"I'm an artist and I don't f---ing have to answer for my work."
June 29, 2012 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Drag queen Sharon Needles, winner of RuPaul's Drag Race, has lately been facing a lot of criticism for their transgressive act: "Eli Kuti, a bartender at Lawrenceville's Blue Moon, where Needles often performs, recalls one performance in which Needles and another drag queen donned one-piece bathing suits emblazoned with swastikas. The two 'were hailing Hitler' and calling crowd members racial epithets, Kuti says."

Sharon describes an altercation with one of her detractors, who accuse her of hipster racism:

"The other night me and a couple of my friends went out to have a good time, and there's this young thing. I call her a "thing" because, you know, I don't know how to tip-toe around gender rules or queer politics. I'm 30 years old, rich, and famous; I don't have to deal with that shit anymore, you know what I mean? So we'll just call them "him"/"her"/"thing," whatever. And you know she really finds my shows offensive. ... So anyway she got upset that I paint myself brown, that I would use language that she found offensive. ... She made me an unnecessary poster child for post-racial change."

"A woman threw a brick at me through a window of a car — I was sitting in the passenger side and it clocked me in the back... She spray-painted "racist" on my house, broke its windows, put superglue in my locks. There's like four ticked-off lesbians convinced Sharon Needles is a writhing racist who thinks the Holocaust never happened — because I use a swastika or reference Hitler ironically."

Sharon faces her critics directly (and out of drag) before a show in Atlanta:

"When you're wearing a Nazi costume and you're performing a Disney number, you're bringing up the very true ideas that Walt Disney was involved in nazism; when you're doing the song "Because I'm a Blonde," which is this ditzy 80s song referencing how blonde-haired blue-eyed [girls] get away with -- theres a line in it: "get away with murder" -- and you put that into Nazi iconic uniform, its not just this blatant uses of imagery... we're telling a story."
posted by modernserf (75 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
She'd fit right in around here.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 11:08 AM on June 29, 2012


she got upset that I paint myself brown

My understanding is: Americans cannot even deal with blackface in an historical context.
So, this is not surprising.

Wearing a nazi swastika?
Yeah. Not something you should do. It wasn't that funny when punks did it in the '70s.
Now, if you do it, you pretty much look like an idiot. And I don't think you can hide behind being a drag queen, or look like Lady Gaga.

Jews? Might be bad, might not be. Depends on where you sit with Israel.
Nazis? Never good. Never looks good.
posted by Mezentian at 11:09 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


A historical guide to hipster racism

Intent trumps vulgarity

Magic.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:10 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


you're bringing up the very true ideas that Walt Disney was involved in nazism

For remarkably small values of "very true," maybe. Walt Disney was a racist, corporatist, reactionary shit, but "attended some meetings of the German-American Bund in the 1930s" is hardly "involvement in Nazism."

Also, ironic Nazism is like any other kind of ironic racism--it's still got Nazism and racism in, and surprisingly enough, lots of people really don't like that. Howling abuse at attendees in the midst of your nightclub performance really isn't a meaningful critique of the US's weird arm's length relationship with Nazism. I mean, I'm not going to be sitting there having slurs hurled at me and think "Gosh, isolationism in Congress really did help Hitler, and Operation Paperclip is a real ethical dilemma."
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:11 AM on June 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


(ノ ゜Д゜)ノ ︵ ┻━┻
posted by zennish at 11:12 AM on June 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm an artist and I don't f---ing have to answer for my work.

Um, the brick begs to differ?

Who the hell is so artistically weak that they have to resort to ironic Nazism or whatever the fuck this is? Just go away, you suck too much for any of us to bother having to deal with your lame shit.
posted by axiom at 11:13 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sympathetic to the problems of hipster racism. But appropriating fascist iconography to make a point has been done by artists and musicians for decades. I seem to remember it's been done in the fashion world too. It's not that edgy or transgressive anymore, and unless you're showing some bona fide support for national socialism (which is at least an ethos) I don't see what the big deal is. It's pretty much just Godwinning your subject matter on stage, in intent or otherwise.
posted by naju at 11:15 AM on June 29, 2012


But appropriating fascist iconography to make a point has been done by artists and musicians for decades.

I think it's the "yelling racist slurs at attendees" that is ticking people's Douchebag-o-meter over into the red. Agree that wearing a swastika just makes you look like an embarrassingly heedless, would-be "edgy" teenage Hetalia fan.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:17 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm an artist and I don't f---ing have to answer for my work.

