HBOMax’s song “We Are Here” teaches us to slow down, listen, and better leave the places we visit.
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sSometimes a reality show is more than a reality show. Just like sometimes, a drag show is more than just a drag show. Then there’s HBO Max’s we are here—An under-the-radar series in which three queens produce a one-night-only drag show—the Locals Championships—in small-town America. It’s a reality show, a drag show, and on top of that, the best US travel show. we are here It does what I think we should all strive to do as travelers – not only to learn about the places we visit but also leave them better off for our existence.
hypothesis we are here It’s simple: Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela and Eureka O’Hara, three drag queens who became famous as racers in the RuPaul’s Drag RaceGo to small towns and cities like Ruston, Louisiana (p. 22000) to view raffle shows starring three locals. Fashion, events, and makeup are a big city – the percentage of glamor per capita in each episode could break any previous records for each city. But the real magic of the show lies beneath the makeup.
Like the queens themselves, the special residents in each episode have different life stories. Some are LGBTI people who struggle for their identities – or struggle to feel visible and celebrated in their communities. Some are straight people out there looking for a more powerful way to show allies with LGBTQ family members or colleagues. Although the stories of the individual “heroes” appear in every episode, it is the small town communities that are the source of the show’s pain. Confederate merchandise stores. Rows and rows of churches. Rows and rows of trailer yards. Throughout history, LGBTQ people have often fled towns like this to big cities – and still do – but it’s important to take a look at the simultaneous beauty and challenges of small-town gay life, such as how everyone has your back, even if they’re talking too Behind that, it’s powerful to watch Eureka, Bob, and Shangela try to grow that anomalous space, even a little bit, with their huge personalities.
“It’s changed the way I travel,” Shangela told me on the phone recently. “I’m an avid traveler, I’ve performed on six out of seven continents. Antarctica might be next!” But like many of us, Shangela traveled mostly to get something from somewhere, not thinking about what to give back or let go. Offer, get paid, go ahead. Or, as many of us might as well visit a museum, shop, eat, and move on. There is something implicitly exploitative about this hypothetical model of travel – communities give, and tourists take. we are here He challenges us to consider a different model.
“We’ve been at these locations for at least two weeks,” Shangela says. “As an eccentric and entertainer, I think the vision is very powerful. We can have a huge impact as an inspiration to people in the community.” This isn’t just “a circus coming to town,” she adds. “We partner with local people who experience these communities on a daily basis and we are empowering them and really making them visible in these places.” We hope it leaves spaces more welcoming than they used to be, says Shangela.
In fact, the show portrays its settings with just as much nuance as its characters. Surely the people who cast hatred on the hosts cast some judicial shadow in return, but the inquisitive and curious townspeople are treated equally by production, as if to say, ‘Are you curious about drag queens? That’s fine, we They’re curious about you, too.” For example, every time the queens enter a city – which they do with full drag for maximum effect – the camera often remains on the staring locals, a choice that turns everyone an anomaly in some way. What results is a series that avoids caricatures of people or places. Cities aren’t just about stereotypes, nor are people in them – just as gay people are more than just stereotypes, too.
One episode shows a man in Branson, Missouri, whose Christian version condemns his same-sex attraction. He is along with his mother, who desperately needs her son to live a life he is proud of. The queens do not lecture this young man, but simply listen to him and encourage him to find his own path to his truth in his time. The show – as strange, like Christianity, like America – is complex and multifaceted.
Yes, a reality show that escalates to a performance is, by its very nature, a performance. But during Pride Month, it makes me think about how in places like New York City or San Francisco, we can take pride parades and queer seeing in general for granted. we are here Its name is taken from the old gay rights march hymn, after all: “Here we are, we gays, you get used to it!” And mostly, liberal big cities she did He used to. Not so in Del Rio, Texas, and Watertown, South Dakota, which is important to us to remember from gay liberals in the big cities.
The we are here The queens not only venture into these towns as their greater-than-life authentic selves; They connect more deeply with humans and societies. In a small but significant way, they are mobilizing cities for change. And perhaps we encourage those of us watching to offer our full selves on our travels and leave the better communities for us to be there as well.
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