“Whenever I go on stage I say to myself, ‘Ru, you’re going into Mama’s living room,'” the RuPaul’s Drag Race host, 62, exclusively tells Us. “I used to perform for my mom and that’s what helps me overcome nerves about anything, including what people may have said about me. What other people say about me is none of my business!”
The Emmy winner is arguably the most famous drag queen in the world now, but that wasn’t always the case. The Guru author got his start as a go-go dancer in the 1990s, performing at New York City venues like the Pyramid Club.
“It was a place where all the weirdos could get together and be inspired,” the California native — whose full name is RuPaul Charles — recalled while speaking to Us at the 2018 TIME 100 Gala. “I’d sleep at Chelsea Piers because I didn’t have a stable home and stored all my belongings in the basement at the Pyramid.”
Since those early days, the AJ and Queen alum has become a master of learning how to push through the tough times.
“Life is tough, there’s no way around that, but you can arm yourself with knowledge,” RuPaul told Us when asked what advice he’d give his younger self. “And to hell with what anyone thinks — you have to do things because you want to and not rely on anyone else for validation.”
Since RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered in 2009, the show has spawned multiple spinoffs, including RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars and RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race, plus numerous international editions in Belgium, Thailand, Sweden, Spain, Canada, the United Kingdom and more.
While some observers may be surprised by Drag Race‘s global dominance, Ru is not — nor is he shocked by his own success. “I always saw myself as a star and I always imagined myself having my own show,” he told Us, adding that he’s “so happy” the series is such a phenomenon.
“Drag has evolved a lot in the last 10 to 20 years,” the media mogul explained, adding that drag fans looking to support the LGBTQ+ community should consider donating to the ACLU Drag Defense Fund. “Drag is much more accessible, which is a beautiful thing. Remember, we’re all born naked — and the rest is drag.”
For more with RuPaul, watch the video above and pick up the new issue of Us Weekly, on stands now.