I’ve been studying for my undergraduate degree in psychology for just over two years now. While I’ve kept myself occupied with my university’s student societies, including our LGBTA group, I know I’ll eventually have to go out and get what I like to call “a real-person job.” And to do that, I’d need to rack up a “real-person internship” or two before graduating.
For me, what “real-person” work has always meant is a career opportunity in which you’re a worker–nothing more, nothing less. It’s somewhere you go, perform your appointed tasks, and go home. It’s only when you’re home that you get to express your personal interests and values. Of course, employers have been talking for a long time about authenticity and “bringing your whole self to work.” But I’ve always been a bit skeptical that idea would ever fully apply to me.
Because usually, if I’m not studying or in class, I’m watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, the wildly popular reality competition for drag queens, whose tenth-season finale airs tonight on VH1. And if I’m not watching Drag Race, I’m watching YouTube videos of the competitors’ performances (or I’m asleep). So I was more than a little surprised when my passion for the show actually landed me my current summer internship. Here’s how.
You better work
Last February, I got a message from Vessy Tasheva, chief marketing officer at the resume-writing platform Enhancv, based here in Dublin, Ireland, where I go to university. I’d been acquainted with Vessy a year before through my involvement with Dublin City University’s LGBTA organization; she was dating a member of the student society, and I was serving as its chairperson. And since in addition to activism, the group also hosts “DCU Drag Race,” the largest student-organized drag competition in Europe, Vessy definitely knew of my personal affinity for the show that inspired it.
At the time, Enhancv was building up a “successful resumes” section on its website, showing off sample CVs of public figures like Barack Obama and Marissa Mayer. As it turned out, the Enhancv team wanted one on RuPaul Charles, the longtime drag icon and host of Drag Race, and Vessy told me they needed someone who knew his career inside and out to write it.
Honey, this was my moment.
It was a one-time freelance gig, but I knew right away that this was a rare opportunity to merge skills I’ve picked up in my education with the things that really excite me. I spent hours going over everything I’ve ever seen RuPaul appear in, dating back to the early ’90s. More than just wanting to do the assignment, I wanted to do it perfectly. I wanted any die-hard fan to come across this resume and know it must’ve been written either by RuPaul himself or by a superfan. So I got to work and created RuPaul’s resume.
It’s quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had working on an assignment. I sat there cackling at my own jokes and grinning at the piece I’d produced. It was in those moments where I realized that this is what I want to be doing. Sure, the industry I’m in might change. The scope of what I’m doing may change, but for me to be happy, I ultimately need to be able to turn my personal interests into a professional venture.
I sent on my final product to the team at Enhancv hoping that my joy in creating it came across–and apparently it did. Not only did they like it, but they wanted to see what else I could do and offered me a few more freelance projects, all geared around content distribution to help market Enhancv’s services. At first I was hesitant. I’d never really seen myself pursuing marketing; in fact, in my degree program I’ve always avoided marketing coursework. But I do enjoy a challenge.
So in my limited spare time during exam season, I took a crack at those projects, and while I wasn’t the best at it, I definitely learned a few things. A few days afterward, the team asked me if I’d be interested in coming onboard as an intern for the summer. How could I say no?
It was the evening after I had accepted the internship offer that it truly hit me: I just landed an internship because of my love for Rupaul’s Drag Race and my connection with queer culture–not despite it.
Growing up, I had a habit of subduing my excitement around the things I cared about most. I’m not quite sure where this came from, and I’d certainly go back and change it if I could, but it’s a tendency I haven’t quite managed to shake.
Drag, however, has always drawn out genuine, raw excitement in me; I’m powerless to resist it. Watching the queens on Drag Race “lip sync for their lives” is electrifying. In that moment, they need to convince everyone in the room and watching at home that they own the song. The passion and conviction that takes was more than just exciting to witness; it turned drag into an escape during a point in my life when I wasn’t yet out, hadn’t accepted my own identity, and felt generally unhappy.
As a kid, my idea of the queer community rested on popular stereotypes and the limited portrayals of gay men on TV. On Drag Race, I got to see a whole host of different types of queer people be themselves and exist authentically–just like I wanted a chance to do someday, not just in university but in whatever career might await me afterward. Just as we all do, always and everywhere.
So here I am. I’m sitting in my “real-person internship,” but it’s nothing I expected it to be. At Enhancv, my personality and idiosyncrasies are strengths and not weaknesses. The team is interested in who I am, not just what I can provide. I can come to work wearing a shirt and trousers or in heels with my nails painted–both of which I look stunning in, might I add. Fortunately, all the obstacles I expected to face as a queer person entering the workforce are nowhere to be found here. I don’t have to convince anyone of anything. I don’t need to justify my existence, and everyone is interested in learning more.
Once I earn my degree and begin searching for full-time jobs, I only want to consider those whose cultures are similarly embracing. That’s the best thing I’ve learned from my summer internship, in fact: That a real “real-person” job is one that lets you be a real person.
Dean O’Reilly is a queer-identifying activist, psychology student, and lover of all things drag. He is currently completing his second tenure as chairperson of DCU LGBTA and is set to complete his psychology degree in 2020. Follow him on Instagram at @accidentalrainbow.