Last week, the tenth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race had its annual reunion episode where all 14 queens came back together to revisit and hash out everything that went down on the show. From iconic exits to heated arguments, this year’s reunion didn’t fail to deliver the drama. But as a long-time Drag Race viewer, what actually played out on the episode left me a bit uncomfortable. Rather than leaving the reunion mildly satisfied with the show and all its ridiculousness, I came away with an uncomfortable amount of skepticism for its integrity, as well as a deep concern about the well-being of the people who participate in its theatrics. If you watched the reunion episode, then you know that I’m referring to that moment — the Vixen’s segment and RuPaul’s interaction with her and the rest of the cast about it.
To dig a bit deeper into this murky place we were left in, I linked up with writer La Shauna ahead of the finale (which goes down tonight!) to touch base on some of the issues we had with the Vixen situation, RuPaul, and some other concerning bits about the episode.
The Vixen, i.e. the villain of the season
Arnold: To understand what led us to The Vixen’s blow up with RuPaul and her decision to walk off the reunion, it’s worth backtracking to the beginning, when she first introduced herself to the world of primetime television.
Right off the bat, it was clear that Vixen rolled into Drag Race giving zero fucks, expressing a far more aggressive personality very early on in the season than the usual queen prancing through the workroom. As a drag performer who regularly integrates political messaging in her artform, you could assume that Vixen’s motivations for being so unapologetic derive from a place of social unrest. While that is absolutely admirable and I applaud her for sticking to her guns, to a casual viewer Vixen came on way too strong too soon and played right into the villain role, for better or worse.
La Shauna: The Vixen has been Drag Race Season 10’s polarizing figure which started with her entrance to the competition, where she growled: “I’m just here to fight” while squared up. For many, that set the tone for The Vixen’s time on the show. In a live-stream following the reunion, The Vixen said that her entrance came off the way it did because it was her third time filming the line after having messed up a few times and that she had intended to say it in a different tone. I personally call bull, because her body language in the cut we see and the body language she says she had originally had are completely different. Also, I think it’s irrelevant because, in the end, the sentiment was still the same.
The Vixen v. Aquaria/Eureka
La Shauna: The Vixen’s beef with Aquaria is where she really set the tone that she is combative. On the reunion, as the queens and RuPaul pointed out after The Vixen walked out, she had inserted herself into an issue between Aquaria and Miz Cracker that she had no place in, in, I believe, an attempt to start a beef and not to “tell the truth.”
However, the conversation of the ways white people weaponize their tears and antagonize black people in order to make them the villain is a valid, necessary and incredibly timely conversation, but it was had with the wrong person. In her live stream following the reunion, The Vixen says she wished that Eureka had been there for what she had told Aquaria about her tears and the way black women are depicted as angry and violent, but my question is, why didn’t you have this conversation with Eureka who should have been the one on receiving end of that conversation, not Aquaria? There were definitely times in the competition where The Vixen’s anger was misdirected towards Eureka simply because she did not and does not like her, like on the Snatch Game episode, but Eureka was and still is wrong for trying to antagonize Vixen and goad her into an argument.
Arnold: I think this is where the Vixen’s defense holds strongest. Say what you will about Vixen’s aggressive behavior — which I think was partly played up for the cameras — the fact of the matter is that she was acting in a reactionary way to the revelation that Eureka was antagonizing her and purposefully pushing her buttons for the sake of doing so. RuPaul was right in addressing Vixen’s petty meddling between Cracker and Aquaria’s friendship, but heavily criticising her convictions about going after Eureka came across like it was wrong for Vixen to react at all.
I don’t think Vixen’s behavior was acceptable, but the intention and emotion behind what she was getting at shouldn’t have been nullified by RuPaul, of all people. There are many ways to address a problem with somebody that doesn’t involve shouting nonsense at each other, and there are also many ways to provide constructive criticism and a support system for those in need of it without patronizing that individual and RuPaul chose not to do that at the reunion.
La Shauna: Do I believe The Vixen has a serious anger problem in the way that Asia O’Hara was saying or suggesting she does at the reunion? No. However, what she does need is guidance. Her anger, her need to fight, to have the last word, to be combative is distracting her and others from the things she wants to be in the forefront of who she is.
As for how The Vixen spent her time on the show, I think she didn’t make the most of it. The only time where we got to see and hear a bit of who The Vixen is as a drag queen is during her intro, her story about the bar in Chicago that propelled her to become an “Activist Queen” and the conversation she had with Asia following the queens voting for her to be sent home. That could all be chocked up to editing, which it seems apparent that producers did it in a way to play up the drama involving Vixen, which she did predict would happen in her conversation with Aquaria.
However, like we’ve seen with other queens, like Sasha Velour or KimChi, there is a way to bring what it is you care about into your drag to start a conversation about them. While producers can edit arguments, what they couldn’t edit is her drag, and if she was addressing the things she cared about, the things she called out in her drag, her time on the show would have been much better spent and we would know her for fighting for a cause, not just for simply fighting.
