'There was no one more fun than Georges,' RuPaul writes of his longtime partner Georges LeBar in The House of Hidden Meanings.
Courtesy of RuPaul

Once I became a celebrity, Miami was my biggest market. Flying in from New York City, I could perform in two clubs in one night. I would do a gig at the Warsaw Ballroom at midnight, get in a limo, and drive up to Fort Lauderdale to perform at the Copacabana at 1:30. Back then, those gigs paid $10,000, or maybe $12,000. It was good, easy money, and they treated me like the star I had become. I flew first class, stayed in the best hotels, ate at elegant restaurants.

Having money to me was like having a tank full of gas—it didn’t mean much if you didn’t know where you were going or didn’t have the curiosity to enjoy the ride. No matter how poor I’d been, I had never felt as impoverished as the rich people I knew who had no imagination, whose capacity for fun was stunted.

And there was no one more fun than Georges. We would rent a boat and fly out both of our families to float around Biscayne Bay for an entire day, eating chicken salad sandwiches and drinking ginger ale. We would put on matching printed bikinis and jump in the sea.

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After a few years of traveling to Miami, Georges and I bought a condo overlooking the ocean. I thought it would be something he could run point on. When we met, he’d been studying fashion, and after he graduated from FIT, he got a job working as a designer at J.Crew. But the logistics quickly grew complicated: it was impossible for him to work at a corporate job while I was jetting around the world. After a while, he quit his job and just came along. And yet, in that, I knew I had diminished his sense of personal purpose.

At first, he was flying from New York to supervise. But then he started spending so much time in Miami, he ended up just renting another apartment in the building. There seemed to be an endless string of problems—which wasn’t uncommon for a renovation, but I had heard through a mutual friend that some of the people he was hanging out with were shady. And it looked as though each time I saw him, he’d gotten a little bit skinnier.

Georges and I had never had a conversation where we had strictly outlined the terms of our relationship, but it was understood that he was not to hurt my feelings, nor was I to hurt his. Neither of us would ever have done anything to make the other feel uncomfortable when we were together, nor would we have attempted to police each other’s behavior when we were apart. But I had a sense that Georges was doing things in Miami I wouldn’t like. Yet I wasn’t interested in knowing the lurid details, because I would have to face something I wasn’t ready to see. It didn’t help that our lives were becoming increasingly separate: I started renting a place in Los Angeles for work.

Georges and I had a plan to meet in Las Vegas for my sister’s wedding. When he arrived, he was emaciated. He slept all day. Then, back in LA with me, it still seemed like he was sleepwalking.

As I drove him to the airport to fly back to Miami, we began arguing in the car. He was so angry, and I didn’t understand why.

“Let me out,” he said.

“What?” I exclaimed.

“Just stop the car right here,” he said. “Let me out.” I convinced him to let me take him the rest of the way so he didn’t end up standing on the curb. But he was distant, agitated, and weird.

A few weeks later, I went to see him in Miami. I felt seasick the whole flight there, thinking about the water—those undulating tides, like the great ocean of the subconscious, and all the secrets buried there.

When I arrived, Georges looked gaunt—not skinny, like the boy he’d been at 21, but sickly. I had barely dropped my bags when he looked me dead in the eye. “I have something I need to tell you,” he said. “I am addicted to crystal meth.”

In that moment, everything came crashing down. But in the same breath, it all came together.

I knew what this meant. Crystal meth meant anonymous sex. It meant high-risk behavior. It meant brain damage. It meant an extraordinarily high degree of danger.

I called my therapist. “What should I do?” I asked her. “Get him into rehab,” she said. “Immediately.”

I took Georges to Jefferson Memorial Hospital. We parked outside and walked to a grassy area, and I pulled out a joint. “This is going to be our last one,” I said. We lit it and smoked it together.

As he was checking in, I suddenly realized that he wasn’t even lucid. He was in serious trouble—more serious than I had even realized.

The next day, I went back to the hospital to visit him. A doctor met me in the lobby. “I can allow him off the premises to go to a twelve-step meeting if you want to take him,” he said.

So we looked up the location of the nearest meeting, which was at the South Beach Clubhouse. The room was so packed that some of us were standing. I stood close enough to the door that I could bolt at any moment if I felt the urge. I was there as a supportive partner only. This was for Georges, not me.

A woman then stood at the podium and began to speak. She was 71 years old, she said. She talked about her cocaine use and her life in the club scene, and how she felt invisible in her family, and how she never felt quite right for this world. Booze, she said, had been a way for her to maintain her sanity in a life that felt intolerable. She was a middle child, and her parents’ relationship had been tumultuous. Everything she said rang true to my own story. Is this some sort of hoax? I thought. Everything she is saying is mine.

