Five Black queens entered the workroom of Drag Race season ten, a number the show hasn’t seen in years. Throughout season ten, the queens have opened up in small moments about the particular struggles that exist for black queens, but on Thursday night’s “Snatch Game” episode, the queens dove deeper into the complex political realities of Black queendom in a way the show has never seen before.
At the center of the discussion was Monique Heart, who admitted that, unlike the other black queens, she’s sometimes hesitant to do political drag because she performs in Kansas City, Missouri, a city that has seen a marked rise in hate crimes in the past years. According to the Huffington Post, 2015 FBI statistics showed that hate crimes jumped 35 percent in Missouri’s largest city and its surrounding areas, compared to a 7 percent rise throughout the entire US. Libraries in Kansas City have recently been vandalized with anti-black racial slurs, swastikas were painted on school buildings. Just two months ago, Ta’Ron Carson, a gay black man, was shot and killed outside a bar in Kansas City, though police are unsure if he was the shooter’s intended target.
Given this context, it’s easy to see why Monique Heart would hesitate to go political. During the episode, Monique confessed that she wanted to pay homage to RuPaul’s infamous confederate flag dress from To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. But, she said, “Tensions were really high in Kansas City, and I didn’t want to come back and just get shot.”
“I have not done a lot of political work,” she continued, “because I work in a former slave state. Where I work, African Americans were not even allowed to work on until the late 60s, early seventies.”
And, Monique added, it all goes back to economics. Aside from wanting to stay safe, she also had to make sure that she wouldn’t become performer non grata and that she was able to pay her bills doing drag.
Monique has spoken previously about her budget as compared to the other queens on the show, something that another Southern Black queen, Chi Chi Devayne, struggled with. During Untucked, Miz Cracker speaks about her ability to take out a loan to pay for all the costs associated with the show, something that would no doubt be much harder for a black queen, given the state of Black debt in America.
One of the most interesting aspects of Monique’s confession is that she is able to speak about it with the other Black queens in the room. Monet X Change and The Vixen both talk about how important they think it is to do political drag. Of course, Monet X Change performs in New York City, a far different political landscape than Kansas City. And while The Vixen performs her Black Girl Magic show in America’s most segregated city, the context is still much different than the Confederate south.
Seeing so many Black queens gather around to discuss drag’s inherent politicalness is new territory for the show. As the show’s format has evolved, it’s allowed queens more time to talk about politics, especially queens like Sasha Velour, Peppermint and Bob the Drag Queen. But the show has never depicted a Black queen political salon like it did on Thursday.
Part of that is casting. Not only has the show never cast such a wide range of different Black queens, it especially hasn’t done so since the show’s viewership changed around season seven. The audience has morphed from its early audience of queer people, specifically queer people of color, to a younger, more female demographic. With this shift has come an outsized amount of attention for quirky, white comedy queens like Katya, Trixie Mattel and Alaska or “look” queens like Violet Chachki and Aquaria.
But the Black queens of season 10 have slowly reframed the narrative around what it means to be a Black queen. When Mayhem Miller was eliminated in the season’s fifth episode, she told INTO that she was excited for the possibilities of season 10’s crop of Black queens to break the mold and challenge the audience’s notions of what Black queens are and what they do.
“A lot of people think, especially when it comes to black queens, they think all black queens are the sameone note, we all do the same thing,” she said. “Now the world gets to see that we all are different. We’re like fingerprints, all different, and bring a totally different vibe to the stage.”
We’re like fingerprints, all different, and bring a totally different vibe to the stage.
Certainly the queen who has done the most legwork to challenge the show’s fandom this season is The Vixen. I’ve already called The Vixen this season’s thought leader after her earlier conversation about race and the fandom, but it’s time to do it again.
For those who don’t remember, during episode 3’s Untucked, Aquaria shaded The Vixen for using someone else’s wig for her “best drag” look. When The Vixen responded, Aquaria became emotional and called The Vixen “negative,” which prompted The Vixen to break down race and the media in a true homily.
“And the problem is … when you come for me and I come for you back and you say, ‘Oh, you’re so negative’ I was chilling. You brought it over here, I [brought] it back, and all of a sudden I’m a bitch,” The Vixen said. “I gotta say this this right here is exactly what it is. You say something, I say something, you start crying. You have created a narrative [that] I am an angry black woman who has scared off the little white girl. When you get super defensive and tell me that I’m negative when I’m just responding to what you brought to me that will always read to these [cameras] as a race issue.”
The Vixen has never shied away from conversations about race. She’s mentioned that she hosts a show called Black Girl Magic and in this episode, she continues speaking about what it means to be black, queer, a drag queen and political.
“Sometimes, I just like to throw it in white people’s faces, like ‘You know what you did,’” The Vixen says. She then went on to describe her act, which includes her carrying a giant crucifix covered in racial slurs. She then beats it until it’s broken.
“A lot of people say that drag should only be an escape from reality,” The Vixen says. “But drag can also help us face reality and deal with it.”
Due mostly to racism, The Vixen will probably never have the reputation of being an intellectual queen like Sasha Velour. But every week, she demonstrates not only how thoughtful she is about her work as a drag queen, but about what it means to be a Black queen put up for consumption by a white audience.
Due mostly to racism, The Vixen will probably never have the reputation of being an intellectual queen like Sasha Velour.
At the top of this week’s episode, Eureka tries to play nice with The Vixen and say that she can show her intelligence without showing “the bite from the bear.” The Vixen turns it around and says that many people who look up to her do so because she’s outspoken, authentic and unwilling to hold back. The many qualities that Eureka might see in her as negative are exactly what make her a role model to people that admire The Vixen.
Asia O’Hara also articulates The Vixen’s trauma, comparing her to an abandoned dog who needs some tender loving care. The Vixen herself has spoken about her trauma during episode fivewith amazing insight, as well.Lest we forget, she was the one who analyzed that her and Eureka’s main problem was that their traumas just could not vibe with each other.
Aside from analyzing her sister’s own problems,Asia O’Hara has probably had the example exemplar of the season’s central tension, which is the nature of drag vs. the nature of Drag Race. During the ball challenge, Asia helped everyone else construct their costume and neglected to put her own looks together. When she confronted the other girls about it, the camera made her out to be the fool, but at the center of Asia’s issue was the way her own drag family was centered around community versus Drag Race, which promotes competition. That mindset was on display during this week’s episode, as well. Asia asked The Vixen to play off of her during the Snatch Game, to not-so-great results of course, but even the ask showed that Asia would rather support and help her sisters than see them fall behind.
Modern drag, the aesthetic celebrated on RuPaul’s Drag Race, is an American art form shaped by the hands and wigs of queer Black and Latinx performers. Just as true is that Black and Latinx performers receive only a sliver of the fanatic-level adoration they deserve from Drag Race’s fandom. It’s a problem that probably began in Drag Race’s seventh season, as my colleague Kevin O’Keeffe recently pointed out, but it’s also a tension that the show continues to probe in season ten. And this is no doubt the crop of queens that are ready to take on the task of educating viewers about what it means to be black, queer, under-resourced and underappreciated.
Now, the fans need to listen.