Take a Bow

Say your lines but do you feel them?
Do you mean what you say when there’s no one around?
Watching you, watching me,
One lonely star (One lonely star, you don’t know who you are)

“Take a Bow”, Madonna, 1994

A few nights ago, we finished watching the last episode of season 1 of AJ and the Queen, RuPaul’s 2020 comedy on Netflix.

Spoiler alert: If you plan on watching AJ and the Queen and don’t want spoilers, don’t read on any further.

Bitch, you’ve been warned. Don’t read no further if you plan on watching AJ and the Queen and don’t want no spoilers, gurl.

You sure?

Okay, here we go.

So, boiling the series down into one sentence, AJ and the Queen is about a drag performer named Robert (stage name Ruby), portrayed by RuPaul, who is going on one last performance tour around America before (hopefully) opening up her own club in New York, and AJ (Izzy G), a runaway girl who dresses like a boy because “nobody messes with boys”, who stows away in Robert’s Winnebago in the hopes of meeting her grandfather in Dallas.

The series was okay. I get where Mama Ru was going with it, but it fell flat in many areas. Some dialogue and writing and acting felt forced, and some parts were predictable. I have to admit that I felt some of the drag performer cameos were shoe-horned in. When AJ and the Queen allowed a drag performer’s appearance to “breathe” — Latrice Royale and Monique Heart in the episode “Jacksonville” (1×07), for example, or Ginger Minj in “Fort Worth” (1×09) — it really made the appearance feel more natural. A few drag performers who I felt really needed more screen time / meatier dialogue and scenes: Bianca Del Rio (“New York City” [1×01]), Katya, Jinkx Monsoon (“Pittsburg” [1×02]), and Chad Michaels (“Louisville” [1×04]) that I can think of off the top of my head.

And there were times where the series shone and let the true heart of it beat openly. Those times? That really made me keep wanting to watch the show.

The best episode by far, in my humble opinion, was “Jacksonville”, where Robert (aka Ruby) and AJ are in Jacksonville, Mississippi so Ruby can perform in the local club as part of Ruby’s tour. There, club owner Fabergé Legs (Latrice Royale, who is one of the most amazing drag performers out there in my honest opinion) and her niece Terri Tori (Monique Heart, another very talented drag performer) help their friend Ruby out. Seriously, it is so well-acted and so heart-warming that I forgot these were actors because it felt really quite genuine and authentic.

That really wasn’t where this series hit close to home with me.

In the series, Robert (drag persona Ruby) has been saving up all his drag career to do something special. He’s been dating Hector (Josh Segarra) for 7 months, and they have decided to open a drag club together (Queens in Queens — awesome name) because Robert’s the drag performer and Hector’s the businessman.

Sadly, I could see where this was going very early in episode 1.

Robert opens up an American Express card and gives Hector a supplementary card, and, the next day, when Robert goes to pay the rent on the new club, which Hector is suspiciously late for, the card is maxed-out. Bad ol’ Hector is a “straight” grifter named Damian Sanchez. (Of course he is!)

Throughout the series, we learn that Damian (who, to be honest, isn’t hard on the eye and must work out) has defrauded many an aging gay man (but he never, ever kissed any of them — oh, except Robert!), and because Robert has potted him as a con man who loves up gay men to steal their money, Damian wants to exact revenge on him.

Okay, that’s all fine, and I get where this was going with the story and the series.

What really got me, though, was the last episode. Damian comes to terms with enjoying life, and then, the truth of his attraction to Robert. Instead of ordering a salad at the drive through (because he has that figure to look after), he gets a double-double meal, chicken nuggets, and a milkshake! (Live it up, I say.) While eating his meal, he chokes on a nugget. He tries to clear it with the shake, but that merely trickles out of his mouth. Damian gives himself the Heimlich maneuver on his steering wheel, and survives, but not before seeing his life flash before his eyes, and all the times he sees is not of his ex-wife, not of any of the female loves of his life, but all the fun times he had with Robert, including kissing him. Not so straight, after all?

Damian makes his way to the Miss Drag Queen USA pageant, where Ruby hopes to win the top prize. He confronts a fully made-up Ruby and confesses his love to her.