Huh. I thought artists pretty much did nothing but answer for their work. Well, and make new work.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:21 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're going to go see someone calling themselves "Sharon Needles" and you're not prepared to see absolutely anything...you're not getting my sympathy.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 11:22 AM on June 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


I just twigged to the "Sharing Needles" thing.

I'm slow.
posted by Mezentian at 11:23 AM on June 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Let me get this straight, you did something deliberately offensive and shocking to make a sort of half-baked point, and then when people took the bait, you decided to flip the script by acting persecuted and calling them names? Yeah, I can see why you thought that might be "art." Of course she cites Marilyn Manson as an influence.
posted by milk white peacock at 11:28 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Sharon Needles" is almost as good a name as Dinah Cancer. I've always thought that if I needed a drag name for some reason I'd choose Natalie Dressed.
posted by dammitjim at 11:32 AM on June 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


I quite like Sharon Needles but I think this is wrongheaded, however I think it is good that she is facing the critics and talking to them.

The brick is pretty much uncalled for.
posted by josher71 at 11:33 AM on June 29, 2012


"You don't shock me. I shudder with boredom at everything you do, from tattooing your dick to chewing on your own poop. Not only have I seen all of your weak gestures before, I've seen them done better.
"
-Jim Goad, "The Underground Is A Lie"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:33 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I prefer "Raquel Belch".
posted by josher71 at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2012


The impression I got from this whole thing was this - the performances described were satirical. There was one image that was circulating where Needles had a black face and bright red lips that was being circulated as "LOOK SHARON NEEDLES IS RACIST!!!" The context for the performance was that she was the Lips from the beginning of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The swastikas? I don't know. Mel Brooks sure used a lot of swastikas in the Prouducers, and I am pretty sure his message wasn't "Nazis are cool!"


Sharon Needles has a very small, vocal, and occasionally violent group of critics that have been circulating these pictures and rumors about her. They threw a brick through her car window, vandalized her house, and have threatened her in person.

We can't really make these judgements just from a handful of images circulated with the intent of defaming her, because we don't know the content of the rest of the performance.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Like what she's doing or hate it (or find it a cliche of a cliche like I do), she's travelling in the very well-trod ground of "transgressive performance" and as confrontational theater I think it's readily distinguishable from the kinds of racism ("ironic" or otherwise) that are actually contemptible, of which there are countless examples. I'm not savvy on this stuff, aren't there tons of off Broadway theater performances and burlesques that mine this field?
posted by naju at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


She also signed a photo for an African-American fan "Black is the new black. Love you [n*****]". She uses that particular epithet in her act despite having been asked to stop by various queer folks of color. She's said some incredibly insulting things using that epithet via twitter and social media to her critics. (I can't link to all this because I'm at work and googling it would be...not so great.) Her fans have also thrown around "shut up you dumb [epithet]" stuff at her critics. And of course, when she met with some queer POC, she cried. But did not say she'd stop. 'White women's tears' apply to white people who were not FAB, I guess.

I mean, there's a pretty robust satirical tradition vis-a-vis Hitler and nazi symbols - I think it's creepy but it's not such a red flag. There's nothing similar for white people saying n*****.

Honestly, at first I was all "the brick was excessive", but when I read more details on queer tumblrs, I started to understand people's feelings a bit more.

There's also this whole history of white gay men (and white men who do drag) having this creepy, fetishistic, racist relation with gay men of color and with POC generally.

Oh, and she also referred to one of her trans POC critics as a "thing", in this absolutely disgusting piece I wish I could link here where she basically says "I know it's cruel to call a trans person a thing instead of their gender, but I feel like I should be able to do it anyway."

What a disgusting human being.
posted by Frowner at 11:41 AM on June 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also, she painted herself brown because she was doing an impression of RuPaul. For RuPaul.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:43 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


@frowner -- the "thing" quote is in the post.
posted by modernserf at 11:47 AM on June 29, 2012


She's said some incredibly insulting things using that epithet via twitter and social media to her critics.


One instance you might be citing might be related to this? It was later revealed that Sharon Needles did not say those things - someone posted those from a fake account.

