The Vixen deserved better. Love her or loathe her, you can’t deny this Chicago queen who came to fight seriously shook up RuPaul’s Drag Race. Not only did she bring plenty of drama to the workroom and Untucked, but she addressed tough issue of optics, race, and privilege that have long been ignored on the popular series. The show itself seems both aware and uncomfortable with her contribution, so last night’s reunion was a predictable mess.
Things began with the viral sensation that is Vanjie. And if you—like me—wondered when and why Andrew Garfield was leaning into the meme, here’s the Tony Award-winning Angels In America star talking about his love for Miss Vanjie to Broadway.com.
In this reunion ep, there was a rushed recap of lipsyncs, a slapdash opening of the library for some stinging shade. And Ru went full on Maury Povich prodding at each queen’s tender spots, like Dusty Ray Bottoms’ horrid experience with gay conversion therapy, the rape of Blair St. Claire, and the strained relationships between Monique Heart, Monét X Change and Yuhua Hamasaki’s homophobic relatives. Later, there was a tense bit in which Dusty and Monique came for Kameron Michaels, claiming her quiet demeanor on the show doesn’t match her de-meaner on social media. But all of this felt like filler next to the Vixen’s segment. Don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying the traumas of from the queens’ past and present are unimportant. I’m saying the reunion’s glancing approach did those stories an injustice, just like the superficial treatment of Vixen’s beef with Eureka.
10 minutes in, Ru asked Vixen about her first fight with Aquaria, which happened once the New York queen tried to downplay the tea she spilled in Untucked, accusing Mix Cracker of snatching her looks. This intro set up the Vixen as an instigator, Ru even asked her if she called out Aquaria to “stir the pot.” But the more telling revelation in that section was that Cracker and Aquaria decided to squash their beef off-camera because they didn’t want their showtime on Drag Race defined by it. It was a shrewdly strategic move, and frankly one from which the Vixen could have learned.
She’s a sharp queen. We saw that when she called out both Aquaria and Eureka for weaponizing their white tears. During season 10, both of those contestants attempted to say something shady or dismissive as a mic drop, but were thwarted by Vixen, who caught that mic and came back with a diss track that left the white girls speechless. So they cried. And as Vixen herself noted, their tears made her seem like the bad guy or the “angry black woman” with optics ideal for a villain edit.
Vixen knew it. And yet she couldn’t stop herself from slipping into the role. Watching those eps, maybe you thought, ‘Why can’t she just let it go?!’ That’s in part because of the successful self-producing of Eureka and Aquaria. They realized they were losing the fight, so they tried to let the convo drop, praying the footage wouldn’t be interesting enough to make the cut, or at the very least trying to seem like they were being the bigger person by letting it go (even when they started it). In the reunion, Vixen defended herself and noted these optics by saying, “Everyone’s telling me how to react. But nobody’s telling her (Eureka) how to act.”
I get why the Vixen couldn’t let it go. It’s fucking hard to let go of your anger when you feel it’s righteous. And Vixen had good reason to be mad at Eureka and Aquaria, not only for what they said, but also for the unfair advantages they had coming into the show. Look at their glitzy costumes. Both Vixen and Monique spoke about how some queens can’t afford those expensive gowns that have the judges going gaga. Eureka also had an advantage as a returning queen, having some idea what to expect out of the competition and a prior relationship with the judges. But Aquaria and Eureka have another advantage in white privilege.
During All Stars season three, an online conversation heated up about racial bias on Drag Race and in its fandom. A confrontation between Milk and Kennedy Davenport spurred think pieces on Study Break and Slate, which explored how white and black queens are regarded differently on the show and by fans. The Slate piece was even tweeted by season 9 winner Sasha Velour, who acknowledged her own white privilege.
This article is so important. It’s surreal to benefit from a phenomenon even while speaking out against it…but that’s how white privilege works. DragRace fans please read and share. We need to do better! https://t.co/whf8ITkqHb— Sasha Velour (@sasha_velour) February 17, 2018
Vixen brought this conversation off the internet and into the Untucked lounge. She talked about weaponized white tears before Ruby Hamad’s brilliant think piece went viral. Now more queens are speaking out about double standards and the insidious white supremacy that lurks in the Drag Race fandom. Shangela, Shea Couleé, and Aja talked about it with Billboard in April, and more joined in for a video that hit the web earlier this week. On Twitter, Season 8 winner Bob The Drag Queen pointed out a shocking disparity in social media followings.
