The Emmy & GLAAD Award-winning unscripted series We’re Here, a certified The Queer Review favourite, returns to HBO tonight at 10pm ET/PT for its stunning third season. Continuing their journey across small-town USA, Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela Laquifa Wadley head to Texas, Mississippi, Utah, New Jersey, and Florida, helping to unite the queer community they find there while spreading love and acceptance through the art of drag. All while serving some sickening lewks. As they are confronted by more openly hostile anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes than ever—encouraged and emboldened by extreme right-wing politicians and conservative media—the queens’ presence proves to be urgently needed. In each town, the iconic trio inspire their “drag daughters” to express their authentic selves in front of their families, friends, and communities by performing in empowering one-night-only drag shows. Read our ★★★★★ review.
Ahead of tonight’s season three premiere, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive conversation with Shangela, Eureka, and Bob the Drag Queen about heading out into some of the most conservative towns in the country, the reception they received, and why they feel it’s important to show what the queer community is up against.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: what was your approach going into this third season of We’re Here?
Shangela: “We have amazing people working on the show who choose the cities that we go to, select the cast, and pair us up with our drag kids. One thing that I was hoping though, was that we would go to places that were reflective of the times, where the LGBTQ+ community is being the hardest hit, and I think our show definitely does that this season.”
Eureka: “I agree with that for sure. What was I trying to bring? I came fully prepared to be the best version of myself, because I went through my own things before coming into the season. I learn so much every season and I felt very supported and in a good place to be there and to be available for my drag kids. My goal was to be the best version of myself, honey, so I could help get the stories across and also be there for these people.”
To what extent has working on We’re Here and helping your drag kids to find their authentic voices helped you to embrace your own even more?
Eureka: “It definitely has. For me personally, very much so. I saw myself—especially this season more than ever—in some of the drag kids that we worked with. You’ll find later in the season that that shows up in a very prevalent way in the direction that I decide for my own journey. In a lot of ways it gave me an opportunity to discuss and also process things that I hadn’t truly gone through myself with where I was at in my own journey as a queer person. It helped me connect with my drag children really immensely and learn from my sisters’ drag kids as well and to have that family support for each other.”
As Shangela was saying, this season does feel very current, with the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policies all too evident in the towns that you visit. What was it like to be in the thick of that?
Bob the Drag Queen: “Each season we’ve done has been very reflective of when we shot it. In 2019, pre-pandemic, Trump was President. Then in 2020, we were in that insane election year and in the thick of a pandemic. Now we have this one, which was mostly shot this year, when we have a new President and we’re entering the world again. So we’ve had some really interesting experiences over the past few years that we’ve been doing this show. The climate has shifted a lot. So I do think We’re Here is very reflective of our times, but do we have a choice? We didn’t have an option. We didn’t even have to try to make it reflective of the times. Right now, these are unprecedented times that are going to be reflected in everything we do.”
Bob, in Jackson, Mississippi we get a flavour of what the local queer community is up against when we see you walking down the street minding your own business and someone yells, “You’re an abomination, Sir” at you.
Bob: “Yeah, We’re Here is a real-life docuseries, so that was just something that happened in that moment. We had been filming walking down the street meeting people and then it was time to take a break. So I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going get some ice cream’. I’d wanted ice cream the whole day. So the cameras were following me around getting ice cream and then this guy started yelling at me. Has that happened to me before? Yes, of course it has. I’m an activist. I got arrested, right here in Bryant Park, in New York. So it’s not my first time getting shouted at on the street. I went to the Capitol to support marriage equality and was yelling in the faces of all these extreme bigots. So I wasn’t new to it, but I was taken aback and thought, ‘here we are again’. But it is what actually happens.”
Shangela: “Exactly, this is what the people who live in these places that we go to live with. We experience it for 10 to 12 days, they experience it their entire lives. It’s important to showcase exactly what is happening to remind the people who are in New York or LA or some of the more progressive places in our country, that this kind of thing still exists and until we are all accepted and included we can’t forget about the importance of a community of support.”
Shangela, you make a good point in the first episode when you point out that the outrage against Drag Story Hour is not really about drag at all, but more about queerness.
Shangela: “It’s a code switch. Now, this is my own personal opinion, but I’ve always felt that it is a political tactic in targeting drag queens and using words like “grooming” or “abusing” children when it comes to Drag Queen Story Hour, because everyone wants to protect kids. Kids are innocent and if you say that a particular group is coming after your children, so many people—both conservatives and liberals—can connect to wanting to protect children. If you demonize one particular group, and say that the drag queens are trying to change your children and make them different than you want them to be, then all of a sudden they’ve galvanized a group of people to be against drag queens who may have never even seen a drag queen.”
