RuPaul celebrates the 'power of drag' from TED stage

RuPaul stands on stage for TED Talk on red carpet in front of TED logo

This year’s TED conference just kicked off in Vancouver, BC… with a slay.

RuPaul Charles, Emmy-award winning drag icon, author, producer, and artist took the stage for a new TED segment: “On The Spot.”

In a rapid-fire question and answer session, RuPaul stood on the equally iconic red TED dot, answering a series of questions with his signature comedy and flair.

RuPaul stands on stage for TED Talk on red carpet in front of TED logo
RuPaul Charles speaks at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Aside from questions like “define bravery,” or “what’s the best way to slay?” the titular host of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” discussed, of course, the importance of drag.

“The power of drag is like the Superman suit to Clark Kent,” he said. “It allows you to expand your idea of who you are, of what you are.”

RuPaul on stage in front of text that says, What's the best way to slay?
RuPaul Charles speaks at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

The art of drag — the performance of exaggerated gender expression (like cross-dressing, dramatic makeup, or specific choreography) — has been around for centuries. 

From ancient Egypt to Shakespearan plays, the history of drag has journeyed throughout human history — up to today’s modern iteration, like Drag Story Hour, and the universally beloved “Drag Race,” which has been on air since 2009. 

However, last year, a number of states across the country introduced bills that would criminalize drag performances for viewers under 18. 

Drag communities mobilized to protect their right to free speech — and emphasize that drag, and by extension, the queer community, aren’t a threat to young people.

So, as the LGBTQ+ community continues this push for basic human rights, RuPaul — and his drag empire — have become emblematic of a safe space for those who need a little extra fabulosity in their lives.

“It’s a very simple trick,” he said of drag’s power to help folks embrace their full identities. “And it works.”

RuPaul stands on stage at TED, with a spotlight behind him
RuPaul Charles speaks at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

While RuPaul joyfully evangelized the art of drag —  “I recommend everyone try it tonight,” he said, almost as a command — his stop at TED comes amid promotion for his book, “The House of Hidden Meanings.”

The memoir, which debuted last month, has been a conduit for RuPaul to reach young people with other books by LGTBQ+ writers. Traveling the country with a colorful bus — aptly called the “Rainbow Book Bus,”  the drag star promoted books targeted by book bans across the U.S.

This was created through his online bookstore, Allstora, which he said promotes underrepresented authors, hoping to fill a gap for LGBTQ+ authors and writers of color.

TED2024 conference stage, with all red lights
SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

TED Talks are presented at TED’s annual week-long conference in Vancouver for an audience of approximately 2000 attendees. The Talks are later published to the TED website and YouTube — with some Talks being published within days or weeks and others being published months later. It’s unclear when RuPaul’s segment will be available to the general public online. 

During his time on the TED stage, RuPaul mentioned how he had a unique path to influence, something he previously discussed with the New York Times.

“I wasn’t very good in school, but I read books and I watched television,” he told the Times in early April.

“Those are the ways I was able to find my ways in this great big world.”

With his hands together, RuPaul closes his eyes on stage
RuPaul Charles speaks at SESSION 1 at TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, on Monday, April 15, 2024. Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

And as RuPaul found himself at yet another milestone in his career — on the TED stage — he encouraged others to do the same.

“Know thyself. Be thyself,” he said. “You are the best version of you… you can slay that way.”

Article Details

April 16, 2024 1:08 PM
Three still images of a Chappell Roan, a smiling, red-headed woman wearing a baseball cap and a rainbow t-shirt. Text caption reads: I am Chappell Roan and you can win tickets to Bonnaroo.

Support a good cause & win a free trip to meet Chappell Roan at Bonnaroo

Good luck, babe! Chappell Roan is teaming up with Propeller and the Human Rights Campaign to send fans to Bonnaroo.
Three photos. Left: Hunter Shafer plays Jules Vaughn in HBO's 'Euphoria.' Center: Bella Ramsey and Storm Reid in 'The Last of Us.' Right: Christina Hendricks leans atop Hannah Einbinder, about to kiss her in an episode of 'Hacks.'

This viral spreadsheet is your guide to queer women characters on TV

A TikTok creator made a thorough online database to make it easier to find TV shows with LGBTQ+ women characters.
No items found.

Want to stay up-to-date on positive news?

The best email in your inbox.
Filled with the day’s best good news.