Love her or hate her, the Vixen cracked open the gay discourse during her run on the tenth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, forcing a conversation about race, media narratives, and drag in a way that up until this season, has existed mostly as subtext. Does the show have a bias to white queens with money? What’s the role of a black drag queen? The Vixen, for one, wasn’t about to play nice with anyone and assumed a defensive posture from the beginning (“I’m just here to fight!”) that may have served her well in life, but ultimately worked to her detriment on the show resulting in her elimination on the most recent episode. In a phone conversation after her elimination, we talked about the “angry black woman” label, Eureka, and how drag privileges white people.
What was it like the first time you did drag and saw yourself in drag?
It is very hard to say, because starting high school, I was such an androgynous kid. I mixed men’s and women’s clothes so often that it was very hard to pinpoint what was the day that it was drag. But I remember the first time I went to a drag show with the intent to be a part of it. I felt really, really pretty. I spent maybe four hours on my face and it wasn’t anything special but I looked good and I felt good. I was very nervous because I knew that the host of the show was thinking about putting me in her show and so I was nervous about going and it started to rain and so I said, Maybe this is a sign I should stay home. And it was my mother who was like, You’ve gotten all dressed. Just go. And I got there and the host saw me and she booked me for the next Thursday and many, many Thursdays after that. I was glad that I had my mom’s courage to get through the door.
One of the most interesting things this season happened during Untucked when you were talking about media narratives and how they’re biased against black people. Do you feel like your portrayal on the show was accurate?
Oh, yeah. I was 100 percent genuinely myself on the show. I was reacting to very unique situations and I still gave very genuine responses to those things. Even if it was extreme, so were the situations. I think the problem lies in how the audience has been trained to respond to those things. The media and the news have really taught us to be distrusting of black people and to be more sympathetic to white people in confrontations between black and white people. That was the struggle.
So you don’t feel like there were any problems in terms of editing?
No. If an argument went on for five minutes on the show, it probably went on for an hour in real life, so there’s really no way around what was said. And a lot of times, in arguments that aired on the show, I was like, Ooh, they left out that good part. Like sometimes the worst thing I said was probably the thing I was looking forward most to seeing.
Can you give me an example?
I had the “Leave me alone” moment with Aquaria. There was a part when she started crying and she went to get up and walk away and I remember telling her to sit her ass down. They may be very aggressive, but I was excited to see it on television. I was rooting for myself, so I was excited to see how it played out. [Laughs]
With some time between the taping and the airing of the show, do you feel differently now about the moment on the runway when most of the queens picked you to go home?
Not really. I understand why the girls chose the way that they chose. I think it was a safe thing to do. It’s like the judges are giving you the harsher critique, [so they] will be validated in also saying [Vixen]. My approach in the situation was whoever got sent home or whoever we said should be sent home would be very hurt, and I just didn’t have the capacity to do that to Asia or Monet — or even Aquaria or Monique. The only person I was willing to hurt in that way was Eureka. That’s why it was so hurtful that they were willing to do it to me, but that wasn’t the way that they were seeing it. I understand it, but it still hurt.
I think anyone who’s watched this at a bar has witnessed racism in the crowd. Your presence has forced a conversation about racism in the gay community.
Yeah, I was definitely glad that that conversation sprung out of the argument that we had. That’s the work I did in Chicago. I was the person who called out those situations and called out the classism and racism in my own city, so I was glad that that carried into my drag on Drag Race. And just because you started a conversation does not mean that you solved the problem at all. So I think I addressed it. Did I fix it? No, ma’am Pam. Not at all. Because even in me addressing it, it only fanned the flames and brought more of that aggression my way. But, I would say, in a season with five black queens, I am glad that my other sisters of color on the show got less heat because it was all directed in one place, so instead of the five of us being attacked, I’m glad that they had a better experience because I took the heat.
Also, the fact that there were five black queens this season, as opposed to just one or two, changed the dynamic of the show and how conversations unfolded.
Definitely. It’s very hard to talk about racial bias when you’re the only black person in the room, so having Monique and Monet in the room when that conversation started definitely helped because you got to see that it wasn’t just one person’s point of view. And then I think by the time we were at Snatch Game, there were four black queens and four white queens, so it was inescapable that the topic of race was going to be brought up and it was going to be palpable.
Do you feel like black drag queens are expected to perform in a particular way?
Yeah. There’s a huge expectation of likability and I think the consensus is that in order to be accepted by the white audience, we have to be docile, be agreeable, be the sassy black friend, but not ruffle feathers — not push things anywhere. I am none of those things, and I don’t care to be, so I think that’s why I got such a strong reaction from the fandom. I am fully aware of the game that needs to be played to be marketable for a white audience, and I do not care to play it at all.
Did you feel in order to win, you had to do so though?