“Did I let that stop me from getting to this chair?” – RuPaul
La Shauna: RuPaul is an icon in the LGBTQIA community because his show has made a mainstream platform for drag queens, gay men, trans women, people of color in the community and the struggles they face. However, as RuPaul has ascended into mainstream media we’ve seen him do what a many more before him have done when they cross a certain threshold of success: he has tried to make his image less polarizing, and in doing so he has dismissed the struggles of people whom he once gave a voice to. His behavior at the reunion is the perfect example of that.
His statement (seen above) is a trigger for me, and I’m sure to many others because it echoes the sentiments of wealthy blacks, who get so far removed from the struggle they forget what it’s like and that this struggle is real. They convince themselves that because they made it, the rest of us just aren’t working hard enough. When we speak out on the ways we are systematically being oppressed, silenced, disenfranchised, etc., we are being divisive and angry for no reason.
This isn’t the first time RuPaul has undermined the struggles of the community he helps represent. For example, Ru tweeted this after images of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville surfaced on the internet:
Or when he stated that he wouldn’t allow a trans-woman who has begun her transition to compete on Drag Race because:
“You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body…it takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.”
And despite facing backlash, doubled down with this tweet:
RuPaul’s position as the biggest mainstream representation for Drag Queens, and one of few representations of black gay men makes him an important figure, but it’s clear he is far removed from the struggle that got him to where he is, so much so that he is starting to become a part of the problem and the system that imposes the struggle.
“I’ve been judged by white people for being black, black people for being gay, and gay people for being too fem.”
This linear example of ways he has been “judged” completely removes the many dynamics of what The Vixen was trying to bring awareness to when she talked about the way black women and black people are depicted in media. The “judgment,” as he calls it, that he experienced are not exclusive to these groups. White people can be homophobic and I am sure he has experienced that, and gay people can be racist which I am absolutely positive he has experienced. In fact, that is the very dynamic The Vixen was trying to bring calling out when she said:
“Everyone is telling me how to react, but no one is telling him how to act.”
RuPaul was not coming from a place of empathy and shared experience but rather a place of superiority and dismissiveness. He spoke of her like she was some lost cause, someone “who can’t be spoken to,” instead of as someone who just needs guidance, an ally — a “mother.”
Arnold: As someone said on Twitter last week, after RuPaul went all the way into Vixen for her behavior, Vixen did the best thing she could do at that moment and that was to remove herself from the situation entirely. As someone who’s witnessed people in entertainment frame situations behind the scenes in order to control the outcome the general public gets to see, Vixen took matters into her own hands by editing herself out of an argument before more damage could be done.
What I found to be immensely problematic was RuPaul attempting to pressure Vixen to change without ever returning the focus back on Eureka to hold her accountable for her end of the issue. Ru’s biases emerged at that moment, whether he was aware of it or not, and chose to protect his top 4 queens rather than leveling the playing field. He showed a lack of empathy that I wasn’t expecting at all, from opening Vixen’s segment with negativity to abandoning Vixen like a lost cause once she had decided to leave the reunion stage and not come back.
I understand that RuPaul felt disrespected by Vixen, and I agree that her behavior was disrespectful, but Ru let his ego get the best of him in the way he chastised Vixen and what played out was absolutely heartbreaking.
Arnold: The real star of this reunion episode was Asia, who led a valuable defense for Vixen with heart and raw strength. Even as I was watching the episode unfold, I felt myself frustrated with Vixen’s attitude, but Asia providing an alternate point of view, and one far closer to the truth, I came around completely. Asia looked Ru dead in the face and challenged him for letting Vixen leave a battered mess and even sent chills to the rest of the queens for not standing up for Vixen either.
La Shauna: I finished the reunion feeling disappointed in and offended by RuPaul and feeling conflicted over whether I even want to continue watching because he doesn’t seem to be an ally to his community as much as he once was. He was biased and fed into stereotyping The Vixen without giving validation to the things she was right about by not holding Eureka accountable in the same why he did The Vixen. Additionally, Asia O’Hara showed true strength by standing up for The Vixen despite being alone in that fight and, unfortunately, RuPaul punished her for it because we never heard from her again during the reunion. I highly doubt she we will win now. Thankfully, some of the queens showed support for her voice by crediting it as the reason for her being deserving of the crown.
As for The Vixen, I didn’t agree with everything she did and said and I think she somewhat wasted a valuable resource for herself and her community by being her own distraction at times, and I think she wasted the chance to salvage it by leaving the reunion without fully addressing everything that was being discussed and instead chose to go on Instagram live where she could say what she wanted, to people who would agree with her, and not give push back on the areas where she was wrong. What I would like to see is for The Vixen to channel her anger into something constructive and not distracting from her cause.