not-mistress, exciting us even more cruelly
than a dominatrix under latex.
But that point of entry is what we want,
the impossibility and the need
to pierce her. How we miss
that passageway, how it arouses us
to see her portray what we have long been denied—
her soft but brutal heat—
and how abominable to want to suck
that warm liquid from her who is a tricked-out
him. As she struts we know we can’t find
a safe lap again.
“Get used to it!” says the Man Made-Over into Queen,
“quit fussing and earn your keep,
like me!” We are shrieking with laughter
below the catwalk, struck with a riveted pity
in the strobe-lit horror
for him/her, a self hideously preening, pretending
and loving it, in control,
sashaying to show us that though we may dream
of finding the secret selves inside
us, or him, he forbids us to see
the underside of his seams.
“If I have to live on this planet,” RP spits,
“I will be as obliterating to it
as a star.” We are grinning in the floodlights,
filled at lastwith the power of his rage.
Note: Now that you've experienced this poem, I want to note that I don't find RuPaul himself horrifyng, pitiful, or hideous. On the contrary: I admire him. This poem takes us through a range of experiences in an encounter with RuPaul. I hope that the poem conveys his sophisticated embodiment of, and commentary on, contemporary femininity, consumer culture, and stardom.
This poem first appeared in River City's “True Confessions” issue in summer 1999; the journal was published by the University of Memphis.
copyright © Lisa Bernstein