‘Drag Race’ Royalty Jujubee Talks Toxic Fans, How Drag’s Changed Forever, And ‘All Stars 5’
"This person is obviously going through something that's not about anybody on 'RuPaul's Drag Race'."
A lot of people ask Jujubee for advice — or open up in unexpected ways, diving into intimate secrets straight after saying hello. As one of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s most beloved queens, it’s not exactly surprising. But it happens all the time: in clubs, in airports, and even mid-interview.
We’re talking about the legacy of RuPaul’s Drag Race over the phone, and I’ve found myself rambling about what the show meant to me as an utterly heartbroken 19-year-old.
It was one of the first pieces of pop-culture I’d been exposed to that centred queerness as not just a source of power, but also lightness, a way to take the world less seriously. The show healed me in ways that are a little embarrassing to admit. But there I was: it just came out. Thankfully, Jujubee is appreciative, and assures me I’m not alone in accidentally gushing.
“You know, it does happen a lot,” she says. “It’s pretty interesting, because I can’t say that I have all the advice in the world for anything. but I am a great listener. I only speak from my own experience…I’m only going to be able to speak from my personal life and say, ‘Hey, this is what I went through and this is how I navigated the whole thing'”.
“A lot of people do turn to me for some sort of advice. I think it’s perhaps the energy I put out there. I’m pretty calming, I believe. I’m excited about life and I love love and I think I perceive my happiness as honesty and truthful. I think that’s why people are attracted to that idea about me.”
Since appearing on Season 2 back in 2010, Jujubee has been a Drag Race crowd-favourite, regularly appearing in dream All Stars leagues due to her wit, killer lip-syncs, and kind spirit on and off the show.
We’re talking because of Drag Me Down The Aisle, a sort of Drag queen Queer Eye TV special on Foxtel’s Discovery channel where four Drag Race queens — Jujubee, Thorgy Thor, Bebe Zahara Benet and Alexis Michelle — help bride Emily prepare for her wedding. It’s a natural fit for Jujubee, who tells me she sees drag as a way ‘to hold her own hand’, and empower others to be more confident.
“We show women how powerful and strong they already are and we’re there to just breathe love,” she says. “Four drag queens spreading love, one bride at a time.”
Unfortunately, as Drag Race moved over to VH1 in 2017 and cemented its place as a mainstream juggernaut, its ‘everybody say love!’ mentality has fallen on deaf-ears. Increasingly, fanbases continue to spew vile, toxic messages to queens in the name of ‘throwing shade’.
We talk about how Drag Race has changed beyond belief since its debut in 2009, what can be done to steer it back, and whether she’d return to another All Stars.
Drag Me Down The Aisle is a similar concept to [2010-2010 makeover show] RuPaul’s Drag U. How did that help you navigate making sure that Emily felt comfortable?
Drag U has definitely been something that’s helped with this situation and I was so grateful knowing that I’m having that experience coming in to Drag Me Down The Aisle.
I put myself back into that world to navigate all this because there’s certain ways that drag queens have to soften ourselves up because we’re attitude-y. We have a very strong presence. I had to just neutralise it a little bit to speak to a bride who wasn’t so prepared for her wedding.
Being there with BeBe and Thorgy and Alexis was great because they are incredible drag queens to work with outside of Drag Me Down The Aisle. To just see them work their magic was pretty incredible [though] I felt a little scared. BeBe’s intimidating.
She’s ‘pussy rakatatiti tata‘. You can’t fight against that.
Exactly. She’s pussy, bitch.
You were on Drag Race‘s second season and the first All Stars, but it’s a completely different beast now. Did you ever expect the show to become what it is?
When I was on season two, I knew that I was doing something incredible, something that was a part of history. But I didn’t know what it would become a decade later. It’s been ten years since I’ve done Drag Race; now it’s all over the world.
On season two, I knew that I was doing something incredible, something that was a part of history. But I didn’t know what it would become a decade later.
The queens now are almost like overnight institutions. As soon as they’re seen on the network, the next day they leave their house. It’s not just gay people and trans people who have noticed these queens, it’s everybody. I think that’s super incredible. I had no idea [at the time], but I’m so happy and excited about it.
Obviously that audience can add a lot of pressure to being on the show, to having a funny moment or a catch phrase. Are you glad in some respect that you could go in without all of those preconceptions of what you had to do?
