THIS INTERVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY INCLUSIVE NETWORKS IN SUMMER 2016
BIANCA DEL RIO WAS OUR FAVOURITE QUEEN ON SEASON 6 OF HIT TV SHOW RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE. BIANCA HAD 18 YEARS DRAG AND COMEDY EXPERIENCE BEFORE TAKING PART IN THE SHOW THAT WOULD PROPEL HER IN TO THE LIMELIGHT AROUND THE WORLD. SINCE BEING CROWNED THE WINNER OF THE SHOW SHE HAS GONE ON TO TOUR THE WORLD, STARRED IN COMMERCIALS, BEEN INTERVIEWED BY JOAN RIVERS AND IS AN ALL ROUND DRAG SUPERSTAR.
WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP, WERE YOU ENCOURAGED TO FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS?
No. I wasn’t asked to follow anything, which I think is the reason I have. It was quite the opposite. I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do and I think people’s idea of what I wanted to do was a little scary for them so my family didn’t encourage it at all. Because they were against anything I was doing, it kind of pushed me to go further.
DO YOU WISH YOU’D HAD MORE SUPPORT FROM YOUR FAMILY?
I have no regrets at all. That’s how things play out. I think as a gay man, too many people at a certain point in their lives blame everything on the past, like…“Oh I had a horrible life.” I had a great life growing up.
By no means were my family super supportive of what I was doing, but they also didn’t know what the hell I was about. I was so different from my other siblings, I’m the fourth out of five. I think it played better for me later in life. Because throughout it I found other things I wanted to do. It wasn’t a bad thing. I’m grateful for the life I had and it all gave me a sense of going out and working at things on my own and becoming super independent.
If I’d of had people around me when I was growing up saying “You’re wonderful”, “You’re great” and “We love you”, I think that would have definitely made me far worse than I am.
“I’m grateful for the life I had and it all gave me a sense of going out and working at things on my own and becoming super independent.”
DID YOU HAVE ANY ROLE MODELS GROWING UP?
I didn’t see anyone doing what I was doing but I definitely had an appreciation for so many people. I loved Joan Rivers, obviously, Don Rickles, Cher and Madonna. There were pieces of all of them all that were huge influences on my life and drag career.
I always say my drag look is based on Joan Crawford and Bozo the Clown. There was no one in particular that stood out and made me think, “Oooh, that’s who I want to be.” It all just kind of led to this world.
HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL BEING A ROLE MODEL TO MANY PEOPLE?
It’s hugely flattering but I laugh at it. Of course, I still look at myself as being 20 years old, I forget that this June I’m turning 41 and I’ve been doing drag for 20 years. It’s kind of surreal. But thanks to social media and people finding all these old photos of me, I go “F*ck, it was that long ago.”
I do think it’s great and since I did Drag Race it’s been amazing to hear the stories lots of the younger people have experienced. When I was growing up there wasn’t a show that was that gay, influential and popular. At that time RuPaul had a talk-show but it wasn’t as globally accepting as Drag Race is.
I was doing my show, I can’t remember what city it was in, but there was a young boy, 13 years old, who was sitting there with his grandmother. He was in a wig and heels and he was like, “My grandmother brought me to the show and we couldn’t wait to see you.” I think that’s amazing. To have your grandmother support you like that and to come to the show together and sit and laugh and hear the nasty things I have to say.
So I definitely think we’ve come a long way and I think it’s amazing that anyone would look up to me. I don’t think of myself on that grand scale at all.
Credit: Magnus Hastings
WHAT WAS YOUR MOTIVATION FOR TAKING PART IN RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE?
I have to say I was working before Drag Race and to get to work in drag for 18 years was pretty amazing for me. I joined Drag Race on two levels. I didn’t want to do drag for too much longer and I thought why not take a chance. And also, I’d seen a bevvy of people I was aware of on the scene who were absolutely, positively horrible and untalented getting the exposure from the show. So after seeing those pathetic bit*hes get these amazing opportunities I thought, “F*ck, what do I have to lose. That bi*ch is pathetic.” That helped a lot. Seeing less fortunate drag queens given an amazing platform. I was like, “F*ck them. Let me try it.”
I live in America where people like Kim Kardashian are famous. And she’s the biggest piece of shit there is. So anything is possible. Maybe if I hadn’t of had those 18 years doing drag before the show I wouldn’t have had the balls to try it.
Sadly, now for a lot of the younger drag queens their only goal is to be on Drag Race. You’ve got to experience some things and you have to try things out. I think that experience is the only thing that helped me in the competition. If I were 20, it would have been a different story but doing it at the age I did was great for me as I had lots of life experiences under my belt when I went in there.