I am not sayin she never did anything that was in questionable taste, but a LOT of this is being exaggerated and mischaracterized, again, by a small group of people that do not like her.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:53 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Drag queens which insult and offend are hardly new. Indeed, I've only been to a handful of drag shows, but all of them were pretty much based on making somebody feel uncomfortable (between some impressive "singing"). Even if we all agree that it is unpleasant or wrong, it is hard to assign real blame to those who have simply taken part in that tradition.
posted by Jehan at 11:53 AM on June 29, 2012


Also, she painted herself brown because she was doing an impression of RuPaul. For RuPaul.

I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of a drag queen performing in blackface. I mean, it kind of points to a bit of a double standard, doesn't it? Racism: Boo! Misogyny: Yay!
posted by Sys Rq at 11:54 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


violent group of critics criminals
posted by XhaustedProphet at 11:54 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't the point of some drag acts to be in questionable taste? I can't say there's no worth in it even if it's not my cup of tea.
posted by inturnaround at 11:55 AM on June 29, 2012


I think she's laughing at the idea that her target is actually be offended at being called a "thing." Ha! You find my dehumanization of you dehumanizing! Loser.

Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? No.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:56 AM on June 29, 2012


Oh, and she also referred to one of her trans POC critics as a "thing", in this absolutely disgusting piece I wish I could link here where she basically says "I know it's cruel to call a trans person a thing instead of their gender, but I feel like I should be able to do it anyway."

If you mean the "thing" quote that's in the actual post above I don't think that's what she meant at all. In the trans world these days, the issue of pronoun usage has become quite a thorny subject. There are a lot of trans people who invent their own pronouns, or their own language usage rules around them, and they get very, very snippy and truculent when the rest of the world doesn't bend to their individual quirks.

"I call her a "thing" because, you know, I don't know how to tip-toe around gender rules or queer politics." - That quote from Needles is saying "I'm tired of keeping up with everybody's pronoun rules, whatever, some people need to get over themselves." (Which, personally, I agree with.)

And "thing," as in "Miss Thing," has been around in gay/queer slang for a long time, so I don't find it so very offensive anyway.
posted by dnash at 11:57 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


@frowner -- the "thing" quote is in the post.

Oooh. My eye totally skipped that paragraph. I hate that paragraph. I think about that appalling person thinging any of my trans friends and my hands itch for a brick. That's language that pulls up nothing but associations with beatings and violence and harassment of trans people. You don't do an "I can't tell what gender this person is so I will call them a thing".

One instance you might be citing might be related to this? It was later revealed that Sharon Needles did not say those things - someone posted those from a fake account.

No, it was something else. I can't link until I'm home, alas.

Also, white people do not get to 'reclaim' racial slurs over the objections of people those slurs are used against.

And also, when folks pull out the "but drag queens are offensive" line, I just hope that y'all remember that when you're reading second wave feminist critiques of drag as a misogynist mockery of women. Second wave feminists got a lot of hate for saying that - and I think it's a homophobic line of argument - but it was assholes like this person who gave the idea traction.
posted by Frowner at 11:59 AM on June 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not all drag queens are offensive, but plenty of them are, and some of them are REALLY offensive, which is why it's not often a form of art or comedy that gets pulled out into the mainstream for everyone to pick over.

I'm kind of surprised that Sharon did not lay aside some of these performance tics once her star rose. However, you can tell she has done a lot of thinking and exploring on the subject of monsters, human and otherwise, and how to embody them in a way that makes people laugh, or gag, or scream, or all three. I think it's very possible that she's truly small-town enough at heart to not realize how much more scrutiny she'd be under -- not ignorant hatred from enemies, but intelligent criticism from (would-be) allies. Suddenly her enemies are not asshole truckers and high school jocks, they're women, transfolks, other drag queens, and some of the very young marginalized people that she rallied for during her stint on the show.

I don't think she's racist. I don't think she's ignorant. Naive, I guess? She thinks she can go for broke and rise on the same star that got her there, instead of stepping over onto one that's capable of lifting what she's become.

Gays and drag queens and trans people etc. are not necessarily all nice to each other, big surprise I know. When you are working a "family" vibe you often feel emboldened to be harsher with someone than seems appropriate based on how little you actually know each other. The "thing" thing sounds like that to me. To so many people, Sharon herself is a "thing." She's a drag queen whose romantic partner is ALSO a drag queen, that puts her in "thing" category even within the drag world. Does she wish to further dehumanize or harm other people out there who are trans, by making it seem like it's okay to call them "things"? I totally don't think so. But again, she has underestimated how far these words carry when you are newly famous and everyone is looking to you to set some kind of example.

