We’re Here is the most relevant reality show on television. Truly — it’s hard to think of another reality show or docuseries that has risen to meet such incredible odds every single season. What started out as a traveling makeover/drag show — which always had a healthy dose of inner transformation and inspiration built into the premise, along with with intentions of giving small town queer communities the confidence to say “we’re here” — has survived a presidential election and a pandemic. And through all of those trials, the show’s grown stronger and stronger — possibly packing in seasons’ worth of evolution in just two comparatively brief bursts of episodes. The show’s costuming and makeup teams have won Emmys for their heightened eleganza, and the stories the show chooses to tell through each city’s drag kids and queer community have become more deliberate, increasingly impactful, and ultimately celebratory. And now we have Season 3, a season filmed under the most outwardly hostile circumstances yet.
Premiering on Friday, November 25, We’re Here Season 3 arrives at a dangerous time for the LGBTQ+ community. Filmed in the spring and summer of 2022, the series found itself at the center of pretty much every drag and/or LGBTQ+ controversy that you remember rolling your eyes at. The zealots, protestors, Facebook bullies, and all the Karens are out in full force in Season 3, which makes We’re Here Season 3 feel like both a drag docu-series and a kind of historical document preserving the intensity of 2022’s summer of hate. But through it all, drag prevails; Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela, and Eureka prevail; the drag kids prevail — because they have to. There is no other option. We’re Here is ultimately a show about pride, not hate.
Ahead of Season 3’s premiere on HBO, we got the opportunity to chat at length with the series’ lead trio in front of the camera — and executive producers behind the camera — Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka, and Shangela. If you have lost any faith, read what these drag performers are preaching.
Decider: We’re Here Season 3 — did you learn something from Seasons 1 and 2 that you brought into this experience?
Bob the Drag Queen: Nothing. [Everyone laughs] Because each season was so different — I know it’s three years back to back, but each year was pre-presidential election, during a presidential election, post presidential election; pre-pandemic, in the middle of the pandemic, as we reemerged [from the pandemic]. Each year has been so different and, for me personally, nothing could prepare me for [Season 3] even though I’ve done it two times already.
Shangela: I think that Bob’s right, that our world has completely changed throughout filming the show. It’s a real-life docuseries, so our show reflects what’s going on in our country, in lots of different places. One thing that helped to make the show better and smoother and more impactful was how we continue to evolve as drag entertainers, as producers on the show behind the scenes, and the more that we were able to connect with people, so this third season is going to be bigger, better, and even more important than it ever has been before.
Production on Season 3 began in spring of this year, which is when conservative lawmakers began to really come after drag queens. Knowing that you’d be filming in potentially hostile places amidst this heightened tension, did that change how you prepared for the season?
Bob the Drag Queen: We’ve all been in drag for a minute and we’ve seen the political climate around drag shift so many times. I’ve never been scared to do drag. I’ve always felt liberated doing drag, if anything, and I feel liberated when I am seen. I know how it feels to see someone who looks like you or who represents something that you feel is deep inside of you and like, “Oh my god, that’s me. I see a little bit myself in that.”
Eureka: I’ve probably been more afraid outside of drag in my life more than I’ve ever been afraid in drag. There is something about drag that always gave me a certain kind of confidence. But also, when I’m in drag I surround myself with people that are coexisting and like-minded, so I also have a support system when I’m in drag. I’ve never put myself in a situation in drag where I’ve felt in danger, but it’s when I’m not in drag, when I’m trying to be my authentic self and trying to find an identity outside of [drag] that I got nervous from time to time. There were moments [in Season 3] that were really nerve-racking for me, but I had the support of my sisters, which was really cool. That’s the thing: whether you’re in drag or not, when you have people there that support you, that would stand up for you regardless of what’s going to happen, then you have a safety net. And I think that’s what We’re Here tries to create when we go into those towns. We’re trying to connect some people together, some like-minded people, and create a safe space.
The production met with protestors and a town council in Utah tried to shut down the performance entirely. When you encounter that opposition, specifically protestors, how do you tell the difference between a person you can engage in conversation with and a person you should just walk past?
Bob the Drag Queen: I feel like I had the most interaction with protesters for some reason. I attract this energy, and one of the times we’d actually stopped filming and I was like, “I’m gonna go get some ice cream.” And I started walking and these people started shouting me down. They were calling me, like, “You’re an abomination” — which I’ve heard. I’ve heard that talking point and it’s not original. So I said, “Oh, I’m gonna go talk to them.” When I got to them, the rhetoric they were spewing was so vile, and I said, “Oh these people don’t want to talk. They don’t want to actually hear anything. They just want to be heard.” That’s when I say, “It’s not going to work.”
Season 3 also addresses the drag queen story hour controversy. How did it feel being at the center of those events, Shangela?