Yes. I did feel that in order to do well on the show, I would have had to “play the game,” as it’s called. In past seasons, I think you could play the game and you could show your talent. But as far as winning, it didn’t help Shangela and it didn’t help Shea win the crown. So I was much more concerned with being myself and starting the conversations that would come from being myself.
There was something that our recappers wrote that really resonated for me: “For a long ten seasons worth of time, we’ve pretended that the playing field is even between white or white-passing queens with massive Instagram followings and black queens from parts of the country that see real struggle.” Do you feel there’s a bias towards white drag queens with a lot of money?
Oh, absolutely. When a white man chooses to be a drag queen, they are opting into a luxurious life of this rich white woman fantasy, and some of them are actually rich white men, but even if they aren’t, they are putting out this Barbie image of privilege. Choosing to be a black drag queen is exactly the opposite. It’s choosing to already be a second-class citizen and to take yourself down a peg. Women are so devalued in this country and in the world that choosing to be a black drag queen is a very political and stupid decision if you expect to be treated well. That’s why I have so much affinity and appreciation for all black drag queens, because it is a conscious decision to be treated less than.
Why do you think it’s important, then, to do it?
Because especially as a male entertainer who is portraying a black female character, I do have an ounce of privilege in my agency. I can respectfully pay homage to my mother and all the women who inspired me growing up and raised me. Even being a black gay male, I think a lot of times my voice might be heard before a black woman’s.
Do you feel like the interpersonal conflicts overshadowed your work? Do you have any regrets?
I have no regrets, because I truly feel like the interpersonal conflicts were a part of my work. My proudest takeaway from the show will be the conversations that were had, and I think many a queen have come on the show and proven that black queens are fierce. I don’t think anybody needed to prove that we’re great entertainers. I think that is known. I think the conversations and the interpersonal conflicts I had, it was me addressing privilege on the show and addressing the double standards. I don’t think that there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m talented. I think there was something more important to be done with my time on the show.
Do you feel a burden to represent?
Absolutely. What I always tell people who complain about representation, is if you don’t feel represented, represent. If you feel like representation is missing, then maybe that feeling is your calling to be the person to represent. So I’ll always feel that obligation. It’s not a burden. It definitely is not without its consequences, but I’ll always feel that.
That conversation that Asia had with you seemed to resonate with you. Did you feel like Eureka triggered something that went beyond just your conflict with her?
Absolutely. Just coming in the show, Eureka and Aquaria both had the privilege of coming in with one, money, and two, a big background, a big following. And so that gave them a different agency and a different advantage than the rest of us did. It absolutely was triggering. In Chicago, I helped level the playing field and give black drag queens the same opportunities. By creating my own show, I gave black drag queens in Chicago the opportunity to shine the way that white queens did, but I didn’t have that same advantage on the show, especially up against Eureka or Aquaria. That may have influenced my aggressiveness, but that didn’t mean that I was ever the aggressor in the situation because in each instance with Aquaria and Eureka, they poked the bear.
Was that the genesis for your Black Girl Magic shows?
Absolutely. So my Southside Trash campaign came out of a bartender being very ignorant about who was allowed to celebrate Pride in Boystown in Chicago. That sparked my just outspokenness; it lit a fire under me and got me more proactive about creating change in Chicago. From that, it also gave me a lot of respect in the industry because I was doing something that was creating change, and so I rallied the troops and I got the queens of color together and we started a show where we could express our feelings about the election last year. The first Black Girl Magic was a week before the presidential election, so we had a lot to say, but it was a very raw performance from everyone and it was very cathartic to be a part of. It just snowballed into a movement and it really changed the culture in Chicago.
Is there anything that you feel like you have been misunderstood about?
On the show last night, Asia said that I was an angry black woman. I think what’s misunderstood is being an angry black woman is not a bad thing. There is a very, very valid, valid reason for black women to be angry, and there’s a valid reason for black drag queens to be angry. I think what people are mistaking is not that I’m angry but why I’m angry, and I think that’s what people need to be dealing with — the issues that make black women angry, and not policing the tone of black women when they are under attack from the minute they wake up.
What did you learn about yourself doing the show?
I learned that I am not competitive. I think if I was thinking with a clear, competitive head, I may have said that Asia or Monique should have went home in that challenge when I was somehow still thinking in the terms of sisterhood whose feelings I wouldn’t want to hurt. As Asia likes to remind me, I’m not as tough as I think, and most of my reactions are coming from feelings. I’m not a hardass. I learned that I should acknowledge my feelings and that sometimes it’s okay to let people know that you’re hurt instead of just letting them know that you’re angry.
It’s a hard thing to learn, especially when being defensive is also a survival mechanism.
Yeah. Sometimes, it’s okay to just let someone know that they’ve hurt your feelings instead of just clapping back. My thing is I’m afraid to be the victim. The villain? I don’t mind. But being the victim is not something I look forward to.