Aug Sept 2016
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America's Next Drag Superstar Is 22, Genderqueer, and a Trans Activist

America's Next Drag Superstar Is 22, Genderqueer, and a Trans Activist

Violet Chachki was crowned America's Next Drag Superstar Monday night, besting Ginger Minj and Pearl to become the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race season 7.

The Advocate spoke with Violet the morning after her win about the momentous event. The 22-year-old drag performer also talked about her desire to break into the world of fashion, her new Bettie Page-inspired music video, her love of Caitlyn Jenner, and her drive to use her fame to fight for transgender rights.

The Advocate: Congratulations, Violet! How are you? What's running through your mind?
I’m frazzled as hell, to be honest! I’m exhausted and overwhelmed and shocked and gagged, totally.

But excited!
Oh, yeah. It’ll hit me once I see my mom, I think.

Describe the scene at the crowning in New York last night.
When the winner was announced, we were all sitting there on this couch, and they’re like, “The winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race is…” And then the screen goes black for like a minute and a half! I’m screaming. Everyone in the room, we’re going crazy, like, ‘What?!’ [expletives] Like freaking out, and then it pops back on, and it’s me! And I just like look around, and my friends are sobbing. Ginger and Pearl are sitting next to me, and we try to hug. I just look at them, and I have no words. I’m gagged. I’m shocked and completely speechless. There literally are no words. It’s a terrifying feeling, to be honest.

Was it like an out-of-body experience watching yourself winning RuPaul’s Drag Race on television?
Yeah! Literally everything up until this point feels like an insane — like my entire life, I mean — feels like an insane dream. And I’m about to wake up at any moment.

Did Ginger or Pearl say anything meaningful to you afterward?
Oh, yeah. They’re both the sweetest … [and most] humble, amazing people. They said the kindest things to me. And the thing is, all three of us were so deserving of this, and it was probably one of the closest races in the show’s history, I think. It’s a very weird experience to go from this, where you literally have no idea who is gonna win, because it really was so close between all three of us. So I can’t even imagine what they’re going through, because I can barely imagine what I’m going through.

Bianca Del Rio is a tough act to follow as America’s Next Drag Superstar.
Sitting next to her is terrifying! For many reasons. She is so brilliant. She is so talented. And she is obviously a lot more experienced than I am, because she’s had a lot more time on this earth than I have. But I hope that one day I can have as much experience and as big a résumé as she has, and I think that’s a legacy that I hope to continue to carry on. She’s brilliant at what she’s done, and she’s had so much experience and practice that I heard about her even before I started doing drag. I’ve seen her in interviews and documentaries. Before I even knew about Drag Race, I heard about Bianca. But sitting next to her is terrifying. And that’s the part that terrifies me, is people — now there’s all this pressure, you know? And it’s terrifying, especially right now. I’m like so overwhelmed. But I’m so excited, and it’s so amazing to have this platform and all the amazing opportunities that are gonna come my way.

How will you distinguish yourself from previous winners?
I think all of the previous winners recently had a very comedy, Broadway kind of angle. I really want to be a true fashion queen … I’d love to be taken seriously in the fashion industry.

Is there a story behind the amazing ensemble from the first episode runway challenge that made GIF history?
It was actually inspired by a designer piece, and it was just kind of modified. The sleeves, I had the sleeves opened, and then I had them lined. I designed it. I had them lined. I had the gloves added. And then I put it on, and I kind of folded the sleeves over — because it wasn’t even designed to do that reveal. It was originally just designed just to stay open and just be like a batwing, catsuit kind of thing. And then I put it on, and I folded the sleeves over, and belted it, and was like, oh, this is kind of cool! And I performed in it a couple times, and I think I … designed it and had it made like a couple months before going to Drag Race. So it was relatively new for me. And it just happened to work perfectly for a fall runway. I don’t know, it just happened! It wasn’t even designed to do that reveal. It just came together like that.

