A photo of Drag Race superstar Lawrence Chaney, in hues of purple against a pink background.

‘Nobody is a finished product’: Lawrence Chaney pens a letter to their younger self

In the time-honoured tradition of the iconic TV show, the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK series two and author of (Drag) Queen of Scots writes to wee Lawrence about bullying, books, and the importance of pronouns.

Dear Lawrence (Chaaaaneh!!, as you will soon become known),

One day soon you’ll look around, and everything will have changed. You’ll win what will soon become your favourite TV show, hosted by one of your favourite drag queens. You’ll be doing what you love: sewing, styling wigs, playing around with makeup. You won’t need to pretend to be timid anymore: ‘Oh, if you could spare a gig, I’d be ever so thankful!’ No more trying to explain to drag queens in a nightclub in dingy light at 3 a.m. why you deserve to perform. Now you can say, “I’m Lawrence Chaney, I’m the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I deserve this.”

(I won’t lie: dating will get complicated after winning RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s the gay Super Bowl, and trying to date in the community it means so much to will be, well, difficult.) But you will have financial stability – four walls and a roof. You won't need to worry before you go to sleep about the next day anymore: about college, about paying your rent, or the kids at school.

'RuPaul’s Drag Race is the gay Super Bowl, and trying to date in the community it means so much to will be, well, difficult'

That’ll be welcome news. Because of your dad’s work, you're moving around a lot – from Scotland to England, from one school to another – but it would be hard anyway: you’re kind of a weird, outsider kid who is fat and walks funny, with a bowl cut. That won’t be so bad at first – everyone wears those horrible velcro shoes, and everyone's got a bowl cut, because their mum did it to them – but by eight or nine, in the latter years of Scottish primary school, folk will start saying “I’m dating this person”. You won’t think “Oh, well, I'm gay”, but you’ll start questioning what’s happening.

You’re becoming aware of heteronormativity. You’ll be bullied for not going out with anyone; for not listening to Eminem, Lil Wayne and Kanye West; for the way you write, the way you speak sentences. Any chance to isolate you, they’ll take it – any cheap joke. (And if anyone knows about cheap jokes, it's me!)

You’ll seek community and find it in somewhat bizarre places: you’ll gravitate towards Doctor Who, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The turtles are outsiders themselves: if they go up onto the street, they’re laughed at, bullied, heckled; in horror films the mutants are bad guys. But here, they're saving the world. Star Wars will show a kind of fantasy world where different races of aliens and different cultures on different planets are just living normally. It’s weird that people are willing to understand others when it’s on Tatooine, but when it’s on our planet, difference is a problem.

You’ll find real-life saviours, too. Your mum, your best friend, will always be there for you. When you get tripped up in corridors by school peers, you sometimes won’t tell her, and the upset will build inside you; you’ll be angry at home, or sit alone and cry. She’ll let you talk about your feelings: “Don't hide it, don't hold it.” You’ll bond over films and elaborate costumes, sharing a love of the bizarre, the bold, and the colourful. You’ll find out later, when loads of friends don't get on with their mums, that you’re very lucky to have such an understanding one.

It won’t be shocking when you finally come out to her, but it will be harder to talk to your dad, a very straight man who literally only grunts – and when you do, it will be relieving when, on a drive together, he says, “So… you have a boyfriend. Shall we have him over for dinner?” You’ll feel overwhelming acceptance from your sister, your dad, your mum.

But the best feeling will come from finding strength in yourself, as you learn to you channel the negatives into positivity and jokes and humour. It's something you will have to do to survive. You will notice yourself getting introverted and losing yourself, and suddenly it will smack you: “You are funny! You need to stand out with this!” Everyone thinks you stand out anyway; they'll still make fun of you, they’ll still think you're weird. But if you can come to understand who you are, then you can accept it, start making fun of it, and have jokes with other people.

'It’s weird that people are willing to understand others when it’s on Tatooine, but when it’s on our planet, difference is a problem'

You’ll find yourself, and that will help you find others. On the drag scene, you’ll find family and community who love the same things you were bullied for in school. You’ll step into a club and meet 30 other people that love Lady Gaga just as much, if not more, than you, who love wearing costumes. (You’ll have the last laugh when ‘straight’ boys from your schooldays, who made the odd ‘f-word’ comment, pop up on Grindr. And you will never meet a SINGLE drag queen who doesn’t have a story like this; they always either text you, Facebook you, whatever, and for some reason it’s always three years after school.)

The moments of validation will start flooding in: when a manipulative man comes along to your show with another guy, and they’re kissing, it will upset you, and you’ll go down that familiar spiral of ‘I'm not good enough, I'll never be good enough’ – at which point you’ll receive a text saying “This is the Drag Race team, can we call you?” There will be things and people that bring you back and say, “No, you're meant to be doing this.”

Eventually, you’ll publish a book about all of this. You’ll think, “What do I write about? I’m 24!” But then you’ll start, and when you look at what you’ve written, you’ll feel like your voice is finally being heard about the traumatic situations you’ve been through. It will dawn on you: “The person that won Drag Race is the same person who was wearing velcro shoes ’til they were 14. And it's the same person that carried their art folder to cover their big stomach.” Writing this book will allow you to see your life, to take a step back. It's helped you grow up, writing it. You’ll think, “I wrote a book! That is weird.”

'Don’t be afraid not to be at the finish line; nobody is a finished product'

And, well – it looks like we’ve almost caught up to each other, doesn’t it Lawrence? But the best part is that we – ahem, I – will keep growing. There is a lot I’m proud of, and also things I’d do differently, which is why I wanted part of my book to be advice – like my part on Drag Race where I was an agony aunt. (I love giving advice, whether I’m warranted to or not.)

My parting advice is this: don’t be afraid not to be at the finish line. Nobody is a finished product.

You’re going to realise, watching Drag Race UK back, that when RuPaul, Alan Carr and Michelle Visage say, “Oh, she's so funny” about me in one scene, and in another say, “Oh, he’s great,” it makes you uncomfortable. The pronouns will get to you – you’ll realise that they/them feels much more comfortable. You’ll know they were just saying the pronouns you put down on a slip, for the show. Because you didn’t see yourself as that finished product, you felt embarrassed to even talk about it. In the book, you’ll be able to say, “This is where I'm at now.”

I understand now that people are just as valid whether they are out from day one or still trying to discover themselves. You just need to be open and honest about how you feel, even if some days you feel bad, some days you feel meh, some days you feel amazing. And today, that feels pretty great – doesn’t it, hen?

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Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

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