Sometimes Drag Race makes me realize other things about the world. NOT ALL, but a lot of the most popular queens fall into the thin white category. And NO black queens, except @RuPaul, have over a million followers. It's not the show. It's the fandom. pic.twitter.com/ngevUfrSfU— Bob The Drag Queen (@thatonequeen) June 15, 2018
Bob The Drag Queen is one of the funniest and fiercest queens this show has ever seen, and her Twitter following is only 229 thousand strong. Something is off about this. And The Vixen came to let us know. But the issue of race and privilege would not be addressed directly on the reunion. Instead, Ru’s approach painted Vixen as a pot-stirrer, a trouble-maker, and lost soul who would not be helped because she would not listen. And all the while, Eureka got the chance to bat her eyelashes and once more play the bigger person as she continues to campaign for her crown. No wonder Vixen walked off. I wish she hadn’t. I wish she’d remembered what Asia said to her in the workroom.
I think about that scene often. Vixen was so angry at Eureka that she wasn’t focusing on the competition. Asia didn’t just tell her to get over it or let it go. Asia validated the Vixen’s anger. She told her it was justified. But Asia pointed out that Vixen’s anger wasn’t helping her. Anger being righteous doesn’t matter if it’s poisoning us. She showed the Vixen she was heard, and then Asia offered her a path forward, not dwelling in that anger, but moving past it. Not because Eureka deserved forgiveness, but because the Vixen deserves this moment, so why make it about a queen she hates?
This not an easy lesson, because anger is intoxicating. And it’s a point on which Ru and Asia went at it in the reunion ep. Asia told the whole room—Ru included—they’d failed the Vixen. “I don’t agree with everything The Vixen says or does,” Asia said, her voice strained with emotion, “But I understand where it comes from. And the Vixen seems to me as a person who is crying out for help.” Speaking to the power of community, she went on to say that when that studio door closed behind Vixen, and no one went after her, she felt alone. And they made her feel that way. “We’re not just drag queens, we’re people. And now we’ve got one of our people outside. Here we are filming during Pride season, and we let one of our sisters walk out the fucking room because no one wanted to fucking help her!”
Everyone deserves to be heard. But being heard is so much more than just letting them speak. âš«ï¸— Asia O'Hara (@AsiaOharaLand) June 22, 2018
Ru countered with a powerful speech of his own, saying, “Can you explain to someone who cannot be spoken to? But Look at me. Look at me goddammit. I come from the same damn place she comes from! Here I am. Do you see me walking out? No. You don’t see me walking out. I fucking learned how to deal with people and deal with shit. I’m not fucking walking out and saying, ‘Fuck all y’all.’ That’s disrespectful to each of you. And I know you feel for her because you see yourself in her. You feel that frustration.”
“Let me tell you something,” Ru continued. “I have been discriminated against by white people for being black, by black people for being gay, by gay people for being too femme. Did I let that stop me from getting to this chair? No. I learned to separate what I feel or what my impression of the situation is to put my focus on the goal. You can’t just make excuses for bad behavior or for inconsiderate behavior. I invited each of you back here to my house, into my home. And if I’m invited to someone’s home, I’m not going to disrespect their home. I’m not going to disrespect the invitation. You know, the world is hard. It’s hard to live on this planet. But we all have to live how to deal with it. But you’ve got to ask for help first.”
The Vixen saw the game for what it was and still lost this round. She got voted off the show while her nemeses got into the final four. She got invited onto a reunion show where the pile-on was unfair. Of course she walked off. But she shouldn’t have. Not because she wasn’t justified, but because it removed her from the narrative. The queens got to talk about her, and she could no longer comment or fight back. She can’t change the conversation when she’s not in the room. Asia did her best to defend the Vixen, but Ru gets the final word because it’s his show. And so all that fight and passion and politics that Vixen brought got overshadowed on this ep because she was rude. Vixen gave up her seat at the table as a protest and protection, but by doing that she lost her voice.
ONE LAST THING: I don't need "help". I'm not going through "Something" I'm not "troubled" in any way. After I left the reunion there was a lot of talk about my needs. I need to be treated with RESPECT. I brought important issues to the show and a lot of Ratings. That's all.— The Vixen (@TheVixensworld) June 22, 2018
This story is not over. Perhaps The Vixen will get a return on a future All Stars season. I hope so. But the world of drag is bigger than Drag Race, so she doesn’t need that to thrive. I’m rooting for the Vixen wherever she goes. Yes, she’s messy and reckless. But that girl is a fighter with charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. She’s a star and an inspiration. And she became one of the most vivid and important parts of this series without needing to make it to the finale.