We’re Here by HBOMax teaches us to slow down, listen, and leave the places we visit in a better way.
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FROMsometimes reality shows are more than reality shows. Just like sometimes a drag show is more than just a drag show. And then there’s HBO Max. Were hereis a little-known series in which three queens put on one-day drag shows starring locals in a small town in America. It’s a reality show, a drag show, and besides, the best travel show in the United States. Were here doing what I think we should all strive to do as travelers – not only getting to know the places we visit, but also making them better for our presence.
Premise Were here simple: Bob the drag queen, Shangela and Eureka O’Hara, three drag queens who rose to fame as contestants RuPaul’s drag racing, head to small towns like Ruston, Louisiana (page 22,000) for a drag show featuring three locals. The costumes, spectacle and make-up are worthy of a big city – the ratio of glitter per capita in each episode could break any previous records for each city. But the real magic of the show lies behind the make-up.
Like the queens themselves, the residents of each series have different life stories. Some LGBTQ people struggle with their identity or struggle to be noticed and celebrated in their communities. Some of them are straight people looking for a more reliable way to show an alliance with family members or LGBTQ colleagues. Although the stories of the individual “heroes” of each episode come to the fore, the small town dwellers are the source of the show’s poignancy. Confederate goods stores. Rows and rows of churches. Rows and rows of trailer parks. Throughout history, LGBTQ people have often fled these cities for the big cities—and still do—but it’s important to look into the simultaneous beauty and challenges of small town queer life, such as everyone supporting you, even if they re also speak for him. And it’s great to see how Eureka, Bob and Shangela try to expand this queer space a little bit with their non-standard personalities.
“It has changed the way I travel,” Shangela recently told me over the phone. “I am an avid traveler and have performed on six of the seven continents. Antarctica could be next!” But like many of us, Shangela mostly traveled to take something from a place, not thinking about what to give or leave. Do a show, get paid, move on. Or as many of us might visit a museum, shop, eat and move on. There is something implicitly exploitative about this standard travel model—communities give, tourists take. Were here forces us to consider another model.
“We have been in these places for at least two weeks,” says Shangela. “As a queer and drag artist, I think visibility is very important. We can have a big impact as a source of inspiration for people in…