My partner Kelsey introduced me to RuPaul’s Drag Race. My journey into relatively devout fandom started pre-pandemic, but the extra time at home has allowed for a deeper dive than might have otherwise happened. We’ve watched a random collection of seasons so far — I’m not going to try to name the seasons because to do that I’d have to Google them, and to Google them might be to uncover spoilers, so I’m just not going to try — and we’re working our way towards watching an All-Stars. I think we’ve watched enough of the early seasons to watch the first All-Stars now, but I’m holding out because, well, I don’t always love change and I’m used to the ‘regular’ seasons.
That’s all just a preamble because I want to write about my tears during the lip-sync (I won’t say who won or anything, but I guess it’s a spoiler in some way to say who lip-synced, so I guess *spoiler alert*) between Chi Chi DeVayne and Thorgy Thor. In retrospect, I guess that I should have expected the tears (like, obviously, the song and vocal performance are just a tour de force), but in the moment I was surprised.
I don’t pretend to be a Drag Race expert, nor have I done a deep dive into the lives of the contestants (partially because I’m constantly dodging spoilers whenever I search for one of them), so, for the most part, my reaction to this lip-sync was purely based, with a significant exception, on the context built by the show. The significant exception is that this summer, out of the corner of my internet eye, I’d caught the sad news that Chi Chi had died. I hadn’t met Chi Chi through the show yet, but as I watched Season 8, a realization slowly dawned on me that Chi Chi was the Queen that I’d seen remembered on Twitter.
I know that my awareness of her death impacts the way that I watch her performance on the show and I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the part of her journey that she shares on the screen. Her spirit and energy seem like the kind that will long outlive her physical presence on the earth. I say this because I sense, from the show, that there is an honesty to the way that Chi Chi experiences her emotions and a productive commitment to genuine vulnerability, not just for the cameras, but for herself. I haven’t, as I mentioned, done a deep dive into Chi Chi’s life after the show, but in the particular moment that I found myself watching last night, I was moved by the honesty with which she performed.
The lip-sync was astounding. She came across as someone who had found the magic spot that all performer’s hope to find; when the artifice of a character moves into alignment with the soul of the performer, revealing something unique about both. It seems to me that, in this lip-sync, Chi Chi and Zavion (her offstage name) come together in a near perfect eclipse, neither obscuring the other, but also showing themselves in entirely different ways than they would on an average day. It was so honest that I couldn’t hold its intensity without crying.
The performance got me thinking about the times in my life when I’ve felt more like myself than I knew possible. I don’t know what was going on internally for Chi Chi in this performance, but, I think I cried because it seemed like I was watching something true, something entirely her. I don’t know many things that are more electric than seeing someone find something deeper, more fundamental than they expect. I don’t think that sort of thing happens by accident. It might be an accident for it to happen in a particular moment, but the muscles to break new ground are only there if you’re practicing regularly. It seemed to me like I was watching Chi Chi’s practice of self-discovery meet a circumstance that she was fundamentally prepared to engage with. That the camera was rolling in that alignment of practice and opportunity is to all of our benefit.
What does Chi Chi’s performance make you think about? Have you had moments like this? I’d love to hear about them if you have.
And, to Chi Chi’s memory and spirit, I’m grateful that you’re still with us.