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Seven weeks from the 2018 midterm election, it feels like the stakes have never been higher -- particularly for LGBTQ citizens, as issues like "religious freedom" and gender identity become explosive talking points for candidates fighting for control of the House and Senate. With a recent poll suggesting that only 28 percent of young voters are certain they'll turn out to vote, it's easy to feel anxious about the results.
To counter that anxiety, we're highlighting people who are doing something about it: rising stars in the queer community who are using their influence and fan followings to raise awareness, get people involved, and get out the vote on November 6.
This week we spoke to RuPaul's Drag Race star The Vixen, who shook up Season 10 with her blunt, insightful criticism of how black queer identities are represented on the show and in American culture. She shared her thoughts on Drag Race going mainstream, her history of political activism in Chicago and why the time for arguing about Trump on Twitter is over.
The Advocate: In a recent interview about RuPaul's Drag Race being nominated for 12 Emmy Awards, one of the producers said the show was "the voice of the resistance." As outspoken as you've been about racial issues and other problems with the show, what's your reaction to that?
The Vixen: Uh ... yikes, that's funny. I think Drag Race definitely is a representation and a beacon for the gay community right now, but I think it has a long way to go before it can call itself "the voice of the resistance." Especially in recent seasons, I haven't seen the show do much to speak out or take a stand that wasn't safe.
Because Drag Race is going mainstream so quickly, is that one of the reasons why it's been so important to you to make sure these things are discussed when you have the opportunity?
Absolutely. I think that when you have such a huge platform, when you have so many queer eyes and young eyes and real open-minded people looking towards you for inspiration, you should say something important. But I think that as the audience gets bigger, the show becomes a lot more safe, and shies away from things that may be uncomfortable.
What was the inspiration behind you writing and performing your own verse to RuPaul's "American" after the top four contestants performed theirs?
When the top four came out with their verses, a lot of people were wondering what I would do. I didn't want to touch it because I wanted the girls to have their moment. I didn't even show what my final four dress would have been, because I felt like that was theirs and they earned it.
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But I was watching the news and there were a lot of new issues about police brutality here in Chicago going on, and it just really got me fired up, and I needed a place to put that. It just reminded me, I literally have been protesting since the seventh grade. It really just put me back to this place in my mind of being in Chicago and wanting to get things done, and I just needed to let it out without lashing out at anyone. Music was the best way to do it.
What's the response been to that?
People love it. There was a big push for me to finish [an album], and I'm very adamant about putting out a really good product, so I'm taking my time with it. People are glad that they've got another taste of what my music is going to sound like. I'm glad that people liked it. I think especially, music is a very safe space for me to say all the political things that I want to say, without worrying about backlash from people who don't know what they're talking about.
You tweeted that people should make sure they're registered to vote and not just try to sound smart on Twitter. Do you think there's a problem of people being performative and then not following through?
Yeah, definitely. I think that showed in the polls in the last election. I tweeted the other day that no one is garbage, which would presumably be something that everyone could agree on. But I think people took some pride or patted themselves on the back that Trump is garbage, and I'm like okay, you have the right to say that, but it doesn't fix anything. You have the freedom of speech to say it, but it doesn't actually affect change, and it doesn't change the reason you're upset with them.
\u201cIf it makes you feel better to say that Trump is trash how bout you do some recycling and go register to vote, call your alderman, make some demands, voice your concerns Clean up the administration! Instead of just trying to seem clever on Twitter.\nLinks below\u2b07\ufe0f\u201d— The Vixen (@The Vixen) 1534996492
So I would rather see people actually taking action than just mudslinging to make themselves feel better. And like you said, the performative aspect of taking some high ground -- like, what work are you putting in to make the world better?
People are very angry about Trump and his supporters, though -- how do you balance holding him to account, and yet not just saying that he's garbage?
I could not invalidate anyone for feeling that he's garbage or saying that he's garbage, but we're past the point of just voicing disapproval. He is taking rapid action against all of us, left and right, and we have to do more than name-call at this point. We disliked him all the way to the White House, but he's still there, so that time is done.
Are you getting behind any particular candidate, or is it more about urging people to take action for what they believe in?
During the 2016 election, I really felt that we were focusing too much on the negative. Instead of supporting Hillary or whatever candidate we liked, we were too busy being obsessed with this monster we didn't like, and that only added to the popularity. I want to encourage people to look for the good and focus on that.
Because of the drama in politics and news lately, I try not to watch the news too often; but now the election's coming up, I have to do my homework and make sure that I know who I'm supporting and what they're about.
Our political system often seems to fail the minority groups that you represent, and you have a lot of people looking up to you. What's your perspective on how the system needs to change to better represent us?
We need more representatives who look like us, and think like us and sound like us and feel like us. I was in Atlanta and I [performed] a Janelle Monae song "Screwed," which basically the hallmark of it is, "You fucked the world up now, we'll fuck it all back down." It was encouraging because it's a reminder that we have used our votes and our dollars to support great people before, and we can do it again.
I want to make sure that we get more representation in all forms of government. There are more trans people in government now, there's more people of color in government than ever before, despite the president and despite all the hate that's out there. We're still making progress in little ways, and we just have to make sure that we're supporting the people who actually think like us and have our best interests at heart.
THE VIXEN is an accomplished drag queen, songwriter, rapper, designer, dancer and activist from Chicago's South Side, and the founder of BlackGirlMagic, a unique drag concert for queens of color. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.