The fact that she'd face physical attacks over it seems just as wrong to me.
posted by hermitosis at 12:13 PM on June 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


"Sharon Needles" is almost as good a name as Dinah Cancer.

Bah, it's been done before.

How I am aware of that performer, I do not know.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:13 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sharon Needles looks like the tired old lovechild of Marilyn Manson and Amanda Lepore.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:18 PM on June 29, 2012


Can we all agree that throwing bricks is never cool?

Offensive speech should be met with other speech, perhaps condemnation (or shunning the offensive speaker), never physical violence.

Can we all get on that page?
posted by el io at 12:21 PM on June 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are a lot of trans people who invent their own pronouns, or their own language usage rules around them, and they get very, very snippy and truculent when the rest of the world doesn't bend to their individual quirks.

Yes. But none of that has anything to do with calling a person a "thing."
posted by Sys Rq at 12:22 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of a drag queen performing in blackface. I mean, it kind of points to a bit of a double standard, doesn't it? Racism: Boo! Misogyny: Yay!

Oh honey, YouTube yourself some Shirley Q. Liquor.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:26 PM on June 29, 2012


I seem to remember that she called her assailant a "thing" because she threw a brick at her. "She isn't my sister - she's a thing."

The assault precluded the insult.

It's an awful thing to call someone, but it was the worst term she could think of to refer to someone who had repeatedly assaulted her and her friends and who had vandalized her home.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:28 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I seem to remember that she called her assailant a "thing" because she threw a brick at her. "She isn't my sister - she's a thing."

Link?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:36 PM on June 29, 2012


I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of a drag queen performing in blackface. I mean, it kind of points to a bit of a double standard, doesn't it? Racism: Boo! Misogyny: Yay!

The idea that drag = misogyny is tired and based mainly in ignorance and underexposure. Are drag kings misandrous?

There was a big post about all of this not too long ago, with examples of performers across the whole spectrum.

(I'm starting to think Shirley Q. Liquor exists solely as a presence to be invoked in discussions like this, because no one else I know in the gay or drag world has any interest in her whatsoever.)
posted by hermitosis at 12:44 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be fair, Shriley Q. Liquor appeared several times on RuPaul's "Red Hot" album. So the reigning leader of the drag world seems to have a fair amount of interest in her.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 12:54 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


[Please try to avoid the "I would/would not hit this person with a brick" line of conversation. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 1:07 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a drag queen show around the corner from me. An asian woman dances and the MC sings a song about "ancient chinese secrets". I found that kinda shocking.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:27 PM on June 29, 2012


I seem to remember that she called her assailant a "thing" because she threw a brick at her.

Does that matter? She chose that particular epithet because of the assailant's gender. Calling someone of non-traditional gender a "thing" is dehumanizing, no matter what happened beforehand.

If a black man throws a brick at me, it's not suddenly OK for me to call him a n*****. It's a dehumanizing word. The same goes for calling someone "a thing." It's dehumanizing and despicable.

Of course, throwing bricks at people is also despicable. Physical assault or dehumanizing language are both pretty gross. Let's not defend either action as somehow OK or understandable given the circumstances.
posted by mokin at 1:28 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, actually, throwing a brick is worse than calling somebody a thing or a nigger. Bricks and stones break bones.
posted by joeclark at 1:30 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you mean the "thing" quote that's in the actual post above I don't think that's what she meant at all. In the trans world these days, the issue of pronoun usage has become quite a thorny subject. There are a lot of trans people who invent their own pronouns, or their own language usage rules around them, and they get very, very snippy and truculent when the rest of the world doesn't bend to their individual quirks.
I think this is kind of a false narrative, to be honest. There are a few genderqueer folks out there who might fit this description--and, honestly, it wouldn't kill anybody to just go along with whatever pronouns they prefer--but I don't think that's the majority of trans people, who usually have clear and ordinary pronoun preferences. Some people get snippy because lots of people react to their preferred pronouns or to the not perfect but functionally useful jargon that gets used in conversations about trans issues with something that amounts to, "WHATEVER I DO WHAT I WANT."

Anyway, that's all I have to add. This person sounds stupid.
posted by byanyothername at 1:35 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


byanyothername: I completely agree, and was trying to write up roughly the same thing, but you said it better.

Anyone who attempts to justify offensive and hurtful behavior by saying "I'm 30 years old, rich, and famous" is not someone I am interested in hearing more from. Fuck right off with your fame, money, and careless and casual racism, Sharon.
posted by broadway bill at 1:50 PM on June 29, 2012


"Wearing a nazi swastika?
Yeah. Not something you should do."


