RuPaul Serves Some Confounding Truths in ‘The House of Hidden Meanings’


As “The House of Hidden Meanings” is RuPaul’s fourth book and his first straightforward memoir, it’s understandably being marketed as an opportunity to see the pop culture icon in a new light. The striking, almost intimidating, black-and-white cover photograph notably subverts the expectation of seeing Ru in glamorous technicolor drag. All the artifice has been stripped away, we’re being told: This is RuPaul stripped bare.

But the meanings laid bare in the text contradict RuPaul’s narration again and again. What’s revealed is a striver high on his own supply who tries to spin his story as empathetic wisdom draped in Instagram-ready captions.

About 70 pages in, RuPaul — at the time, a Black high school dropout driving luxury cars across the country to help a relative flip them for profit — declares without irony, “Americans have always been frontiersmen, people who are open to a new adventure, and I felt this as I drove cars alone, back and forth, across the United States.”

I wearily recalled an earlier section of the book. Explaining the conservative environment of his childhood in San Diego, RuPaul summarizes the Great Migration in a paragraph that would be considered too concise even for a Wikipedia entry, then declares, “All the Black people in our neighborhood were transplants from the South, and so they had inherited a kind of slave mentality, which was based on fear.”

Aside from breathtaking dismissiveness of the decades of racial violence that made the migration necessary, it’s chilling to see a public figure known as a champion of the marginalized so easily dismiss survivors of Jim Crow-era terror as people who “hold onto their victim mentality so fiercely; it becomes a defining feature of their identity.”

The way we tell our stories has a way of telling on us. The memoir reveals an author who thinks he understands outsiders when, really, all he understands is that he wanted to become famous and eventually became famous. And given RuPaul Charles’s truly extraordinary talent, that would be fine if the book (and his brand) weren’t so invested in trying to convince the rest of us that he has unique insight into the joke called life.

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