The self-de­scribed “su­per­hero god­dess from Wakanda” speaks to Shea Couleé about racism within the Drag Race fan­dom and the chal­lenges queens of colour face in a Tr*mp Amer­ica.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Adam Ouah­mane Words Sam Damshenas

The “su­per­hero god­dess from Wakanda” and ac­tivist speaks to Shea Coulee about racism within the Drag Race fan­dom, and the chal­lenges queens of colour face in a Tr*mp Amer­ica.

In the ten years Ru­Paul’s Drag Race has been slay­ing our screens, there has never been a queen like The Vixen. Dur­ing her run on the show’s ground­break­ing tenth sea­son, the Chicago-based per­former clashed with queens such as Aquaria and Eu­reka O’Hara, and as a re­sult, “lifted the veil” with how queens of colour are treated by the fan­base. Since her time on the show, she’s gar­nered wide­spread praise from fans and Drag Race alumni, and has been re­ferred to as one of the most in­flu­en­tial queens in HERs­tory. Here, The Vixen speaks to sea­son nine fi­nal­ist Shea Coulee about her ac­claimed show Black Girl Magic, racism within the Drag Race fan­dom, and how the me­dia ‘trains’ us to not trust peo­ple of colour.

SC: We’ll start off ca­sual. How would you de­scribe who The Vixen is?

TV: The Vixen is a su­per­hero god­dess from Wakanda.

SC: Yes! Why did you go for the name ‘The Vixen’, and what does it sym­bol­ise to you?

TV: The dic­tionary will tell you that ‘vixen’ means “quar­rel­some” woman [laughs]. But it’s also the name for a fe­male fox. It just em­bod­ies all of th­ese things, and there’s even a DC hero called The Vixen, and she is a su­per­model by day, and African war­rior princess by night. So, it just keeps giv­ing!

SC: That’s like right on brand.

TV: Right? I couldn’t have asked for a bet­ter built in brand. It’s fun to evolve with the name, and find more things about it that I iden­tify with.

SC: What would you say is the bi”est mis­con­cep­tion that the Drag Race fan­dom has of you?

TV: Peo­ple al­most ex­pect me to be mean, which is far from the truth. On the show, I was very vo­cal about my emo­tions. If I don’t like some­thing, you’ll know about it. Shea, you know this from know­ing me, I am mushy and I get su­per emo­tional, es­pe­cially about sis­ter­hood. I think the show showed a lot of my an­gry side, or when I was pas­sion­ate about some­thing, and that doesn’t mean that I’m hard to work with, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not go­ing to be nice to you. At meet and greets, peo­ple are al­ways so shocked about how warm and open I am. I’m like, ‘I don’t wake up a bitch!’

SC: [Laughs] Look­ing back, what are your over­ar­ch­ing thoughts on sea­son 10?

TV: I feel like it was very eye open­ing and ground­break­ing for fans. It pulled back the cur­tain a lot, and I think peo­ple started to think of us as peo­ple. Drag Race queens get treated as a com­mod­ity, y’know, ‘Lemme take a pic­ture’. Fans won’t even stop to speak to you, they just wanna take a photo. I think that sea­son 10 showed a lot of back­story, true grit, and we kinda lifted the veil. We’re not just th­ese Glama­zons, our lives are very in­ter­est­ing and we all come from very dif­fer­ent back­grounds, so I think it gave peo­ple a look at the hu­man side of drag queens.

SC: I think in many ways, you re­ally did lift the veil in how queens of colour are treated on the show by the fan­dom. We un­der­stand what it’s like com­ing up in our own com­mu­nity in Chicago, in ways that it can be re­ally seg­re­gated, and I have to say that I took no­tice to your ad­vo­cacy, I would say three years ago when the ‘South­side Trash’ com­ment was made. Would you care to elab­o­rate on that and give some back­story into that, be­cause it led to so many great things, such as Black Girl Magic.

TV: There was a bar­tender who said that ‘South­side Trash’ ru­ined gay Pride in Chicago. He also went on to say that les­bians and straight girls ru­ined Pride, and ba­si­cally nar­rated it down to say that only white gay men were wel­come. I was in­stantly tri”ered, and it led to me wear­ing ‘South­side Trash’ on my t-shirts, and for peo­ple who don’t know, the South­side of Chicago is pre­dom­i­nantly black. So what the guy was re­ally say­ing was that black peo­ple aren’t wel­come at gay Pride. I grew up as a young, black gay boy who only felt safe ex­press­ing him­self in the North­side at Pride. It was sad be­cause that was the only place we had to go to, to be black and gay. It was sad to feel un­wel­come, but it re­ally did light a fire in me and I started do­ing more po­lit­i­cal per­for­mances and be­ing more out­spo­ken about th­ese things be­cause it af­fected me and the peo­ple I loved. At Dida Ritz’s birth­day, where she had all of the black drag queens to do a pho­to­shoot, that was the first time we had all been in the same room to­gether. That re­ally sparked the idea in all of us that we wanted to work to­gether. So when Shea got back from Drag Race, I ran up to her and said, ‘I’ve got this show, Black Girl Magic, I re­ally need you to be a part of it!’ You hopped right in there, and we gave some leg­endary per­for­mances that re­ally spoke to our com­mu­nity and was eye open­ing for the white peo­ple in our com­mu­nity, and made us feel ap­pre­ci­ated in a new way. lt’s now a monthly show in Chicago, and it’s in­spir­ing more shows that fo­cus on peo­ple of colour all around the coun­try.

