"I think drag artists have always been the historians of political unrest."
It was on Rupaul's Drag Race that so many of us were opened up to the fiercely outspoken activist and drag queen, The Vixen. Since appearing on television, she's focused her attention advocating for change and highlighting black voices through her show, Black Girl Magic, and has even worked alongside the Obamas. Defying all odds, The Vixen has proven time and time again that her voice will not be silenced and her message must be heard. Influenced by strong black women like her mom and her aunt, The Vixen is truly the epitome of excellence.
"The fact that people are still coming out of the woodwork, 2 years later, to try to tear me down means that I did something very important, and they wanna work against it."
What was it like growing up in Chicago as a queer kid?
So I was born on the Southside of Chicago which is a heavily black area. Initially I felt very comfortable and supported growing up and everybody looked like me. Then I realized that I was different because I was gay and I would have to deal with this hurdle of homophobia in my area. For black queer kids on the south side of Chicago, the light at the end of the tunnel is being able to be old enough to go to gay bars. And all the gay bars are on the Northside of Chicago which is a predominately white area. So every summer for gay pride, my high school friends and I would drive down to the Northside and stand outside of the gay bars to see some gay stuff happening. Unfortunately, because we were black, we were targeted by the police and we weren’t welcomed. So that was very hard to reconcile with. It was so hard to fit in and that’s where I got the thick skin that made me The Vixen.
So what was your coming-out story?
I've really always been a drag queen. I've always played with my mom's clothes and I've always been singing and dancing and performing. So for a lot of my family, coming out wasn't a surprise. It was scarier at school because my peers didn't have to love me. They weren't my family. Luckily when I was a sophomore in high school I transferred to a school where there were other black gay kids so I felt that community. It was probably what taught me to build a tribe and it was that kind of idea that inspired my show Black Girl Magic. If we’re going to advocate for ourselves then we have to stick together and we have to have strength in numbers. When I was in high school, my other black gay friends and I started a gay/straight alliance.
We were very very active and we rallied until my best friend Robert was voted prom king, so we had a gay prom king. I’ve been an activist for a long time. That kind of energy is what I brought to the drag scene in Chicago and I rallied with the black queens who were there, which there were very few when I started. We created Black Girl Magic together which was started for queens. The June Black Girl Magic on Twitch had 35 queens. I always tell queens if you don’t feel represented, represent. A lot of minorities think of privilege as a room. Like they want to “be in the room.” And the thing is… when you get in the room, you have to hold the door open for somebody else to come in. If you’re the only minority in the room you’re still going to get talked over, you’re still going to get discredited, and you’re still going to be gaslighted and mistreated. So it helps to have other people in the room with you. I’m always about not only pulling myself up, but pulling others up with me who have had similar experiences so we are not discredited.
How many times did you audition for Drag Race before you got on?
I auditioned 4 times. The first time I definitely should not have auditioned but other times I think I was a pretty good queen. The first time I was way too new.
What was your audition tape like? I know it’s a very extensive process.
My audition tape that actually got me onto Season 10 was really great. Shea told me not to waste a lot of time walking in every outfit, and to instead have a photo of every look. In 2016/2017 I was on a kick of making things with unconventional materials - so a lot of dresses out of trash bags, poster board, etc. I got lucky because one of the requirements for the Season 10 audition was to make a dress out of paper so I was able to show like 20 dresses.
Even on Drag Race there's so much underlying racism between the fanbase and the production. I know that this is something that you’ve spoken out about. I remember during Untucked there was a scene where you actively spoke up about this with Aquaria. Do you feel like you were a victim of racial profiling on Drag Race and what backlash did you receive after getting the “villain edit” on the show?
I was definitely affected by that on the show. You know, we’ve seen so many times how people of color were treated, especially if they spoke up and defended themselves against a white queen. So I was very aware of that and that’s why I confronted Aquaria about it. On the show, we had a confrontation because she wasn’t being honest in front of Miz Cracker, and I called her out on it. The next week, which was actually the next day, I won the challenge and she said I didn’t deserve to win the challenge. But when I clapped back at her for saying I didn’t deserve to win, she ran away crying. Which left me looking like the asshole, right?
