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What it's like to be the country's most famous drag queen

Bianca Del Rio, the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race
Bianca Del Rio, the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race
Photo by Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Roy Haylock, better-known as Bianca Del Rio, is the winner of the sixth and most recent season of RuPaul's Drag Race. Bianca's act, which Haylock has toured nationally, is heavy on roasting his audience members, or, in drag-speak, "reading them to filth." Haylock is currently writing a stand-up comedy show that he plans to debut in November. And he also has a feature-length movie, Hurricane Bianca, in the works, with plans to start filming next summer.

I caught up with Roy during one of his short breaks. June for a drag queen is like December for a mall elf— it's Pride month, the busiest time of the year. And thanks to her win, Bianca is in high demand. I asked him about his career, how drag culture has changed in recent decades, and why we should move Pride Month to early fall.

AS: How did you get into drag?

RH: I was a theater queen. And I was making costumes for theater, and it led to doing a role in a show that was in drag. From there, a drag queen saw me and asked me to come work at the bar. And it was five days a week for 10 years, and I was still working at the theater.

AS: How has drag culture changed in the last 18 years since you started? What have you seen?

RH: Back in the day, you had to go to a bar or go to a theater so see a drag queen. Whereas now, it’s completely different. Now we’re in people’s living rooms on Monday nights. And the exposure is there, and the platform is there, which is pretty amazing. That’s leaps and bounds from when I was a kid. And the majority of people that I speak on Twitter and the majority of people who follow me on Instagram are either young gay children or straight women, or, you know, people that were never exposed to this.

AS: How has RuPaul's Drag Race played into that?

RH: The culture has shifted. I think that the show has shown that we’re more than than just catty bitches, and that we’re human beings. It’s also shown that drag isn’t necessarily our identity. For some of us, it’s what we do, it’s just our job.

AS: This season, a big storyline was this conflict between the younger drag queens (who emphasized their looks) and older drag queens (who emphasized their talent). What did you think of it?

RH: I think a lot of people are just ignorant. I think a lot of people do drag for different reasons. You know some of the people are exceptionally beautiful and that’s what they love, some people were not as accepted people as a boy so they feel that they can get lost in character as a girl, for me it’s more of a business.

It’s art. And it’s work. And it’s what I enjoy doing. But not necessarily do I sit back and fawn over myself… I’m a clown. I’m the first person to say that. Everyone has to have a gimmick of some sort. I think that’s the great thing about drag. It’s all these different elements. There really is no right or wrong way to do it. If its working for you, it’s working for you.

And that’s how the show works. There are 14 of us to start out with. To have all of us the same would be quite boring as a viewer. And they do incorporate every style and every type of drag and put them in one big shark tank and see what happens.

AS: This season, the show was criticized by some trans activists for being transphobic which resulted in them removing a part of the show where Ru announces, "You've got she-mail." What did you think of that controversy?

RH: I love the show. I look at the show as a show. It’s a show where we lip-synch for our lives and we play with puppets. And we’re men in dresses. I take the show very lightly. And I, personally feel, and that bears repeating: the show felt differently than I felt. And that’s their right.

They pulled it. Do I think the show is being derogatory to anyone? No. But you know, to each his own.

AS: How does it feel to be America's Next Drag Superstar? What exactly does being a drag a superstar entail? How has your life changed?

RH: It's not that I feel like a superstar. It’s an overwhelming adventure, I have to say. I didn’t expect all of this to happen and I am grateful that this happened at this point in my life.

I think if I were 20, I would have lost my mind and thought I was a Mariah Carey. Whereas now, at 38, I’ve worked a long time. It’s really a blessing to do this to get to do this, to travel and work consistently, and meet all these people all across the country. This world opened up for me because of this amazing show.

AS: Do you think it's easier for young guys to be drag queens now?

RH: Everybody wants to be a drag queen now. Which is just kind of funny. And if it works for you, do it. But I think that it’s a little more accepted. The show humanizes it. I think if you’re 17 or 18 and your parents might have seen the show, they realize that it’s not so bad.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

I know as a gay man, you know, my friends who are not drag queens— they’ve all tried on my wigs and they’ve all danced around in my shoes at least once.

AS: It's Gay Pride month this month. How do you think drag culture plays into that?

RH: Gay pride is being proud of all facets of being gay. There is no one group. And that’s the amazing thing about it.

I dress up as a clown. Other people are activists  that are very serious and are passionate about things that are important as far as gay rights are concerned. And there are other groups too. You've got the bears. You have those guys that are big hairy guys, and they’re like, "This is what I like."

I think it’s all good.

The only thing I wish they would do is move it to September, when it’s not so hot. Because, lemme tell you: bear, drag queen, lesbian, or baby, we’re all fucking sweating.


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