How Bob the Drag Queen turns pain into purpose

·6 min read
Bob The Drag Queen
Bob The Drag Queen

Evan Ross Katz is In The Know’s pop culture contributor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram for more.

“We were in Twin Falls, Idaho, and one of my drag kids was like, ‘Why do I need to be around queer people?’” recounts Bob the Drag Queen. “And I was like….” At this point, Bob peers over his horn-rimmed glasses and gives the kind of double-take one would display before going fully catatonic — ”Excuuuuse me? Why do you need to be around other queer people? That sentence is why you need to be around other queer people.” Seamlessly, the bravado deflates, and he continues, reverting his gaze to me despite never breaking eye contact. ”It really says something to be around people who have a shared experience to you. I think when people realize that they are not alone through these communities, they start to feel less like an outsider.”

Bob, the drag persona of Caldwell Tidicue, was in Twin Falls filming season two of the HBO series, We’re Here, premiering Oct. 11. He’s joined, once again, by fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Shangela Laquifa Wadley and Eureka O’Hara (Bob, himself, is the winner of Season 8 of the series). “It made sense to me,” he says when I ask for his reaction to the news that the show was picked up for a second season. “I’m one of those folks that when good things happen for me, I’m not like, ‘I can’t believe…’ No, I’m more like, ‘Why wouldn’t we get a second season?’ I was elated, and I was like, ‘Let’s get to it.’”

Credit: HBO
Credit: HBO

We’re Here premiered in April 2020, one month into a pandemic that continues to rage across the world. It offered the necessary escapism of feel-good reality TV, but with an outsized amount of heart, compassion and joy. It’s reality television by design but transformative entertainment in its execution. It didn’t synthesize or flatten the queer experience but rather showed people a world much bigger than the big cities many are accustomed to seeing queer existence revolve around.

“As the political climate of America changes, it is important to shine a light on othered people, especially in these small towns,” Tidicue says. “When you think of queer people, you often think of L.A., New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Austin. But the show is called We’re Here because we’re everywhere. You don’t need queer people to make queer people. You need at least one Black person to make a Black person. But queer people? We will pop up anywhere.” This season, the trio are heading to places far and wide, including Temecula, California, Evansville, Indiana and Spartanburg, S.C., the last of which has a population of just 37,000.

When I ask Tidicue if he thinks the show’s message of acceptance and self-love is more important now than ever, he hesitates, noting that it would have been just as important in the past had it existed. “I just think that queer people and people of color are finally getting their comeuppance in the world more so than in the past. It seems very apropos. This would have been wonderfully needed in the ’90s, or ’80s even – before reality TV even existed.”

There are several moments in the show where Tidicue has become visibly emotional. “Rumors!” he responds, evoking Ado Annie from Oklahoma! But none more so than in the fourth episode of the new season. “I was having a completely visceral reaction to responding to the traumatic experience of being a Black person in America. And thinking about what my ancestors had to endure to sit here and have a conversation with you.” The episode finds the cast in historic Selma, Ala. Tidicue is sitting in a roundtable with his castmates at the By the River Center for Humanity with several women who were foot soldiers during Bloody Sunday.

“I think that in the Black community we have not, as a community, been taught how to deal with our trauma, and we end up with what feels like survivor’s remorse,” he tells the women, his voice beginning to shake, the tears welling as he professes his own survivor’s remorse as the direct descendent of slaves. “Breathe, baby,” one of the women tells him as the others nod. “You know what? You are who you are because of them. I don’t want you to cry for where they’ve been or where we’ve been. I need you to take that strength and celebrate that you are a survivor.” Later, Bob performs for the women, inviting them to share in the joy he brings to so many. (I won’t spoil the performance, but let’s just say you’ve never seen a reveal quite like this.)

Credit: HBO
Credit: HBO

According to co-creators Johnnie Ingram and Stephen Warren, it’s moments like these that underline the show as being bigger than any one person. “It is truly about reaching outside our queer silos and coming together as a community. For in this act of reaching out, we become stronger and better people,” says Ingram. “Drag is an art form that unites us all no matter how anyone individually identifies,” adds Warren. “A drag show has the power to get a whole town talking and witness the joy that results when people can relax their inhibitions and have a little fun. We all need that.“

“This isn’t like therapy,” Tidicue stresses. “Therapy is like you tell me, and I listen. This is connecting on a human level. So if I’m going to ask you to tell me vulnerable things, I’m going to have to get vulnerable as well.”

It’s been a crazy five years for Tidicue since being crowned America’s Next Drag Superstar. He’s appeared on television in Lucifer and A Black Lady Sketch Show, appeared on stage in Berkeley Repertory Theater production of Angels In America, starred in campaigns for Coach and joined his bestie Peppermint in producing the Black Queer Town Hall. All that in addition to co-hosting Sibling Rivalry with fellow Drag Race winner Monét X Change. Has he taken the time to celebrate the strength the ladies at the Center of Humanity spoke about?

“I don’t sit back and go ‘Oh, my goodness, look at all I’ve done,’” he says. “I don’t pull a Mufasa and look at everything that the light has touched. But I am very proud of what I’ve achieved and been able to do, especially in the scheme of my family. I’m sitting in a home that I own, which really felt like something I’d never be able to achieve in my life, and I’m happy to be able to spread that message to my niece and my nephew and others, especially Black queer people. It can be possible. It really can.”

If you enjoyed this article, check out Evan Ross Katz’s recent interview with “The Other Two” star Heléne Yorke!

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