I went in knowing that the only reason that I was there was because RuPaul chose me to be there, and that I loved performing and doing drag. I didn’t think about merchandise, I had no idea that anything like this was going to happen.
I didn’t think that I was going to make it that far. [For me, it was] a chance to do what you love and go on and do it. I cried a lot. I didn’t know how to manage my emotions back then. I’s a lot of work.
I also got really attached to a lot of people so every time anybody got kicked off I was crying. They only showed you like a tenth of my crying.
I did want to talk about one very tearful moment that you had in Untucked where you cried off your eyelash, as seen in that classic GIF.
Rumour has it, you were single handedly responsible more or less for the two-drink limit on Untucked now. Have any of the recent queens been like, ‘I just wanted to get drunk and I couldn’t because of you?’
You know what’s hilarious, is I’ve heard that several times throughout the past few years, and I just laugh and say ‘you’re welcome’. Actually Derrick Barry thanked me for that, because she was like ‘Girl, imagine me getting super drunk’.
[When that happens,] I’m like, ‘Things happen as they happen and I’m grateful that it was me and not y’all’.
That moment definitely opened my eyes down the road in my personal life. I hate to count forward, because I’m not supposed to do this in the programme that I’m in, but in six days I’ll be coming up on a year clean and sober.
I’m incredibly grateful and thankful and excited. But I’m glad I experienced something like that because I would have never seen myself that way had I not.
Congratulations. That’s a massive achievement.
That lash falling off my face was a beautiful moment.
It was ‘vulnerability’, through and through.
[Laughs] Yeah, and I was never afraid of that, obviously.
There’s a lot of conversation about the fan base of the show, who are known to throw around death threats and hateful comments. What do you think is the best way that we can tackle that?
I like to look at things with compassion. I feel like hurt people try to hurt other people. I know that there was a moment in my life where I was going through my first heartbreak and I was just upset at everything.
I just look at it like, ‘this person is obviously going through something that’s not about anybody on RuPaul’s Drag Race or on the show’. It’s just easier for them to take their anger and pain out on somebody that they have only a tweet to reach.
In the words of Jinx Monsoon, it’s just water off a duck’s back. I would never try and engage in something like that because it’s only going to fuel the fire. Pray for them.
You reminded of a bit in Netflix’s animation, Big Mouth. Have you seen it?
Uh huh. I have seen it.
The gay teen meets an older gay who mentors him by saying, ‘being mean isn’t a substitute for a personality’. I think that’s really true for a lot of queer people, especially when they’re just establishing their identity and still working through a lot of pain.
Timely reminder. Applies to older gay mean ppl too tbh pic.twitter.com/K7xvZEEkXS
— Samuel Leighton-Dore (@SamLeightonDore) May 14, 2019
I completely agree. How old are you?
Oh, you’re a baby. Well, I’m 34, and I feel as people who are older than the teenage gays, it’s our job to lead by example.
We just keep spreading love and be a beacon of hope and light. Obviously we as humans have moments where we’re not like that, but acknowledge the pain and acknowledge all the bullshit, and learn from it, and then let go and move on.
I think it’s important to identify the issues and that’s how you can manage it.
Another thing that’s talked about a lot online and on Drag Race is that the queens are now taking out loans and spending a lot of money before the show. A lot of competing queens with lower budgets get criticism for their looks, but are told they can make cheap things still look good and sell it. Do you think that’s still true, or do you think our understanding of the calibre of drag has changed because of the show?
That’s a really great question. I’ve been thinking about that as well. I think it’s half true. [On the show], it’s really up to the judges sitting there to really tell you what they think if something looks cheap or looks great or not.
I was known for buying off the rack and even I called myself out as ‘mall drag’ because I knew somebody else was going to say it and I had to get in first.
[Then] watching the last season of All Stars, I was floored by the fashion and these dresses that Trinity The Tuck were walking down the runway with, it was insane. They were at least $5,000. [And] how many dresses do you have to bring to a competition like that? At least 10 to 15? That’s a lot of money, [so] I would say it’s half true.
But with somebody like Naomi or Trinity, they could just go on stage in a trash bag and still look fashionable and fantastic.
Manila and Latrice came back for All Stars 4. If you were given the call, would you do it? Or are you happy to leave it behind?
I would absolutely in a heartbeat do it. I feel like it would take me to the next level of drag. Like we were saying before, it’s a different beast now.
If nothing else it would be great just to see all my sisters in the same room — and beat the shit out of them and take the crown.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.