I always say give anything a try. I’ve said yes to many gigs throughout my life where I though they’d be the best thing ever and I’ve also done some shit that I’ll never do again.
If things on Drag Race hadn’t of turned out the way they did I still would have been grateful as it was a great experience and I had a great time and I have amazing friends from it.
WHAT ARE YOUR HIGHLIGHTS SINCE THE SHOW ENDED?
I’m supposed to say, “Just winning was wonderful”, but I was paid to say that. But really, first and foremast it’s super amazing the global scale that people watch that show. To travel the world and do my own show and have people sit in a theatre to pay to see me talk shit is pretty amazing.
The circumstances are probably what are most appealing to me. Obviously getting to be interviewed by Joan Rivers who I’ve really truly admired tremendously was a huge big deal to me. But just getting out there and working and being in a theatre where there are 1400 people who have paid to see you and you get to do it night after night. I’m so lucky. Who gets those experiences? I pinch myself each night I get to do it.
“Sadly, now for a lot of the younger drag queens their only goal is to be on Drag Race. You’ve got to experience some things and you have to try things out. I think that experience is the only thing that helped me in the competition.”
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
For me, that I’m still alive. I mean, I drank and I’ve said some things where I thought people would have shot me by this point.
I guess Drag Race would be one. It all happened so quickly and then it aired and my life really went off running. As I’m watching the new season that’s airing (Season 8 here in America) and I’m like, I was in that TV set…I was in that moment. At the time I didn’t really get any time to really think about it as things happened so quickly and I was concerned and wrapped up in so many other things. But now I sit back and go “Wow. I went in, did it, and out of 14 people I was able to win.” That’s kind of crazy and surreal. I guess the object is to go in and win but I didn’t think I would so it’s nice to now go “Wow. That happened.”
Doing the show we didn’t get to hang out with one another, we didn’t really know what was going on. I was just happy to make it through each day. I didn’t know what the plan was and also knowing the formula of the show, I wasn’t an underdog, I didn’t cry, I didn’t lose my mind, I didn’t have family members who left me at a bus stop. I didn’t think they would let me win because I wasn’t sympathetic and I didn’t seem that green or that young. I was in brilliant company in the final, with two very talented people. Anyone could have won. It was an amazing ride.
WHEN ARE YOU AT YOUR HAPPIEST?
When I’m working. It’s definitely not the next morning after a show as that’s the worst, getting on that plane. But truthfully it is when I’m working and realising that I’m getting to do what I’ve always wanted to do and to have people supporting me. It’s kind of nice.
I thought after I’d done my last show, The Rolodex of Hate, that we travelled with and did 93 performances of everywhere, I thought, “Oh god, people are going to be sick of me.” After the shows ended I thought I’d take a few weeks off to reassess my life and immediately people were like, “Where are you? What are you doing?” I’m now preparing for my new show that’ll be starting in Australia then heading to Norway, Amsterdam, then 39 cities in the United States, eventually coming to the UK.
It hasn’t really slowed down since the shows ended and I’m still doing other things. It’s surreal that so many people are interested in seeing me again. I’m excited to get back on the road and I’m excited to do a new show.
WATCH: THE VERY BEST OF BIANCA DEL RIO
EQUAL MARRIAGE IS NOW LAW IN AMERICA BUT WE STILL HEAR OF INSTANCES WHERE LGBT PEOPLE ARE PERSECUTED AND DENIED EQUAL RIGHTS IN ALL STATES. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?
Because America is f*cking crazy. There were states where you couldn’t marry a gay man but you could f*ck a dead animal. It doesn’t make any sense. I think that’s what’s unfortunate about it, we live in a world now, America in particular, where things just don’t make sense. Even if something seems right, even if they do allow gay people to get married and have a proper service, there’s going to be someone in some organisation that’s going to have something to say about it. They’re going to boycott…they’re going to petition…That’s the world we live in. Everyone wants to rally and everyone thinks they know better than everyone else.
It’s all very conflicting and it’s a difficult situation to be in. And it’s also kind of crazy. You look at the politicians right now and who’s running for President and no matter what you say, it can be used against you and you offend groups of people…the Christian’s are upset…the gays are mad because you’re not supporting them. You really can’t win and I blame social media because we have to hear so much about it because it’s in our face on a daily basis. I’m all for everyone having equal rights, it makes the most sense. If you’re not interested in marrying a gay person then why the f*ck do you care? Go and live your straight life and that’s fine.