The thing is, I didn’t know that she was going to say that about me and I didn’t ask for that fight. But, me being myself, I don’t run from a fight. I didn’t walk up to her and brag. What I was explaining to her was, when you start something and then run away when I defend myself, you’re setting me up, as a person of color, to look evil in front of the cameras. And I should be able to defend myself. But black queens aren’t allowed to do that on the show without getting so much hate from the fandom. I knew to expect that, so when it happened to me after the show aired I was able to handle it. It still hurt my feelings and some nights it drove me crazy but I just had to remember what I was on the show for and what would come out of it. I still get hate mail everyday. What’s great now is sometimes I’ll post about the hate mail I get, but then I get a flood of so many people just sending really amazing messages and love. I want to give more of my energy to people who are being positive. I think it’s human nature when 100 people say that you look great and one person says that you look horrible to focus on that one person. It does hit me hard and I try to teach myself to focus on the positive. The fact that people are still coming out of the woodwork, 2 years later, to try to tear me down means that I did something very important, and they wanna work against it.
I was first introduced to you through the “Cocky” music video with Shea. Your verse was literally incredible and I really do just love your drag. Who are your biggest inspirations fashion wise and who influences your drag?
There’s a queen on Youtube named Petrilude who was the only black queen with my face shape that I could find, when I started drag, who did makeup tutorials. So I think Petrilude was a role model for so many black queens. I actually got to meet them in Chicago, and just was able to tell them that they literally taught me how to do drag and how much I had learned from them. When it comes to fashion and my drag aesthetic, I look for strong black women. People like Angela Bassett, Tina Turner, Halle Berry, and Beyoncé! And my mom and my aunts! They really influenced the type of woman that I wanted to be when I went out.
How did the opportunity come about for “Cocky?”
So Shea and I have worked together since we started drag. A lot of the time we were the only 2 black queens in the room. So I knew her before her season, and when she came back from filming Drag Race, was the month that I started Black Girl Magic, so everything was kind of happening at the same time. I had done a music video with Dorian Electra and a bunch of other queens, and she really liked my verse on that, so she brought me in to help write music for her album. When she played Cocky for me I was just thinking of what I could write for her. I was throwing out a lot of ideas. She was like “you should just do your own verse.” So I took an Uber home and by the time I had gotten home, I had finished writing my verse. I hurried and recorded it on my computer and sent it to her and we were just so excited. Then the three of us went to the studio together and recorded it. Making the video was so so cool, and the room we shot in was an art installation where the room got smaller and tighter as you moved towards the back. So Lila was the only one who could stand in the back because she’s so tiny. It was a really special experience and it was so organic because the three of us had known each other for so long. The style of Cocky is Chicago house music, and I don’t think a lot of people had been exposed to that yet, so I’m glad that we were able to open so many up to the culture.
You not only are a great writer, as we can tell from that song, but just sonically your voice is really amazing!
That’s so surprising to me! When Cocky came out a lot of people were saying they loved my voice and I was like…. what are you talking about? I hate the sound of my own voice! Even though I never shut up haha. I was so glad to hear that and it kind of instilled a little bit of confidence within me and it helped me recognize what was special about my voice.
I know you have a few songs out, but I think that you should really lean into that because it’s an area where you truly excel. Is that something that you’ve thought about?
Yeah! I actually have an album that I’ve been working on since I came back from Season 10. I just have my hands in so many things, keeping Black Girl Magic afloat and doing gigs, so having time to go to the studio or even having time to sit down and write is really hard. My album is pretty much all written, I just have to go into the studio. My studio is obviously closed due to quarantine currently. Of course I also want to do videos, so it’s gonna take some time. But music is definitely coming.
We have been trying to get as involved as we can in the Black Lives Matter movement, signing petitions, protesting, etc. How do you think as white people we can use our privilege to advocate for black individuals and make change?
I think it really does boil down to the work at home. I think now we can recognize that it’s not enough to just not be racist, you need to be actively anti-racist. You need to stand up against racism and micro aggressions when you see them. That means if your aunt or uncle says something slick at Thanksgiving, you gotta make it awkward. You have to let them know that that’s not ok. If you are in your neighborhood and you see a confederate flag on your neighbor’s door… say something! I think it’s really also the little things that we can do to stand up to racism in the moment when we see it that will make a difference.
How have you, aside from producing Black Girl Magic, been staying creative in quarantine?
I really have been enjoying quarantine because I love to make things. So I spent the first 3 months in New Orleans at my mom’s house and my friends shipped a lot of my drag to me. Then I started doing the digital drag shows and I would get arts and crafts to make what I needed, which for me was therapeutic to make stuff and take my mind off of everything else and just focus on one thing, and then at the end I have something beautiful. So I really do have a hand in everything I wear. If you like my hair, I made that. If you like my music, I made that. If you liked the video, I edited that. Just to be able to focus on my art right now has been so helpful. I think having to figure out how to do everything from home reminded me how much I love drag and what I love about drag. So I’m grateful for the new experiences that I’ve had from home, as traumatic as it has been for a lot of people.
How has the pandemic affected you and your friends as full time drag performers?
I think everyone has had to really scramble to find out ways to make ends meet. Luckily with digital drag the girls have been able to sustain themselves. I’m personally doing all that I can to make money and to make sure the girls that I work with are being supported. My goal with Black Girl Magic was to make sure that the girls would be able to make as much money as they’d be making in the bars. A nightclub obviously has a capacity, there’s only so many people that you can let in, and on the internet you can have an infinite amount of people watching worldwide. I actually think that my girls are making more money than they made in the clubs which is really exciting. I’m definitely going to upkeep the shows even after quarantine. I think it’s a great opportunity.
When we first started our digital drag shows, we had viewers who were handicapped or underage or couldn’t normally go to a drag show so digital drag has kind of opened up a whole world of drag, aside from Drag Race, for so many during this time.
Now you don’t have to worry about being underage which is amazing and we actually had 3,000 people viewing the last show. It was crazy.
And on Drag Race the talent is definitely limited so I’ve personally been opened up to so many queens and kings who normally wouldn’t get placed on TV or acknowledged as much as cis male queens.
Of course. Only cis people, and it doesn’t really leave room for trans people, bearded queens, etc. There’s not enough of that being showcased.
Are there any smaller queens, or just girls who haven’t been on the show, that you want to shout out? Especially people of color.
My second in command right now is Bambi Banks Coulee. She’s Shea Coulee’s daughter but my favorite niece. She’s been doing a lot of social justice work and a lot of organizing. She’s amazing and she produces a lot of drag shows too. She’s a great person to follow for content, especially being a queen of color. She has a show called Unfriendly Black Hottie, which is like a little sister to Black Girl Magic. It’s incredible and a really fun show to watch. Also Camilla Fox is perfection. I call her a boy scout of drag. She always has a wind machine with her, lights, camera, nails, etc. Everything is on fleek. Just a perfect queen. Maxi Glamour is from Dragula but she’s my favorite queen in the world. Queens like that who are just really good at what they do are the ones that I admire.
Maxi did a number for our show and it was like a full production. She’s amazing wow.
Yeah! Also there’s a queen here in Chicago named Siichelle. She did a performance for our digital Black Girl Magic show and it was mind blowingly amazing. Her makeup looks are incredible. Just so so incredible.
Also queens of all ages!
Yes! There’s a drag queen in Paris named Shego who I love! Shego is a 17 year old black queen who is just utterly amazing. She did Black Girl Magic and just blew me away. I have a friend in the Philippines named Brigandine who’s another stunning stunning queen. I did an all race show called “Powerhouse” and she just tore it up. She performs like I think I perform haha.
Why do you think it’s so important for us as a drag fanbase to support drag artists, and just artists in general, during this pandemic and what do you think the best methods are to support artists during this time?
I definitely think that drag queens are such an important part of society. Drag queens have always been at the forefront of change and they’ve been so influential towards pop culture. Luckily all of our favorite divas now are very aware of drag queens and have taken notes. I think drag artists have always been the historians of political unrest. I think no matter what art you’re into you will learn history through what they presented. So right now we need to support those artists because they’re gonna tell our story.
You can follow The Vixen @thevixensworld on Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch.