Words: Tim Heap
Since joining the judging panel of RuPaul’s Drag Race in season seven, charming funnyman Ross Mathews has become part of the show’s DNA.
Sharing his seat with Carson Kressley, the 39 year old has seen the Drag Race phenomenon break into the mainstream, with his own profile growing with every instalment of the hit drag competition.
But despite his success in the entertainment industry, Ross believes TV executives are “still a little wary of putting really flamboyant gay men on television”.
Ross Mathews on the cover of Attitude's October issue
“Just look at the landscape of TV. If I were able to tone it down a bit, maybe I’d be more successful than I am. But I just am not equipped with that ability!”
Prior to helping Ru find America’s Next Drag Superstars, Ross’s career began in the early noughties with an interning gig on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
His easy self-confidence and kind-natured humour quickly led to an on-camera opportunity as 'Ross The Intern'; a recurring spot that saw him attending red-carpet events to chat to A-list attendees.
But being a flamboyant, camp gay man on primetime TV at the start of the 21st century came with some scrutiny – from both straight and gay viewers.
Photography: Leigh Keily
“I remember thinking, ‘The audience is going to laugh at you, so prepare yourself for that because they’ve never seen this before. But just get them to laugh with you by the end.’ For the first few years, that was the struggle every time I had a piece air on the show," Ross recalls.
“Of course I got some hate mail from homophobic straight people but I got a ton of hate from the gay community too because at the time — and to an extent now — there was a lot of thinking that if you’re flamboyant, you’re setting the movement back by not being ‘passable’.
Ross, who recently found himself single again after a 10-year relationship, says that kind of homophobia from within the community is something he still sees on dating profiles.
“’Masc for masc’ or ‘no femmes’ — it’s a shaming within our own community. It’s difficult enough to be gay, let alone to have your own people tell you that you are the wrong kind of gay.
Photography: Leigh Keily
“That has happened throughout my life: not only do I not fit in with the straight community, but then within my gay community, I need to tone it down because I’m the ‘wrong kind of gay’.
“We cannot do that as a community. We need to celebrate each and every one of us.”