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 Couleé 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 biggest 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 triggered, 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. It’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 biggest challenges queens of colour face living in a Tr*mp America?
TV: Kennedy Davenport said it best: “The struggle 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.
Photography Adam Ouahmane
Assistant Delikate Doll