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You received a lot of shade yourself from people who said you were too young and too inexperienced. Why do you think RuPaul chose you to represent his brand, versus Ginger or Pearl?
You’re saying, “Old school is the only school.” But this is “Next Drag Superstar.” I never really understood that argument about me being too young or too inexperienced. I see that as a fresh take on drag, and a fresh outlook. And I think, especially right now, the audience for Drag Race is all young people. They’re children — literally, children were at Drag Con … like probably 7 or 8 [years old] were probably some of the youngest fans I talked to. And I’m like, oh, my God … and they’re holding mom and dad’s hand waiting in a meet-and-greet line, and I’m like, this is awesome! This is fucking amazing. It’s incredible, the times we’re living in. It’s such an amazing time to be a queer person. And the visibility we get because of the show, because of things like Caitlyn Jenner — it’s an amazing, amazing time to be a queer person right now. And I think a young representative is appropriate for those times.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Paris Is Burning, which would make it older than you are! Are you a fan of the film?
Oh, yeah! That’s a staple. Basically, half of RuPaul’s …  music career, lyrics are because of that documentary. … But I love Venus Xtravaganza. I get compared to her a lot, and I relate to her a lot, actually. We look kind of similar. But I love when they’re talking about where they see themselves, and they’re sitting there in these … apartments, and “I see myself with a lot of expensive things all around me.” It’s brilliant, inspiring, incredible. I love that film.

Why is it important for millennial drag queens to know that only 25 years ago, media stardom was a far-flung dream for queer people?
Like I said, it’s a crazy time to be a queer person, because of the visibility we’re getting, and because a lot of these people don’t realize the history. I remember, I got off the plane in Australia, and it was just before the John Waters episode was going to air, and Demi Lovato was also on that episode. I got off the plane, and these kids were waiting for me, and they’re like, “Oh, my God! How was Demi Lovato?”… And I’m like, “Who the fuck cared about Demi Lovato? John Waters!” They literally looked at me like I was crazy. They had no idea who John Waters was. And then it clicked. I realized, I’m the Divine for these kids! I’m becoming a queer icon, a gay icon, a drag icon for these children. I’m what Divine was to me for younger generations. And these kids were maybe two years younger than me. So I don’t know if I just missed some sort of generational thing. I don’t know if I’m considered a millennial or what. But for some reason, I know my … history, and a lot of these children don’t. And I don’t know. I think it’s so important. I think the show tries to educate people, but, you know, what can you do? I tried. I told them to go home and watch Pink Flamingos right now!

Would you have pursued drag in that time as well?
[Divine] started doing pageantry kind of stuff. Her drag was very … it was not “Divine.” Originally, she was doing drag as a fishy kind of thing. … That’s what I do now almost, that vintage-y, pageant-y, fishy kind of thing. That really inspires me. So it’s really interesting to see how she started. And that Divine character was actually created for her, a lot like RuPaul’s character was created for her.,>

How can drag keep its edge in a new millennium when it can be commodified enough to sell makeup and Hello Kitty dolls?
Visibility. Drag is becoming more and more mainstream. I think that keeps its edge. You have to be marketable, and you have to be smart about it. I think being palatable definitely helps in mainstream culture. As horrible as that is to say, I think when RuPaul was doing her genderfuck thing, she didn’t have any visibility. And then she became a palatable drag queen, someone that could be accepted in mainstream media. And she hit it big. And here we are, 30-something years later. And keeping its edge? You really have to be smart about branding and marketing yourself and taking it to the next level. I think in doing that, you have to be very palatable for the public.  

You've said in other interviews that you'd like to use your star power to shine a spotlight on trans issues. Why, and what would you like to accomplish?
I actually really think that drag is super transgressive. I never understood the separation between the two. I know that I go out in drag all the time, and I’ve experienced transphobia. I’ve experienced homophobia. It’s all the same feelings. I myself identify as being genderqueer. So some days I feel more like a female. Some days I feel more like a male. And some days I don’t want to take my makeup off. And some days I don’t want to put it on. So for me, gender is extremely fluid like that. Drag has really helped me explore my identity. And I have a lot of trans friends that inspire me. I see a lot of strength and bravery, especially with Caitlyn Jenner coming out. It’s an amazing, amazing time to be a queer person. The only thing that really makes me cry is stuff like that. I have an amazing trans friend back home who has inspired my drag character so much. And just the bravery and the courage and the confidence it takes to be a trans person, especially a trans person who … can’t pass as one gender or the other, who falls in between somewhere. I think it’s really important. It’s a ridiculous thing that the suicide rate for trans people is exponentially larger than any other group. I would love to help trans youth … all the stuff that’s been happening this past couple years has been incredible for trans people, and I identify with them. And I would love to use any platform I can to do whatever I can do.

