'RuPaul's Drag Race' star Kameron Michaels on how drag makeup gives her freedom
Love In Color is a weekly series that celebrates Pride Month by showcasing the beauty of self-expression through makeup and fashion. We’re highlighting style’s importance to the LGBTQ community, from the outfits that made queer youth feel seen for the first time to the stories of drag queens who use makeup to express their identities.
If you’re a RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, you know that Season 10’s Lip Sync Assassin, Kameron Michaels, is a a quiet force known for being silent but deadly. Throughout the show, the now-33-year-old introvert mainly kept to herself, but all that me-time wasn’t just about recharging her batteries. Growing up, Michaels was bullied relentlessly in school and protected herself by hiding from others. Discovering drag as a teen, however, helped her discover a whole new, bolder version of herself. That interest led to both a powerful awakening and an impressive career; On Drag Race, Michaels ended up in the Top 3 of Season 10, and she’s since gone on to perform in Vegas and do both nationwide and international tours.
In an interview with HelloGiggles, Michaels opens up about confidence, her drag journey, and the message she wants to get across to LGBTQ youth being bullied today.
HelloGiggles: What’s your first drag memory?
Kameron Michaels: My first drag memory is from when I was a senior in high school. I was going to gay bars on the weekends, and when I saw drag queens, I was amazed and immediately thought to myself, “can I be a part of this?” In about six months, I started working at the drag bar as a cocktail server—I would’ve taken any job to get my foot in the door. During that time, I started hanging out with the drag queens, and one day, one of them put me in drag and did my makeup. It was a big purple smoky eye and a pink lip—it was really pretty.
HG: How did you feel when you saw yourself in drag makeup for the first time?
KM: The same way that I feel now: powerful, beautiful, strong, independent… That specific night to me was more about the performance than the makeup—it’s what sealed the deal for me. You get a natural high from being on stage as an entertainer and getting the audience’s energy. That night I lip-synced two songs: “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera and another one from Celine Dion, who was my idol when I was little.
HG: When you were younger, you were bullied. Did that experience shape who you are today?
KM: I wouldn’t have the confidence I have today if I hadn’t gone through the things I did in my youth. Learning to hide and do everything to avoid others was my defense mechanism, and it’s been a struggle in my adulthood because I have to unlearn those things that I did to protect myself when I was little.
HG: Do you feel your most confident when you’re wearing makeup and in drag?
KM: Yes. I tend to be more introverted, especially as a performer, so when I am in drag I can be more confident. I’ve never not experienced confidence in drag, whereas throughout my youth and my childhood, I experienced so much lack of confidence, wanting to hide, and not wanting to be seen as a gay youth. I’ve never felt that way in drag, and I relate that to putting on my war paint.
HG: What’s your favorite part about drag culture?
KM: By far it’s the performing and the lip-syncing… But if I were to equate it to something that everyone could relate to, it would just be about having the freedom to be whoever you want to be, whenever you want to, and expressing that however you want to.
HG: Pride month is typically a time for many in-person celebrations, such as parades, concerts, and events. Now that we’re in quarantine, what does Pride look like for you?
KM: We’re all going down the virtual rabbit hole for Pride right now and really trying to bring everyone together online, and I think it’s really important that we do that. I remember my first Pride; I went when I was 18, and seeing all these gay people in one place—I didn’t realize there were that many of us, and kids aren’t going to get that this year. I think it’s important that they have people they look up to in the community and see people like themselves right now since unfortunately, we can’t be together in person.
HG: What’s the first thing you’re going to do post-pandemic?
KM: Honestly, I just really want to go to a gay bar. That’s my safe space, that’s where I grew up, that’s where I found myself, that’s where I found drag, that’s where I found a lot of things I like about myself, and that’s where I found a way to express myself. Not being able to go to those places and have drinks with friends and experience that environment—a lot of gay people really miss that. It’s our safe place.
HG: Having been bullied yourself, what message would you like to convey to LGBTQ youth being bullied today?
KM: Growing up, I remember the It Gets Better Project, and while I didn’t like it when I was younger, once I got older I realized that it’s true. It feels weird to hear it from adults when you’re young, but there’s truth in that message and it definitely does get better. You’ll get out of that one situation, that one classroom, and that one school that you see every day. It feels like it’s never going to end and that it’s never going to go away, but once you go to college and get out in the work world, you find your tribe and it gets better. That message still resonates with me—it does get better.
HG: Right now, the country is bearing witness to many tragedies. What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement?
KM: Relating it to where I come from as a member of the LGBTQ community, every marginalized group has a background and a story about where we came from, and I think it’s so important for queer people to know that the first person to throw a brick at Stonewall was Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman. Many LGBTQ people don’t know that a person of color helped them get their rights, their freedom, and what they have today. Schools don’t teach queer history in history books, and there’s a lot of African-American history left out of history books, too. We have to speak about these things and learn about them on our own. It’s really cool to see Millennials and Gen-Z out there on the streets, posting, donating, and getting involved in politics, because I wasn’t as a kid. This generation has voices and they finally feel like they have the power to stand up and say something, and things are changing and they have to change. It’s really incredible to see, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere.