Drag Race eliminee on double standard for black queens: 'Our reactions are judged harsher'
Warning! This article contains major spoilers regarding the most recent episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Read ahead at your own risk!
As she promised upon entering the season 10 Werk Room, Chicago native The Vixen came to RuPaul’s Drag Race ready “to fight.” And she proved to be a woman of her word across her brief (but nonetheless fiery) eight-episode run on the long-running reality competition series, consistently reminding viewers (and her season 10 sisters) that hell hath no fury like a Vixen scorned. Whether she was fighting for justice on the progressive side of seldom-discussed issues, wedging a racial divide among the Drag Race community, or stepping to Eureka wig-to-wig on the runway, the spark that drove the 27-year-old never dimmed. It’s fitting that it took a diva of Cher proportions — or at least a live musical challenge performed in the singer’s likeness — to finally push Vixen out of the Werk Room and into the growing list of season 10 casualties. Regardless, it’s not like The Vixen was ever there to prove how well she could fit into a pre-shaped narrative in the first place; she was true to herself to the end, and as RuPaul recognized, her hard-fought battle might not have given her the crown, but she still sashayed away a champion.
Still, there’s a deeper story behind the contour and glitter, one that the Drag Race fan base often refuses to see. After the elimination, EW caught up with Vixen about her time on the show and how she became one of the most talked-about queens in Drag Race her-story, both for her dedication to the craft and the hot-button social issues she raised during her tenure on the main stage. Read on for the full interview.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hey Vixen! How are you holding up?
THE VIXEN: I’m good. I’m at DragCon, so I don’t have time to be sad. [Laughs]
It’s interesting to me because I’m usually talking to girls who, upon being eliminated in 7th place, haven’t had as much of an impact on the show and the way its fan base talks about Drag Race as you have. You’ve built up quite a reputation, for better or worse.
It’s interesting. I definitely wasn’t expecting to be the topic of conversation so often, but I guess if you’re going to be on Drag Race, you want to be memorable. I’m glad that people noticed. I’m glad the cameras noticed. Knowing that I was there and stood out and made waves, I’m proud of it.
For me, the argument you had with Aquaria where you pointed out that fans might perceive you as the angry black woman was one of the most essential discussions of the season. Was that a standard you’d been aware of in the past or was that something that came to you in the moment?
It’s definitely something that’s happened in past season. I think a lot of contestants now are savvy to how things are going to play out based on our behavior. I just chose to be myself in spite of the potential repercussions. Going in I knew all those things, and I was distracted from it in the moment [I fought with Aquaria]. But in Untucked, I started to see myself through the camera’s eyes. I was like, oh no, let’s clear this up.
What was the most significant takeaway for you in terms of how that moment was received?
Any time I opened my mouth there was backlash. The best thing about that was the next morning seeing all the alumni from Drag Race come out and support me and speak on their feelings. That’s really what kicked off the conversation and I was validated by so many of my new sisters. That felt really good.
It’s odd to me because this fan base is so passionate, but that can cloud their judgment and make them unable to hear your side of the story sometimes. It’s hard for fans to think of you guys as people with real feelings and emotions, not TV characters.
Any time you talk about race, it makes people very uncomfortable. I think that’s why it hadn’t been brought up in so many seasons. It’s not new to me. I talk about race a lot in my drag, so I’m used to the pushback of just the mentioning of race. Even if it is the underlying topic, people will be uncomfortable, because they don’t want to acknowledge their own bias in the situation.
There’s also the issue of representing what black queens have to deal with outside the realm of Drag Race, and I’ve spoken to many who’ve said they identify with your demeanor and the realities of balancing the burden of discrimination with striving to be likeable, which often leads to reacting to situations — sometimes situations that aren’t even about discrimination — in defensive ways. Is that maybe what we saw with you on the show?
Definitely. A lot of us go in knowing we have to be likable because we want to be bookable and bankable. For me, my intention going in was to represent my kind of girl. She’s not always likable. I think a lot of the fan base that hadn’t felt represented before gravitated toward someone who wasn’t very cookie cutter or polite.
Is feeling like you have to be likable to be bookable a specific problem more so for queens of color?
Yes, just because our reactions are judged harsher. That’s been my mantra through all of this. People judge my reactions, but they don’t take into account what I’m reacting to. We don’t get to be angry, we don’t get to be overly opinionated or defensive, we don’t get to clap back, and people don’t notice who claps first. It’s a double standard.
Do you see that double standard changing any time soon?
It’s going to take some intentional conversations and a lot of ruffled feathers, honestly. I’m glad I got the ball rolling, and hopefully it continues.
To a lot of viewers – myself included, at times – it felt to me, at least in more recent episodes, like you were coming for some of the other girls like Monique and Eureka, though.
That’s where the double standard comes in! Eureka defended herself onstage against my one comment, but I got four girls saying that I should go home, but it still doesn’t make sense to people that I’d be four times as upset as Eureka would be. The reaction was the same, but my recipe was quadrupled. I think it was very valid to be belligerently shaken when four people said that I should go home. I don’t understand why that reaction didn’t read as human normalcy.
Especially since you were hearing that after you guys aren’t sleeping and working your asses off in front of cameras and RuPaul. That adds an extra dynamic of pressure.
Yes! And take into account it was my second time lip-syncing, so there was card upon card stacked against me in that moment.
I’m seeing a lot of people talk about your actions as hypocritical though, especially because you expected Eureka to change who she was without changing anything about your approach.
What I was saying to Eureka was that her wake-up-in-the-morning personality was annoying. What people don’t like about me is how I retaliate. But if you don’t start no sh—, there won’t be no sh—. The girls I got along with, it’s because they never attacked me. The girls I didn’t get along with tried to attack me. And that’s the double standard all over again. People are judging my reactions, but they’re not judging Eureka’s actions.
Do you think it’s possible for this discussion to exist outside the scope of race and the double standard? Can an instance on this show just be an argument between two people butting heads?
Absolutely, I’d like it to be that, but because of the optics and the way the fandom runs, if there’s a black person in the argument or a person of color in the argument versus a white girl, race is going to become a factor… because they’re going to be systematically more sympathetic toward the white girl because that’s what the media has taught us to do.
It’s such a strange dynamic to be involved in an argument while knowing there’s a third party — which is millions of people watching it several months down the line.
That’s a black person’s experience every day, knowing that if they come off argumentative, the cards are stacked against them.
People who are not of color don’t realize that all the time, so that’s something important for you to say.
I do want to ask: Have you and Eureka since made up or is that still a contentious relationship?
Personally, I prefer my distance when it comes to Eureka. I meant everything that I said, and she is not my cup of tea. [We’re good] as long as we drink it in small doses.
So no joint panel with you two at DragCon any time soon?
Oh no, too much for me!
I don’t want to constantly talk about the arguments and these points of contention, so I want to know what positively impacted you the most on the show?
My favorite thing about the experience was seeing the work that goes into making these huge productions. I’ve always loved the backstage, behind-the-scenes details and the magic that goes into making a show. Just seeing… all the people it takes to pull this sh— off [and] seeing how much work and talent goes into creating Drag Race was really inspiring.
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.