The House of Hidden Meanings

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RuPaul, drag superstar and pop culture icon, has been busy on his lifelong way to stardom—a destiny, he reveals, foretold by a psychic before he was born. He has been an actor, producer, author, model, dancer, singer, songwriter, media host, business mogul and creator of the multi-Emmy-winning reality TV series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He has worked his way from unhoused nomad to celebrity star, including an actual one on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Now 63, RuPaul turns his penetrating gaze inward, looking for deeper meanings within his journey. In The House of Hidden Meanings, he shares all with a tender clarity that renders him unforgettably human. 

Ernestine Charles chose her only son’s name because, she said, there was no one else “alive with a name like that.” Raising four children in San Diego after her abusive husband left, she was “always in a bad mood.” RuPaul entertained her with “imitations, bits, sketches, little scraps of makeshift theater. . . . I put her powder on and whipped a towel around my head as if it were a lustrous head of hair,” he recalls. As a teenager, he escaped to Atlanta and eventually worked his way to New York City. Club scenes kept him performing and partying. He always acted like a star, he says, because he knew he was one.

RuPaul paints wildly vivid city scenes: gritty New York, Atlanta alive with punk and drag, and San Diego, where his complicated childhood haunts him still. Relationships were often sidetracked by too many drugs and risky sex, but he somehow survived, always believing in his destiny—and in drag. His 1993 breakthrough video, “Supermodel (You Better Work),” turned gay stereotypes on their heads and showcased an exuberance that appealed to both the mainstream and the LGBTQ+ community.

Here, we don’t find his rise to fame, the lead-up to “Drag Race” or even his activism and philanthropic work. That information about the often-profiled star is readily available elsewhere.  The House of Hidden Meanings is about beginnings. RuPaul reveals the inner work of healing from past wounds and repairing his relationship with himself, and his memoir celebrates the potential for reinvention. “In a system where things insisted on being one or the other, drag was everything,” he writes. “That made it magic.”

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