If you’ve been watching Drag Race this season, your eye’s probably been caught by the lovely Robbie Turner. Though she was sent home far too early, her classy style and witty banter made her a national treasure. But viewers of the show probably have no idea about the hidden depths of Robbie the performer compared to Robbie the character: growing up (literally) dirt poor, being forcibly outed as a drag queen and the moment his mom finally understood drag.
Robbie was one of my guests this month on The Sewers of Paris, a podcast where I interview gay men about entertainment that changed their lives. It was a revealing conversation, frank, honest, and — just like Robbie — full of surprises.
And one of the topics that came up throughout our chat was his devotion to his mother. It’s clear that she’s the person who taught him to be beautiful from an early age, when he was just a small child watching classic movies on TV with her as she prepared the huge family’s lunches.
Back then, Robbie thought he was going to be a minister. His parents were both church leaders, and his mom hand-wrote the programs every week for the tiny community church that they belonged to. He was trained to be a performer — not on stage, but as a minister’s kid with a polite smile and helpful demeanor.
But he was also terrified of being found out as gay. As a small child, his tendencies were simply funny, not dangerous: He loved to have red nails, and his grandmother would supply him with Sharpies so he could color them every week at church. His mother was appalled.
But as he grew older, he realized what he was and thought that he could never live as a gay man. There was simply no future in that life, he assumed. On the day that he was set to graduate high school, he knew he couldn’t take it any longer and he resolved to drown himself. He walked to the river where he was baptized, filled his pockets with stones and waded into the river. That’s when it hit him that he could change — that he could leave the small intolerant town.
And so that’s what he did. He emptied his pockets, cleaned himself up and went to his graduation ceremony. There, be broke up with his girlfriend, came home and came out to his parents, and with that, he left town for New York.
Robbie explored a variety of roles after that, but he found himself repeatedly coming back to female characters. And in particular, as his craft improved, he was drawn to the classic beauties he admired alongside his mother in their tiny house.
He might’ve escaped the small town that made him want to kill himself — but a part of him remained there. Or maybe a part of that town stayed with him.
Listen to the full episode below, and subscribe and hear more episodes at SewersOfParis.com.
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