SC: Ab­so­lutely. I want to go back to sea­son 10, now that we’ve kind of got­ten a bit of your back­story. We touched base on how you lifted the veil on the treat­ment of queens of colour by the fans, but how do you feel about your edit on the show?

TV: Ed­its are tricky. Early on in the sea­son, the show gave me a well-rounded sto­ry­line. You got to see me be­ing happy and sad, and I think as the show started to pre­pare my elim­i­na­tion, they showed less of the good and more of the bad. It’s their job, be­cause they have to jus­tify their elim­i­na­tions, but I think it’s def­i­nitely dam­ag­ing to all of us and our ca­reers when the show digs the grave for us. A lot of queens go home, with this per­cep­tion that they’re bad per­form­ers or bad drag queens, when the truth is, they maybe just had a bad day. I think my edit def­i­nitely led to some mis­con­cep­tions, but I get a lot of mes­sages from fans say­ing they re­watched the sea­son, and they take it more as a grain of salt, be­cause of meet­ing me in per­son. I can’t say what the edit was in­tended to do, but I think I’m do­ing a good job at chang­ing peo­ple’s minds.

SC: You spoke about the re­union, and we have all seen the clip of you walk­ing off set. The only girl I know, in Drag Race his­tory, to walk off! I would love to hear you sum­marise your feel­ings in that mo­ment and why you chose to leave.

TV: That’s what I call re­claim­ing my mind. I went to the re­union, want­ing to cel­e­brate the good things

that came out of my ex­pe­ri­ence. I was voted on ‘most in­flu­en­tial’ lists be­cause of the things that I spoke about on the show, and I got a lot of love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion from the com­mu­nity for bring­ing up is­sues. That part of my ex­pe­ri­ence was re­ally skirted over dur­ing the in­ter­view, and it be­came very clear that it was go­ing to be a witch hunt. I didn’t de­serve that, and I didn’t have to stick around for it.

SC: There was some­thing that you said, prior to walk­ing off, where peo­ple were talk­ing about the way you han­dled Eu­reka. You said, “Ev­ery­one keeps telling me how to re­act, and no one is telling her how to act.”

TV: A lot of the time, in­stead of cor­rect­ing ac­tions that need cor­rect­ing, we try to si­lence the peo­ple who’ve been vic­timised be­cause it’s al­most eas­ier to tell some­one to keep quiet, than to tell some­one to be­have. It’s sad, be­cause it takes a lot of courage for peo­ple to stand up for some­one, es­pe­cially on is­sues that don’t af­fect them di­rectly. Peo­ple are ei­ther afraid to do that, or un­com­fort­able do­ing it, so we end up silencing the peo­ple who need our help. SC: I think a lot of the time it tends to hap­pen to queens of colour, be­cause the things we’re speak­ing out on are racism within the fan­dom and the drag com­mu­nity. With this be­ing a show cen­tred around queer iden­ti­ties, you’d think the fans would have a more in­clu­sive out­let. How­ever, they don’t. What would you say are some of the bi”est chal­lenges queens of colour face liv­ing in a Tr*mp Amer­ica?

TV: Kennedy Daven­port said it best: “The stru”le is real!” Peo­ple don’t re­alise drag is about iden­tity, and so queens of colour, when we start pre­sent­ing our drag per­sona, the first thing that you’re gonna no­tice is that we are of colour. In this coun­try, with this me­dia, we’re taught not to trust black peo­ple. We see shoot­ings on the news ev­ery day, we see stereo­types that don’t rep­re­sent us as a com­mu­nity, and it teaches peo­ple to favour white queens and white peo­ple in any sit­u­a­tion. So if there’s an ar­gu­ment, you’re al­ready trained not to be­lieve the per­son of colour. Even when it comes down to run­ways, you can have some­one like Wil­lam put on a pair of jeans and a white tank top, and look like an Amer­i­can Ap­parel ad, but if Dida Ritz were to do the same thing, she’d be la­belled as “ghetto” or “un­pol­ished”. It’s lit­er­ally the same out­fit, but the per­cep­tion of Amer­ica is so stacked against us.

SC: Ab­so­lutely. This in­ter­view is for the Oc­to­ber is­sue of Gay Times, which comes out dur­ing the UK’s Black His­tory Month. What does BHM mean to you per­son­ally?

TV: It’s very im­por­tant be­cause when you’re born in Amer­ica, you’re taught that you come from a dis­en­fran­chised com­mu­nity who were sold into slav­ery. That’s some­thing that we learn at a very young age. Now, when I reach BHM ev­ery year, I try to fo­cus more on where we came from, and the amaz­ing things we’ve done, and not just the tragedies that have hap­pened to us through­out his­tory. It’s im­por­tant to teach, es­pe­cially chil­dren through­out BHM, that we come from great­ness, and we can do great things, and we’re not de­fined by the hor­ri­ble things that have hap­pened to us.

SC: Agreed. 100%. This has all been re­ally amaz­ing. I’m so ex­cited for you and so proud, and so happy to call you a sis­ter. I’m thrilled to see what the fu­ture holds for The Vixen.

TV: Thank you so much. You know I love you, and I’m glad that we did this in­ter­view to­gether. You, more than any­body, have such an in­sight into me and my growth, and you’ve been so help­ful with me get­ting to this point. I love you girl, I’m so happy we did this.

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