What was your reaction to the Caitlyn Jenner cover?
It was incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better distraction. I was so anxious and so nervous yesterday, and then my friend showed me that Vanity Fair cover, and I lost my shit. I’ve never in my life been overwhelmed with joy, happiness, pride, than seeing that Vanity Fair shoot. It was so beautifully done. Caitlyn looked absolutely stunning, and I’m so, so proud to call myself a queer person. And I couldn’t have asked for [it] to happen on a better day. It was the best distraction that could have possibly happened. It’s incredible. It’s history. Yesterday was history — not just for me, but for gay people everywhere. It’s amazing that two of the most major events that affect me ever happen on the same day. Everything just falls together for some reason like that. That’s been happening a lot for me lately. Everything just falls into place, and that was the best distraction that could have possibly happened. I couldn’t shut up about it … My friends were like, “Oh, are you nervous?” And I’m like, “What the fuck? Did you see this editorial? Did you read this article?” I need to actually get a hard copy of it right now.

Caitlyn has a huge opportunity to increase awareness of issues that affect the trans community. How do you think she's handled it so far?
She doesn’t have to do a goddamn thing else. This is it! It’s over. Done. She’s gonna do a reality show? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s the most brave thing. I just can’t even … I mean, it’s going to change everything. This is it. This is history. It’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened. Do you know how many people she’s going to help and affect and touch and motivate and … I just can’t. It’s mind-boggling.

The world has changed.
It has changed overnight. I’m a little bit bitter, but I’m also like … if anyone would steal my moment, I’d hope to God it was her. I am so honored and thrilled to share this day with a queer icon at this point. No words.

Because of your views, were you apprehensive about appearing on the show after the t word controversy last season?
Oh, not at all. Oh my God, not at all. I really hate word policing. You know, the word “tranny” has a lot of different meanings. I really, truly believe that words have power if you give them power. I just think, at a certain point, it gets ridiculous. It’s like, “I’m offended.” Well, I’m offended that you’re offended! How about that, bitch? It’s ridiculous. You just have to let it go. I mean, it’s all in good fun. Drag Race has created so much visibility for the queer community. And that includes trans people. That includes intersex. That includes everybody. It’s normalizing our community. So I think it’s ridiculous to come out and speak against [RuPaul]. Really, RuPaul has worked her ass off normalizing this lifestyle. I just think a lot of young people are entitled. People love to be offended by something … It’s a matter of opinion, and everyone has one.

Did you feel that that conversation about drag and trans issues was helpful to have in the long term?
I think it was definitely a necessary conversation. Maybe long-term, it was progressive. I don’t know. That’s a tough question to answer. I mean, I think the conversation is a good conversation to be having. But I don’t know if it helps align us or alienate us as a community.

Obviously, no one loves controversy, but were you disappointed there wasn't a similar opportunity for debate this season?
I love talking about social justice and queer issues and queer politics, but my participation in the show is purely to do my art on a large scale.

Speaking of your art, you released a stunning music video. What inspired it?
Well, initially it was inspired by Bettie Page. And if you know her story, she kind of was a born-again Christian after she had done all of her nude modeling. So I kind of wanted to play with the idea of reality versus presentation, and kind of living a double life. It’s obviously fetish-inspired. But the video was inspired kind of like, you’re presenting yourself as one thing, and then you actually are … this dominatrix thing, and that’s the way the fetish world works. It blurs the line between right and wrong in a safe, secure space, in a safe, secure way, and I think that’s why I like the fetish community. And I wanted to explore those themes in my video. And it also has a lot to do with gender norms and conformity as far as dom versus sub, masculine versus femme, presentation versus reality. So those were a lot of the things that I was going off for the video, and for the song … I could not be more happy with it.

What’s next for you?
I’m retiring! [Laughs] No, right now, I would love to take a nap. But long-term, I would really love to be considered seriously in the fashion industry. So I guess kind of focusing my energy on a project that would do that. And I really love circus performance. I love burlesque. I really want to take drag to that next level, and market myself as the burlesque queen of drag. I would really love that.

Thanks, Violet! See America’s Next Drag Superstar’s Bettie Page- and burlesque-inspired new music video below. And make sure to catch the new music videos released by fellow Drag Race performers Ginger Minj and Pearl as well.

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