“In fact, they specifically go for people that don’t have any experience of seeing drag. Those are the places that we go to, these small conservative places that have never had a drag show before. These people don’t know any queens and now you have loud voices there that have made people afraid of drag queens, who have this idea of what a drag queen is and what they’re going to do to their children. They’ve made them think, ‘now I have to protect my children from the drag queens’ and ‘how dare they want to read storybooks to them?!’ It’s really not about reading storybooks. What they really want to say is, ‘they’re trying to change your children from who you want them to be, to who they want to be’. It’s not right and that’s why we need to stand up against things like them attacking drag queens and the drag community through Drag Queen Story Hour because it’s not really about Story Hour, it’s about people being able to exist and live out their lives freely, without being put down by others.”
Spoiler alert: growing up surrounded by straight people, consuming straight movies, TV shows, literature, theatre, and advertising didn’t make me straight!
Bob: “If you could shift people’s sexuality by enticing them with how great the world would be, we’d all be straight and cisgender, because that looks a lot more enticing, a lot easier, and there’s a lot less struggle to it. It’s as if they think people are at these Drag Queen Story Hours going, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish…and you’re gonna be gay!” Or between the pages they’re like, “I could not, would not, with a fox…or with a straight girl, imagine that?!” That’s not what’s happening at these story hours.”
Shangela: “It is also about exposure and the acceptance of truth. It’s about visibility. We’re all from small towns. I’m from Paris, Texas, and years ago, especially in a small town like that, you didn’t say “gay”. It was a bad word. You’d say he was “like that” or you’d whisper it, “they’re like that”. Now, I’m an out, loud and proud uncle. I have three nieces and a nephew. I’ve taken them to events when I’m in drag, they know drag queens, they know queer and trans people. It’s not a dirty word anymore. It’s not something that has to be hidden from them. Some people—specifically a lot of older or conservative people—are not comfortable with that kind of change, that we don’t live in that space anymore where we have to hide as drag queens. Now we’re all out, loud and proud and they’re not ready for that.”
You’ve all done amazing work with your drag kids this season. Bob, your drag kid in Jackson, Mississippi, De’Bronsky, gives such an incredible performance and his emotional breakthrough on the show is profound. What was it like for you to facilitate and to witness that?
Bob: “When we were talking about numbers, I thought And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going was a really good idea. Then I realized that I didn’t know how to fit me into this story, so De’Bronski is the first time that we’ve ever had a drag kid perform without their drag parent on stage with them. It was really, really powerful. The more I watched him perform, the more I was like, ‘Oh, you don’t need me up there with you. You don’t need anything, baby!’ To watch him get up there and live out his truth was incredible. Especially as a Black man who is really battling with this notion of feeling like you need to present a certain way for people to respect you. Then seeing someone who presents however they want and getting the respect that they want. Talk about life-changing, talk about mind-shifting, talk about groundbreaking. You could feel the fault lines move beneath your feet. It was really magnificent to see.”
What about for you Shangela and Eureka, did you each have an experience with one of your drag daughters that was particularly satisfying this season, maybe because they had a major breakthrough or because they got so much out of it?
Shangela: “Going back through my kids from this season, Vico is someone who stands out. You’ll meet him later in the season in Florida. He’s a Pulse, Orlando survivor. Having lived through something like that, he had a huge amount of PTSD and trauma. He was actually in the club during that night’s massacre. Being comfortable going back out into public spaces, particualrly gay spaces, and not feeling targeted and fearful was a major thing for him. By the end of the experience on this episode of We’re Here, I think everyone will be able to see a shift in the way that Vico feels, not only about other people in these spaces, but also what he’s built up within himself to be able to take whatever comes now and go forth. Seeing that transformation in him, it was life-changing for me as well.”
Eureka: “There were several stories that were really important for me this season. I loved working with Chris in Jackson, Mississippi, as an ally. Being such a bro guy, when I let him know that I was uncomfortable with him calling me “bro”, seeing the way he reacted and his willingness to learn and be cool with it was really powerful. I think that’s going to be powerful for people like him to see. That’s why we do this show. To show people how easy it is to get along and to intermingle and to thrive together.”
One of the incredible things about We’re Here is that, although it deals with some issues that are quite heavy to watch as a queer person, seeing what we’re up against out there, it’s ultimately such a hopeful show. Not in a fluffy, feel-good way but in a practical way. For instance, seeing LGBTQ+ folks and allies speak up in that city council meeting in St. George, Utah when the drag show permit was in danger of being pulled.
Bob: “I’m very optimistic, but I’m not a cockeyed optimist, as they say in South Pacific. I’m very pragmatic about what I see going forth, and where we need to step up and make a change we do, and where we see the change happening, we let it.”
Shangela: “We hope this show will ignite people to make change happen. Halleloo!”
By James Kleinmann
We’re Here returns for its six-episode third season on Friday, November 25th at 10pm ET/PT. Episodes debut weekly on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max. Season 1 and 2 are streaming on HBO Max now.