RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 contestant Blair St. Clair has much to be thankful for right now. The theater-trained singer and self-declared “Broadway baby” just made herstory by becoming the first Drag Race alumna to top Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums Sales chart with a debut album (Call My Life), and her hugely popular Drag Raceseason just got nominated for a whopping 12 Emmy Awards.
But St. Clair’s journey to get to this point hasn’t been an easy one. Three years ago — just two years before her Drag Race season began shooting — she was raped at a college party. It was her first sexual experience. Feeling traumatized, “dirty,” and even guilty, St. Clair kept silent about the assault … until she went on Drag Race and bravely told her story to the world. It was then that her healing process truly began, and her music was a key part of that process.
Now age 23, in a happy committed relationship, and living a sober life, St. Clair (real name: Andrew Bryson) sat down with Yahoo Entertainment to talk about her RuPaul’s Drag Race experience, the #MeToo movement, being a role model and advocate for other survivors, and reclaiming her sexuality and her authentic voice.
Yahoo Entertainment: First of all, condragulations on your album debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard dance chart! And you have another reason to celebrate — your season of RuPaul’s Drag Race is up for 12 Emmys!
Blair St. Clair: Yeah, I was so excited! It’s been really amazing to be part of that show. How lucky I am to be on a show that has pushed so many boundaries, so many political ideas and statements, racially, sexually, based on gender, based on orientation, based on so many different focal points. It’s really incredible to be a part of that.
One of the most moving moments of the season — which I think grabbed the Emmy voting committee’s attention — was your emotional confession about your rape. It’s a story that resonated with so many people. Have you addressed that trauma in any of your more autobiographical songs?
I’m really glad you’re asking me about that, because every lyric that was written on the album was written very carefully. It was really important for me to get my message across as beautifully and metaphorically as possible. The first single, “Now or Never,” specifically talks about taking life by storm and making it yours, claiming it as your own, no matter what’s happened to you in life. And that touches briefly on my alcoholism and my sexual abuse.And then there is “Irresistible.” I call that my “sexy song,” my inner sex kitten that’s come out. That was a therapeutic moment to say, “I’m gonna claim this as something that’s beautiful, and I cannot be afraid anymore of what I think is sexy or fun, I can still have that side of me.” I’ve been having more fun exploring that this past year, and that song was really fun for me to write, just saying that it’s about feeling powerful when it comes to what I think “sexy” is.
Was that a difficult song to sing or to write? Was it triggering to confront that sexual side of yourself, which you may have suppressed for so long?
Yes and no. Because I have become more romantically involved with someone, I’ve discovered my own revelation with my body and my mind, in its most sexy and vulnerable way with him. So I’ve had a lot of time to process before even writing that song. Writing that song was almost, not a last release, but it was a main component to really feeling free and letting go of some pent-up frustration and some really scary moments that I still feel from time to time. I have traumatic flashbacks, but he’s been a really amazing partner to be able to get me to this point where I feel comfortable enough to write a song about explaining those thoughts and those feelings, and just reclaiming them as my own.
This whole past year I’ve just been focused so hard and so much on reclaiming my voice, because I feel like the one lesson I really learned on Drag Race was I have a big voice. I have a lot of ideas, a lot of opinions. But for so long I had been told, or I thought that I’d been told, that it’s not OK to share those things, and my voice wasn’t important. Now I’ve come to this point where I’m not afraid to share my voice anymore. I’m not afraid to speak out.I understand your runway confession wasn’t a planned moment. What brought it about?
Well, it’s something I had never talked about, my sexual assault and the trauma. It was something I also didn’t want to admit to myself that was truly real. In the moment of me talking about it on the main stage, the best way I can describe it is I was just feeling so vulnerable, so open, so raw, so emotionally and physically exhausted. I had been critiqued on the main stage for being too cute and too sweet and too innocent; it was almost as if I was being criticized for being the way that I am and the way that my character has represented herself. I was like, “You don’t understand. There are a lot of things in my life that have built me up to be a closed-off, reserved person. I just want to mask some dirty feelings about myself, and some not-so-pleasant memories, with beauty and grace, and with pretty, frilly, dainty things.” Finally, I just broke down and told my story. In that moment, it was an out-of-body experience. I think the only way to describe it was I just wanted a connection. I just wanted someone to feel or understand how I’d been feeling up to that moment. It all came crumbling and crashing down, all at once.Did you watch the scene back? And if so, how difficult was that to watch?
Yes, I watched it. I was booked in Chicago at Roscoe’s Tavern the night that the episode aired, and I was in drag watching it. I started crying. I saw myself hurting so badly, and I just wanted to scream at myself and grab myself and hug me and say, “Just so you know, months and months later, it’s going to start feeling a better than it is right now. You’re going to start feeling a sense of happiness, a sense of letting go.” It was very hard to see myself go through those pains, those emotions again. But I also was thinking about the moment I was living in presently, and I thought, “I’m so happy to be sitting where I am today, all the pain I’ve gone through, because I’m finally starting to feel that turn of happiness.” It was almost a moment of closure — not fully, but it was a beginning moment of closure for me.
