5 of the most Atlanta moments in RuPaul’s new memoir

Atlanta has a starring role in over 100 pages of the 240-page memoir, The House of Hidden Meanings. Here are five key moments.

74
5 of the most Atlanta moments in RuPaul's new memoir
RuPaul holds his Emmy for Outstanding Reality TV Competition for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” during the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards on January 15, 2024.

Photograph by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Atlantans of a certain age can still remember the posters stapled everywhere on telephone poles across Midtown in the early 1980s: “RUPAUL IS EVERYTHING” and “RUPAUL IS RED HOT.” It was a guerilla grassroots marketing gimmick budding performer RuPaul Andre Charles had borrowed after seeing the nightlife promotional tool used effectively on a visit to New York City. It was classic “fake it ‘til you make it”—but the strategy worked. Sometimes, while dancing to Prince or Cyndi Lauper records on the balcony of his Charles Allen Drive apartment, people below would shout up to him, “RuPaul is red hot!” One night in the dressing room at Atlanta’s 688 Club, the performer even encountered a motivational piece of graffiti in response to his telephone pole marketing campaign: “In the blink of an eye, RuPaul will fade into obscurity.” Recalls Charles: “I took it as a compliment. You’re nobody until somebody hates you.”

Just like those faded (and now highly collectable) posters still cherished by local fans, the 12-time Emmy-winning global drag superstar fondly recalls his star-making days in Atlanta in the late 1970s and early 80s in his new memoir, The House of Hidden Meanings, released this week.

5 of the most Atlanta moments in RuPaul's new memoir

Photograph courtesy of the publisher

On Sunday, Ru will return to Atlanta, the city the San Diego native regards as his creative birthplace, for a live appearance and book release celebration at the Tabernacle downtown. The city of Atlanta has a starring role in over 100 pages of the 240-page memoir which ends shortly after the performer achieves global fame following the release of his 1993 album and instant MTV staple Supermodel of the World. After getting his show biz start here, RuPaul left Atlanta for the bright lights of New York, where he became a regular at the hot new nightspot Danceteria—where Sade was working a bartender and Madonna was just about to make the transition from waitress to pop music phenomenon. Here are five of the most Atlanta-centric moments recounted in the global drag performer’s new book.

1. Piedmont Park was the backdrop for the book’s title
The book’s title is attributed to RuPaul’s Atlanta friend Larry Tee. Sometime during the Reagan administration, the two dropped acid and ended up waking up on the lawn in Piedmont Park where Larry, slowly coming off his high, told his friend, “Libra represents the twelfth house of Scorpio’s hidden meanings.” Writes Ru in the book’s set-in-Atlanta prologue, “After the drugs wore off, I realized it was nonsense. But it was beautiful nonsense, and it stayed with me forever.”

2. RuPaul’s drag debut was onstage at Northside School of Performing Arts
In House of Hidden Meanings, Charles credits the impact of Northside high school drama teacher Bill Panell on his career. Somehow, Panell convinced the school to mount a staging of Tennessee Williams’s 1953 play Camino Real where Ru portrayed a drag queen named Queenie. As he recalls, “It was a Gothic surrealist daydream. The play was a mess, but it was a Tennessee Williams mess.”

3. Ru became a regular on The American Music Show by writing a fan letter
After watching an episode of the kooky, no-budget Atlanta public access variety TV show hosted by James Bond and Dick Richards in 1982, Ru jotted down the show’s post office box shown on screen at the end of the program. He wrote to tell the producers he loved the show and as a budding performer would love to appear on the show. A week and a half later, Charles’ phone rang in his Midtown apartment. It was a TAMS producer asking him to come on the program. “I couldn’t believe it,” he writes. “Later I’d find out they were the ones who were over the moon with excitement. I was the first person who’d ever written in and asked to be on the show.” Charles would make appearances on the show for the next decade.

4. Atlanta’s drag scene provided inspiration
In House of Hidden Meanings, RuPaul recounts seeing his first drag queen Crystal LaBeija perform Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” onstage at Numbers, a gay club on Cheshire Bridge Road. She was so convincing a teenage Charles thought it might actually be the then-reigning Queen of Disco. By the time Illusions opened on Peachtree Street in the early 1980s, Ru was a regular at the club’s $2 “Monday Madness” drag show to see performers Dina Jacobs, Tina Devore, and Lily White. Of the evening’s hostess and self-proclaimed “head bitch,” RuPaul writes, “the biggest star was Charlie Brown, a white girl who always did Millie Jackson, specifically her version of (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right. The live version of the song led to a hilarious spoken-word breakdown, which Charlie had down pat.” Oh, and Ru’s signature catch phrase “You’re born naked and the rest is drag?” In the memoir, he attributes it to Atlanta drag performer Lakesha Lucky, who once uttered the one-liner onstage at the Sweet Gum Head on Cheshire Bridge Road.

5. RuPaul worked everywhere in the city
A waitress named Chrissy (who, at the time, desperately wanted to date the openly queer budding performer) helped get Ru a job as a short order cook in the cafe at Davison’s department store at Lenox Square. He also was a ticket taker at the Film Forum at Ansley Mall, a custodian at a conference center on North Druid Hills Road, and a go-go dancer at Weekends in Midtown. He even tried his hand at stand-up comedy, performing a single ill-fated set at the Punchline. “I was terrible!,” recalls Ru in House. “Mostly I just rambled. I’d been terrified and I’d known going in that I would bomb but it was part of my philosophy: Just get the damn thing over with.”

RuPaul will appear at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 10 at the Tabernacle. The event is billed as “a spiritual awakening to celebrate the release of RuPaul’s memoir.” Tickets are available via Live Nation and range between $102 to $76, and each ticket includes a copy of The House of Hidden Meanings.

Advertisement