To anyone who has watched LGBTQ cinema, it would sound like I just described the 1995 comedy To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. On the surface that would be correct. Three drag queens, while taking a trip to California, are temporarily stranded in a town so small that it has a fraction for a zipcode. Before they leave all of the people they came in to contact with are transformed. However, that is not what I am referring to today. Instead, I wish to talk about the new HBO series We’re Here.
The premise for this series does come off slightly differently. Here we have three renowned drag queens (Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela Laquifa Wadley) who venture into a small town each week and inspire their “drag daughters” to step outside of their comfort zones for a specialized drag show starring them! However, with all unscripted “reality” shows, this one takes on a life of its own. With each small town they travel to they meet up with people who have agreed beforehand to not only step outside of their comfort zones but face unique issues that are challenging them. One episode features a young gay man named Hunter who is a make-up artist, and all he desires is to have a stronger relationship with his father. However, not all of the “drag daughters” are gay men. One of them is a Christian mother named Erica who wishes to mend the relationship with her bisexual daughter. There is also Darryl, a straight man who is already an ally to the LGBTQ community but wishes to emphasize the issue of race in America. All of this takes place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This is a town that is not known for being progressive, but when the big drag show finally takes place not only are the “drag daughters” giving it their best on the stage, the turnout is so much more than anyone could have expected. These are the types of stories that are being told from one episode to the next, and it’s not all easy cases either.
The third episode of the season in Branson, Missouri had as one “drag daughter” a young man named Tanner who had grown up gay and was accepted by his mother. Then he makes the transition to Christianity and renounces being gay because of its perceived sinful nature. The fifth episode in Ruston, Louisiana had one of the most emotionally difficult stories with a mother named Stacey and her daughter Jasmine. They are still grappling with the suicide of Stacey’s other daughter, and it is the hope that doing a drag number together might help them find the strength they need to start living again. Each week delivers new stories of hardship that has become more than a burden to each of these people. That is where Bob, Eureka, and Shangela come in and perform their special kind of magic. Each one of them takes on their own “drag daughter(s)” and not only helps them to find excitement as they prepare for the big show, each one starts to dig beneath the surface to help them find that inner strength needed to not only get on stage but to take that experience out into the world. That is a deliciously symbolic irony. Before the drag queens can help cover up their “drag daughters” with clothing and make-up, they have to help remove the baggage and all of the bad layers that each daughter has used to hide that burden within them. It’s also interesting that these three drag queens have pretty much said the same thing, and that is Drag has saved their lives. After shedding their bad skin, they can each put on their own fabulous clothing for a show and find a form of liberation allowing for their spirits to soar. The clothing and make-up don’t hide who they are. It frees it, and that is the mission of We’re Here. By going to each of these small towns they help their daughters get in touch with their true selves and then use drag to help them soar! What is even better is before the night of the drag show is through, each “drag daughter” sees that they are not alone and that they were never alone. There is a community willing to stand by them and accept them unconditionally.
This brilliant show was created by Johnnie Ingram and Steve Warren (a gay couple in their own right) and what they have delivered is probably the best ambassadorial type show for the LGBTQ community since Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. This is unquestionably the finest and most heartfelt unscripted series I have ever watched. Each episode overflows with truth and the occasional issue that might be considered a trigger for someone watching it (Ruston, Louisiana had a very serious trigger for me), but I believe that these episodes would be diminished if there weren’t any triggers. With these triggers, they build empathy, and with empathy comes understanding and commonality. This helps the LGBTQ community we see in each episode grow.
The final episode was most unusual in that it starts just like all the others, but the production was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing our three starring queens to return to their own homes. What followed was an episode full of testimonials as to the power of drag. After giving their life stories they each make mention as to how drag saved them. No, it did more than save them. It empowered them. Drag helped them to find out who they truly are. They learned that the more elaborate the gowns and makeup, the more naked their true selves became for all to see and celebrate. This humanized them and gave further legitimacy as to this show’s mission. They just weren’t on some crusade to help people learn about drag. They were on a quest to help people learn about themselves and the challenges they must face. They were there to help people overcome those challenges, and the three drag queens were the living embodiment of that quest.
Each of the starring drag queens is amazing. They have such beautiful personalities, both in and out of drag, that anyone who meets them and does so with an open mind cannot help but be charmed by them. If there was ever a message that needed to be delivered to small towns like in this show, it is that the LGBTQ community is filled with good and wonderful people like Bob, Eureka, and Shangela, and that brings us back to To Wong Foo and a wonderful line that could not be more appropriate. “I do not think of you as a man and I do not think of you as a woman. I think of you as an angel.” Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hare, and Shangela Laquifa Wadley are more than just drag queens. They are angels because the people and places they come into contact with are forever blessed just as we who watch We’re Here are blessed if we open our eyes and hearts to see it. This isn’t just a show to be watched for entertainment. The three drag queens, along with show creators Ingram and Warren, have given us something that could change the world. If you doubt that then just watch the last few minutes of the final episode. It will make you a believer.