It’s interesting to me that Drag Race Season 10 was filmed almost a year ago, because that really was before the entertainment headlines became dominated by #MeToo. When that movement exploded, and everyone started coming out with their own stories of abuse, was that triggering for you?
There were a lot of triggering moments, especially after I had my revelation on the main stage at RuPaul’s Drag Race. I had come home and started to live my life again, trying to find some normalcy, and then as I’m attempting to begin this journey of healing, having moments all over the media was very hard. I definitely had some steps back in my healing process, there would be days that I would just completely revert back into where I was beforehand. But then there’d be other days when I’d take three steps forward. It was a very long process to get to where I am today. Today I would not tell you, “Oh, I’m fully cured, and I’m great to go, and my life is perfect.” But I’ve finally been able to realize it’s about the perception of how I’m taking those things in. If I’m going to just see them as painful events all the time, of course it’s going be triggering, but if I see it as “This is a beautiful moment for me,” and look at the positive side of it, the lighter side of it, then that’s where I can continue to heal.
I imagine something positive that came out of this are the many fans who’ve reached out to you, thankful for your honesty and bravery.
Yes, I didn’t know that sharing my story would have such a connection with other people. I didn’t know it was going to open up such a floodgate of love. That something so traumatic to me has been only received and given back to me with love, that’s been the most empowering and beautiful thing. I have people tell me, “Hey, you talking about something that happened to you made me realize what happened to me wasn’t OK.” Or, “It made me realize that it was OK for me to speak out, because seeing you so publicly talk about what happened to you, and seeing how much love you’ve gotten back has made me realize that maybe it’s OK for me to finally talk about this.”Do you give those fellow survivors any advice?
Something I’ve told all my fans, and I continue to tell people, is that it is so important to come forth with anything in your life, if there’s something you’re holding back or hiding behind. But remember there’s a cycle of healing, and it’s very difficult, because the first part of that cycle is admitting to yourself, and to others, what has happened. That can open you up to so much extra pain if not done carefully. Remember that the beginning part is the hardest, but the end result is so worthwhile.
Do you feel an obligation now to continue speaking out about this issue?
I don’t feel like it’s an obligation. I feel like it’s a privilege. Now I have a job, and a duty to so many other people that can relate to me. We’ve heard so many stories of women coming forth about sexual assault, and I think it’s important to talk about that. But I am a gay man, and even men can be taken advantage of in times of vulnerability and weakness, and so it is really important for me to share my story that anyone can connect on many different levels.
It seems the majority of the #MeToo stories we’ve heard over the last year have come from women, mostly straight women. Do you think there’s more of a stigma among men, specifically gay men, to tell their similar stories?
Yes, I feel like there is a stigma there, because I think, unfortunately, that gay culture is predominantly oversexualized, in my opinion. I think there are a lot of men that are ashamed of things that have happened to them, because I think they felt guilty. They maybe look at themselves like, “Wow, I was in a situation where I was drinking a lot, and I feel like I brought on this scenario because I was intoxicated or because it advanced to a certain point.” I think a lot of gay men living in an oversexualized world have lived with this guilt, wondering, “Oh my gosh, did I bring this on myself?” The truth of the matter is, it is not your fault. If you did not want something to happen, you should not hold yourself guilty or accountable for that. I tell people to respect themselves at every show, to respect their bodies, and that consent is very sexy. And I think unfortunately a lot of gay men aren’t coming forward, or men in general, because their ego might be slightly bruised. It’s admitting that they were taken prey, they were taken advantage of, that their manhood has been slightly victimized.
Did you have that sort of self-blaming thoughts after your own assault?
Absolutely. I felt so guilty for so long, because I had been in a situation where I was heavily drinking. Today, years later, I live my life as a sober man; that was definitely one small turning point in realizing that I didn’t want alcohol to be part of my life. [Editor’s note: St. Clair was arrested on a DUI charge shortly before competing on the show.] But I thought what happened to me was partially my fault, that my body being taken advantage of was my fault, because I fell victim to allowing a substance to interfere. And then I also thought, “Men can’t really be a victim, right? Is that even possible?” But for the first time, I’ve actually been able to separate the whole thing from sex and gender, and acts of assault. It happens to everyone and anyone in-between.
How did recording your album, and making music in general, help in your ongoing healing process?
My music has been my own kind of therapy. Even if I had just recorded this album for myself, which was almost the initial goal, that itself would have been almost enough for me, because some songs are what I needed as my own mantra, as my own thing just to chant back into my mind. It’s just one day at a time — that’s a track on my album, “One Day at a Time.” It’s amazing that now I am able to share those thoughts, and that people are able to download them and sing along. It’s just about sharing that now.