This is the very moment where it hit home to me.

I wanted to steer clear of discussing The Man I Once Loved in 2020. So far, I’ve done well. But this is where shit kinda gets real, and I’m writing this more as a public service announcement (PSA) for all those queens out there who ever encounter something like this, and for all those people out there who unexpectedly fall in love with a person that’s not “normal” for them.

Love is love. It doesn’t matter if you are straight, gay, or bisexual, if you are cis or agender or gender fluid or transgendered; you fall in love who you fall in love with, and it’s important to tell that person you are in love with that.

You know, it’s cool if you mostly have liked women in the past, and you fall in love with a dude. It’s okay if you have male genitalia, identify as a woman, and love another woman. It’s all cool. Just be honest and open and transparent.

Being in love, and being loved, is a gift. Cherish it.

Going back to Robert / Ruby and Hector / Damian: to hear, “I’m in love with you” (as part of a con); then, “I hustled you out of your money and I’m married to a woman”; and finally, “I know I’m usually straight, but I am actually in love with you (even though you are a man),” is really ultimately fucked-up and confusing.

I wanted to scream at the TV, “Run, Ru. Just fucking run!”

I went through that with The Man I Once Loved. And, as a kind, caring, affectionate person who loves and trusts a little too easily, it is a horrible experience.

I started questioning my own sanity and my own grip on reality.

The feelings were there that he loved me. The signs were there that he loved me. He kissed me. He touched me, and it was kind, and caring, and tender, and full of affection. He enjoyed spending time with me. We grew extremely close.

We did tons of stuff together. When I was in a bad mood or upset, he could tell. When something was bothering me, he wanted to help fix it.

After we had a blazing fight toward the end of one year, and I was so angry at him, he was the one who broke the ice, apologized, and asked for forgiveness.

One time, when we were separated by circumstances beyond our control, he’d stay up at night and secretly write me letters. (Email and texting weren’t really options then!)

He asked me to spend Christmas with him and his family one year.

When another guy flirted with me, he got jealous / appeared angry.

After our relationship ended, when I told him I was going to New Zealand to study and possibly move there because I found someone else, he told me he didn’t want me to go and started to cry.

The last time I saw him before I left for New Zealand, he told me if I needed to come back home and couldn’t do it for some reason, he would bring me back home.

This was all very much beyond “friendship” territory.

But why did he ditch me every time a woman seemed interested in him? Was I reading it all wrong? Or was I reading it all right? Was he playing me? Was I option number two in his life? Was he gaslighting me?

All that goes through your head in a situation like this.

I know I write a lot about this man. It’s not because I am still in love with him, or I want to suddenly be with him again, because that all passed when he hurt me over 20 years ago.

The whole experience impacted me deeply. It tinges the way I see the world today, much like other major life events, like the earthquakes and depersonalization.

All I want is honesty from him. Even if we have gone our own separate ways, which we have, a final bit of closure would have helped me immensely.

One note to say: “You know, I was in love with you too, way back when. You were right in how you felt, because I felt the same way back.” That’s all it would take.

But I don’t think he can be open and honest like that (with himself or with me). The truth of being a man who was in love with another man, shattering the illusion to many people that he is fully straight / heteronormative, could turn his whole world upside down.

I understand that. Being honest and open sometimes can be hard. But being our true selves is very much more important, not only for our own well-being, but also for the well-being of others. By showing courage and strength by “coming out” to the world, we make being gay, being bisexual, being a man who has sex with men, being transgendered, being agendered, being whatever magical mix of things you are, more acceptable to others. We spread tolerance and encourage younger people to be more open and more honest with themselves through their journeys through life.

The “closet” and being “out” is a huge problem in our society. It is getting better a little bit at a time, but it needs a lot of improvement.

LGBTQIA+ people have higher rates of suicide for all sorts of reasons. Mental health issues and substance abuse are two more issues facing our community. This could all be eased by encouraging a more accepting, more tolerant society.

The thinking should be: So what if someone is attracted to both guys and girls? Or purely guys? Or purely girls? Are they happy? Yes. Okay. So what’s the problem?

AJ and the Queen confronted this issue a little bit in their freshman season, but there is so much more to this all.