WHAT DO PRIDE EVENTS MEAN TO YOU?
It’s usually hot outside and it’s a bunch of drag queens sweating in the sun, but it’s all for a good cause. I come from a time when doing Pride events was really risky, not so much by the town letting you do the event, but by putting yourself at risk from the people coming to watch. You didn’t know if you’d be gay bashed, or run out of a club – there was often such a backlash against the people out celebrating and performing.
Now it’s so different. The power of the world. You just need to look at the powerful and influential LGBT people on our television screens. When I started out 20 years ago, this just didn’t exist. There were people on TV who were obviously gay (but not out), and huge pioneers and big drag performers like Charles Pearson, Jim Bailey, that were working in the 1960s doing drag and going out on a limb. But they didn’t have the opportunity to be as proud as we get to be.
I get a sense lots of the young kids today don’t really know how far we have come. I’m old enough to know first-hand – Pride events really do mean a lot to me. There was a time when drag queens were just drag queens, they didn’t think too much of it. Now we have huge celebrities like Alan Cumming and Ellen DeGeneres who are out and have huge careers and lead pretty normal lives – this is a big thing. When I was growing up all I knew about was the gay cowboy and a bunch of queens. We’ve come a long way and now is a time to celebrate. But we still need to keep working harder and put ourselves out there as much as we can.
“I think every young person should know about history in general, whether it’s gay history or anything else. We live in a world now where you can just get on a computer or smartphone, push a button and you can find out anything you want to know.”
DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT LGBT+ PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE LGBT+ MOVEMENT?
I think every young person should know about history in general, whether it’s gay history or anything else. We live in a world now where you can just get on a computer or smartphone, push a button and you can find out anything you want to know. Sadly, a lot of people don’t do their research. Look at the queens on Drag Race! They’re like, “I don’t know how to sell…” – but it’s a requirement you asshole!
But, it’s kind of fascinating that people really don’t do their homework. There is so much you can learn. You really don’t know where you can go unless you know where others have been. It’s important to learn as much about different things as you can, even if it’s a subject you don’t 100% agree with. It’s not just gay rights, it’s culture in general. I think straight people should learn more about gay rights too. It’s important.
DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE FOR ANYONE ATTENDING A PRIDE EVENT?
Have fun, be gay…don’t go to North Carolina! Seriously, go out, celebrate and be respectful. There’s always someone standing watching going, “Oh, look at those gays and look at how they’re acting.” Be responsible. If you want to be a hot mess, do it at home. Go out and have a good time, but don’t run yourself down. Make it through the day and realise you’re a part of something special.
Credit: Magnus Hastings
“Just because you may be having a tough time with your family, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other people like you who exist in the world. There are people who will help you, but you gotta get out there and meet them.”
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ANYONE WHO IDENTIFIES AS LGBT+ BUT HAVE NO FRIENDS TO ATTEND A PRIDE EVENT WITH?
It’s important to be around other people and to socialise. It’s important to be around other people who are like you too. Your family and school friends may not understand you, but there is a big world out there, and people who will. I remember being a young kid and my family didn’t understand who the f*ck I was but once I went in to the theatre, which was basically a gay pride everyday, I was surrounded by a bevy of amazing people who taught me all about gay culture, without me really knowing it was gay culture. It was ok to be me. It was ok to be artsy. It was ok to make costumes…and shine.
Just because you may be having a tough time with your family, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other people like you who exist in the world. There are people who will help you, but you gotta get out there and meet them. They’re not just gonna come and knock on your door. Get out and experience life. Get off that god damn computer at home, it’s a completely different world on there. I didn’t have that world when I was a kid and I’m grateful that I had to go out there and find my peers and ‘family’, so to speak. It totally changed my life.
We live in a world where everyone is on their phones and everybody is on social media and seeking attention that way, all this really doesn’t matter unless you’re standing up for something in ‘real life’. There are so many people who just type all this bullshit but they don’t really live it or walk the walk.
99% of the people who write nasty things on my Facebook page or troll me on Twitter would never say it to my face. It’s fascinating, as that’s all they now do and it becomes a fight. They think it’s their right. I’m like, “I don’t even know who the f*ck you are and you’ve got such an opinion of my life.” That’s what I think is quite fascinating. Back in the day you had to go up to somebody and say “I don’t like you” and then they’d punch you in the f*cking face. If you don’t like me, don’t watch me and don’t comment on my page. I hate the Kardashians but you don’t see me calling them out and blowing up their page. I couldn’t give a shit!
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BIANCA:
Visit her website at thebiancadelrio.com