She was talking about her life, but she was telling my story. There was something under her words, a truth that she was allowing to be revealed, that resonated with me in a way I could not describe. She knew me. She was me, and I was her.

The awareness didn’t take long: this was where I belonged.

It felt like a fantastical trick had been played on me. Georges was the one in rehab. And yet I was also hitting rock bottom.

I had walked right into the house of hidden meanings. I took a seat.

There had been clues. There are always clues. I had been stoned every day I could since I was 10 years old. After cleaning up my act in the early ’90s, the partying had crept back in, little by little. I had started getting high again here and there. As I’d become famous, there was always a bottle of champagne backstage, and then as my workload increased, I had been smoking more and more weed, until I was smoking first thing in the morning.

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There was the time I had been in Monte Carlo on my way to meet Elton John, and I was looking through my bags and found weed stuffed into a container. If customs had found it, I would have been arrested. There was the time I was going up to Vancouver to shoot a movie, and at the Canadian border, they searched my bag and found a bottle with little half-smoked roaches, something that I’d completely forgotten was in there, and a bag with remnants of cocaine. An officer there pulled me aside. “Look,” he said. “We know who you are. And we’re going to let you go. But you’d better be careful.”

And that year, the same year that Georges was hitting rock bottom in Miami, I’d been buying coke from the sleaziest dealer in New York—a guy who later sold footage of celebrities high on heroin to the tabloids—and snorting it all by myself.

I was doing my nightclub act, promoting my products, and shooting movies. I was exhausted all the time. And the only way I knew how to feel connected to the little part of me that was still left was to get high. Hadn’t I always known that this day would come—that I would have to admit to myself that I was an addict, too?

Or maybe I couldn’t see myself because I was also unaware of the depth of Georges’s addiction. As soon as he told me the truth, I realized I had been in deep denial. I had allowed myself to miss every one of those clues. It forced me to ask: Why? It had to be because I was too afraid to face the fact that I wasn’t connected to myself, either—that I was never fully present in my life. I had used Georges as my conduit to life, to my success, to joy. He was my lens to the world—eyes that allowed me to see how wonderful my life had become.

If he was in this much trouble, what did that say about me?

We separated—it was what we needed at the time, to grow as individuals. For my part, my ambition, which had motivated me my entire life, now had to take a back seat. The new focus was on healing myself. I stepped into therapy in a way that I never had before. I went to a 12-step meeting every day, sometimes twice a day. In those rooms I heard my story told again and again, just as I had at that first meeting in Miami. It sounded different every time in someone else’s retelling, populated with the details of their own life, but the emotional truth was always the same. People spoke about feeling disconnected and alone, needing to numb the discomfort of being in their own skin, and then eventually having to face themselves in the cold light of sobriety. I never tired of hearing those stories—it was extraordinary to me that so many people could be speaking the same truth, one that rang so true to me.

Georges and I still talked every day. I understood that he was growing up, too. He had been kept in a kind of perpetual adolescence by me, and now he was free to live his own life in Miami, to build his own recovery without me, to paint and make his own money working as a bartender and date other people, which we both were doing, and figure out who he wanted to become.

Sometimes we talked about getting back together. But I felt, for the first time, that I wasn’t sure what I wanted anymore, and that was all right. For so long I had been motivated by one destiny—fame. But now that I had gotten it, what else was there? My whole life, I had always been special. In 12-step meetings, they called this a condition of terminal uniqueness—this sense of being so different from everyone that it felt like a death sentence. But what I wanted now wasn’t to be singular, unique, the guy who always stuck out, taller than everyone else, with a name that not another motherf-cker alive could carry.

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Because the more I spent time with friends and in meetings and out in the world, the more I was learning that I wasn’t so different after all. I had always known that, on some level—that there was only one of us here, that everything was connected. The ego, that sense of separateness, of self-importance, of self-seriousness, serves only to alienate and divide. But I, too, had fallen into that trap.

The work now, for me, was just to be a part of the whole.

“I might be done with show business,” I said to Georges once. “No, you’re not,” he said.

“I really think I am,” I said. “Everything I set out to prove, I’ve proven. What else is there for me to do?”

What I had learned in my time away was that I couldn’t be motivated by fear of not being enough. I had to be motivated by joy. By colors, music, laughter, dancing, and creativity—all the things that made life worth living.

Excerpted from The House of Hidden Meanings by RuPaul. Copyright (c) 2024 by RuPaul Charles. Used with permission by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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