EDGE Interview: Why Out Footballer Josh Cavallo's 'Drag Race Down Under ' Appearance is a Goal of a Lifetime
Timothy Rawles READ TIME: 5 MIN.
Coming out publicly in professional sports is a delicate affair. Do it too aggressively and some team members might accuse you of stealing the spotlight, too lightly and your message gets lost. Then there are the millions of fans who have their own opinions. For elite Australian footballer Josh Cavallo, he did it the new old-fashioned way: on social media.
The 23-year-old athlete made his coming out post in 2021. He was mostly met with support, but there are some challenges he still faces today. So, it is a big deal for him to be a special guest judge on "RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under." It is a space that caters to his nature of competitiveness while still allowing him to be himself.
"You know, in the field of football in my industry, that isn't the case, not everyone is embraced, and I wasn't," Cavallo says in his upbeat Australian accent. "And still I'm fighting to be embraced in football to this day and I've been out for two years now. To see, when I stepped into the industry of drag queens, how much love and support and caring there is from each other all the way from RuPaul down to the contestants, it was a beautiful sight."
Keeping in mind that Australian football, or what Americans might call soccer, has been around for 165 years, his coming out story is not only historic but brave. In a profession where support and encouragement are essential to winning, finding a place to be confident while still being talented falls mostly on him. It is a lot of pressure.
That might also be true for drag performers who often find prejudices in their own work. More recently, political attacks have been made towards drag queens with Republicans attempting to even ban the art form. But to so many people, these fierce competitors are an inspiration.
"The first time I saw a drag queen was when I was about 21 years old," Cavallo recalls. He says it was just a random person on the street just after he came out. "So it was a long time ago but yeah, I spoke to them and it really shocked me a lot because they dragged up that well --- I was convinced that they were a female. So, I explained to them how amazing their work of art was with their makeup and their craft and stuff and just to hear a little bit about them, but I didn't get their name. That was the only thing. It happened really quickly --- it was a quick interaction."
In his spare time, Cavallo often posts inspirational messages on social media to help those who need words of encouragement. He does it because those motivations weren't afforded to him as a gay kid. There wasn't a role model in his life who he could look up to that motivated him in the world of sports, so he had to find someone on his own. That person was RuPaul Charles.
To be asked to guest on "Drag Race Down Under" was a bucket list item he had been dreaming about for years. When the day finally arrived to be on set, he was admittedly starstruck. The pair had a phenomenal conversation, and the young footballer finally got to tell his hero how much he admired him and all of his work in representing the community in a world stacked against them.
"That's what I want to do in my football world," says Cavallo. "You know, when I was younger, I didn't have a gay sports soccer player that was successful that played at the top division in the world, and was able to represent the LGBTQIA+ community in a positive way. So that's where the motivation comes from and that's where I have that spark inside me and I'll keep going and driving for better in the football world because there's a lot of countries where the LGBTQIA+ community is criminalized."
Cavallo explains that in some overseas countries where soccer and football are the main pastimes, gay players' lives are threatened. He uses social media to show others how much love and support he gets and maybe they can use his words as a form of comfort.
"My most powerful platform is Instagram where I can share motivation and my experience to make that person that's in the shadow or to make that person that's having a really bad day and wants to come out, have a light at the end of the tunnel because that's something I didn't have," he says.
The power of the "Drag Race" set isn't just about inspiration, it is also about having fun. From whacky challenges to high-stakes runway shows to lip-syncs for their lives, the queens are there to win, but they also have a good time.
For Cavallo, walking onto the soundstage was like walking into Alice's looking glass or through the doors of the Wonka factory. Like the queens themselves, the sets were painted and staged for the camera, which is a completely different perspective than watching it all play out from the fourth wall on TV.
"I had a fantastic experience, and it literally went, like, in a blink of an eye," he says. "It went so quickly the whole day and I wish I could have another day to go through it again because it was just so much fun. But, you know, it's so different to my lifestyle and, you know, my football life, like I wake up, I go to football and then I go have a nap and I go to the gym, like my life is so different and then going to 'Drag Race Down Under' and seeing how they do things, how their day-to-day things are. It was just beautiful and phenomenal and, you know the best thing? I felt at home."
When asked if he took any souvenirs from the set, his answer was an emphatic no. "God. I wish I could. I don't think we're allowed to."
Although his time with "Drag Race" was brief Cavallo will never forget it. It meant more to him than just a guest appearance. Coming from a competitive space that doesn't fully accept its gay members to one that does was life changing. In his professional life where he can't talk openly about his life like some of his straight teammates, being embraced on Drag Race Down Under gave him a positive outlook.
"It was a great experience and there's some phenomenal drag queens in this season," he says. "So, yeah, stay tuned for that. That is super exciting, and I can't wait to share my love and support on the world stage of 'Drag Race Down Under.'"