Shangela: I’m an uncle. I have three beautiful nieces and a nephew that I love so much. I’m an out loud and proud uncle, and I’ve also been in drag in front of my little ones. I’ve taken them to New York to attend an event and red carpet and they’re with Shangela. It’s important that we don’t hide, or feel that we need to hide parts of ourselves from children as long as you’re able to have a conversation with them. And that drag queen story hour [controversy] really did get blown out of proportion. It’s a part of some drag entertainers’ world, but it’s not a part of every drag entertainer’s world. And drag queen story hour is not the biggest thing that is a part of the drag community. But conservatives love to put fear into people by trying to say that people that they oppose, specifically drag queens in this instance, are out for children — because everyone wants to protect the kids, right? So if you say the drag queens out for the kids, that means you’re going to galvanize people against drag queens. And a lot of times, this is not the majority’s way of thinking, but it’s definitely the louder people’s way of thinking, and sometimes when you just hear those loud voices, you don’t know that any other opinion exists. It’s important to see that not everyone in these small, conservative places feels just one way, specifically against our community. And that’s what our show really is about: we go and help to unearth a community of support in some of the most unlikely places.
You all form special bonds with your drag kids — and Eureka, this season you get to be there for some really big steps that your kids take. Whether the moment is an affirmation of their gender identity for the first time or coming out, how do you receive moments like that that are so intimate?
Eureka: Whenever people share something so vulnerable with me, or gender experience or sexuality experience, it’s an honor to me because I know how hard it was for me to share those experiences with people. So whenever I get that opportunity for someone to share that with me, I take it very seriously and I listen to them. I give them a channel to talk to me and I try to relate in some way. And instead of trying to give advice, I just want to listen and let them know, “You’re not alone. I’ve been through it too, bitch! That’s what big mama’s here for.”
I could keep talking about the terrible political climate we’re in right now, but I love that We’re Here also highlights hope, those pockets of support in the community. What moments of hope did you see in Season 3?
Shangela: Oh, there are so many. We do highlight this seriousness of what’s going on in our country, specifically to the LGBTQ community, but also this show is inspirational. You get to see triumphs of people. I think about one of my drag kids, specifically in Florida; he’s a Pulse survivor and he was experiencing a lot of PTSD and trauma about feeling safe in gay spaces ever again and being out in public. And with this experience, in those 10 days that we were there, you see this transformation of a person. That’s beautiful to experience. You get to go on this journey with people, and people watching the show also get to go on the same journey.
Bob the Drag Queen: I was a theater kid growing up and when you’re a theater kid and you want to do a show and this show is your only solace in the world, and then you get that pulled away and they say you can’t perform, you can’t do the show you’ve been preparing for. These kids put everything into it, and these kids came to join our show — and they got told again, “We’re going to shut this down. This is not going to happen.” Imagine that happened to you twice. You get like, “Wow, our own town, these people hate us.” That’s what you start to feel in your heart. But I’m lucky that we had a great breakthrough, a great triumph for that moment as well.
Shangela: If you cry, they will be tears of joy.
Eureka: I get hope in seeing the hard work that the people that we’re working with put in. Not just our teams, but especially the drag kids. Every single drag kid has taken the show seriously and what they’re doing seriously in a different way this season, to represent something or someone for a higher purpose, which is really cool. I’m excited to see like how that translates on TV and how that spurs conversations for people.
Viewers will also see previous drag kids in the audiences of some of the Season 3 shows, kinda like We’re Here Easter eggs. Is there a We’re Here family and are these new kids now inducted into that family?
Bob the Drag Queen: Yes. Some of the kids talk all the time.
Shangela: They interact with each other without us, and it’s beautiful to see that they’ve built this community of support within the family of We’re Here.
Eureka: I actually was just with Bruno, one of Shangela’s children from the past season, and we were talking about a group message that they keep going on social media where all the kids have an opportunity to be there for each other, to support each other, to give resources to each other, have questions about the experience. And it’s really cool to know that they are all staying connected in some way. It is a little family unit, to be one of the few who have have had this experience.
What do you all hope that viewers take away from We’re Here this season? Are there any lessons that they can carry with them in their every day lives that would make this world a better place? This question is a bit big.
Bob the Drag Queen: I don’t have one answer, that everyone needs to take away that you can be fabulous; everyone’s gonna take away that you can be confident; everyone’s going to take away that you should be yourself. Everyone’s going to get something different out of the show because everyone’s watching it from a different perspective. Even if it’s a similar perspective, it’s a slightly different perspective. There are some allies watching the show. There are perhaps some haters watching this show. There’s a closeted trans girl somewhere watching this show and I think everyone’s gonna really get something different. I know it’s a pageant answer, but I think everyone gets what they need.
Eureka: Understanding, for me, is like — whether it’s something you need personally, to also be understanding to people that have different experiences than you do, understanding is a broader term to use. Whether you don’t understand the gay community and you need to learn something, or whether you’re part of the gay community and you don’t understand what someone else’s version of coming out or their experience was versus yours so you want to try to police how they should be experiencing it. Not everyone experiences it the same way, not everyone processes the same way.
Shangela: One thing I hope they need is the reminder that it’s so important to — if you can, if you feel safe — to be visible. In a lot of these spaces, they don’t have a watering hole place to come together. Then they do start to feel isolated and alone and like, “My town hates me, no one is here who will support me.” But when there’s a drag show, when there’s a We’re Here experience where everyone can come together, we hear this so much: “I didn’t know all these people would come out and see this and support this.” “I knew her but I didn’t know you would support me.” I feel like Coco, the movie Coco: “Remember me…”
We’re Here Season 3 premieres on HBO on Friday, November 25 at 10 p.m. ET