Unless you're Peter Falk... or Alec Guinness... or Tom Cruise... or John Cleese... or Charlie Chaplin... or Keith Moon... or... basically any kind of entertainer.

Why are they throwing bricks at a drag performer, but Mel Brooks still walks the street in peace?!
posted by markkraft at 2:09 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm 30 years old, rich, and famous;

... and always, always will be, surely.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:24 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It wasn't Phi Phi that threw the brick, was it?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:24 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's worth noting that the Nazis would've likely done the same thing to Sharon Needles that they would've done to Mel Brooks. Just because both performers like to push the boundries of good taste for a laugh, that doesn't mean for a second that they are either fascist or self-hating.

If you find the drag queen's act to be offensive, maybe you should turn off the LGBT-oriented cable channel... or leave the gay bar. Hell... if you're so traditionally, rigidly moralistic, then perhaps you should even contemplate for awhile why you were watching in the first place.

First time I ever met a drag queen, it was in the form of a grotesquely camp woman with a New York accent, asking me loudly, "Do you shave your balls?" I quickly determined that drag queens were, in fact, intentionally offensive at times.
posted by markkraft at 2:32 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to Needles, the brick thrower has also vandalized her house, broken all its windows, and superglued her locks.

I am going to go ahead and guess that this person has a police report, and there is a lawsuit and restraining order. And yet there is no mention of this in the interview, and I can find no reference online.

I follow celebrity culture quite carefully. I have never seen a reality show contestant criminally assaulted and stalked -- especially when they are very closely followed by an invested niche press -- and the only reference for it comes from the celebrity themselves.

Perhaps somebody else can locate some corroborating evidence. At this moment, I am not giving her claims credibility. I am sure she has had run-ins with activists, but this sounds like exaggeration, if not outright fabrication.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:42 PM on June 29, 2012


I don't give a shit if you're self-hating or not. To a degree, I don't give a shit if you're fascist or not.

I do, however, give a shit if you call a trans person a "thing" or if you yell 'nigger' at a person of color. I especially give a shit if you then try to justify some of your behavior by your age, celebrity, and wealth. I think her overall attitude makes it pretty clear that she's ignorant and mean-spirited, not unfairly criticized or misunderstood.
posted by broadway bill at 2:45 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you mean the "thing" quote that's in the actual post above I don't think that's what she meant at all. In the trans world these days, the issue of pronoun usage has become quite a thorny subject. There are a lot of trans people who invent their own pronouns, or their own language usage rules around them, and they get very, very snippy and truculent when the rest of the world doesn't bend to their individual quirks.

Oh, bullshit. There are maybe a half-dozen variations, not some infinite list, and it is a small group indeed that is not understanding when someone makes an error and moves on. This is not an issue of "individual quirks," and people are not prima donnas for wanting to be addressed respectfully.
posted by liketitanic at 2:47 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to attempt to defend the performances in question because I haven't seen them and because context can make a big difference in terms of how their intent (or lack thereof) is communicated (or not) to the audience.

However, many of the quotes causing outrage in this thread (and apparently elsewhere) seem to have been said by the drag persona, not by the person behind the persona. Drag is act and the person being in enacted is not uncommonly larger-than-life, full her of herself, dismissive of everyone else, egomaniacal, ruthless, cruel, cutthroat, an emotional button-pusher, and deeply and tragically flawed in ways she's oblivious to but which the intended audience often finds hilarious.

Personally, that's how her comments read to me. That's not to say they aren't offensive, but they barely pushed my outrage buttons because I've been around the block enough to know to expect to have those buttons pushed.

In a broader sense, there appears that there's a mainstreaming of drag culture happening. It's probably worth mentioning that there are many different scenes, and some of them are quite tourist-safe whereas others are much more underground, avant-garde and, for lack of a better word, punk-ish. There was plenty to get outraged, disgusted, and/or frightened by in early punk scenes, and I think it's kind of that way in some drag scenes now. I'm not very familiar with Sharon Needles but I'm guessing, based on her name and on what I've heard about her, that draws a lot on elements from this more avant-garde/underground drag world. In that sense, I don't find her offensive comments terribly surprising.
posted by treepour at 3:00 PM on June 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


>There are a lot of trans people who invent their own pronouns, or their own language usage rules around them, and they get very, very snippy and truculent when the rest of the world doesn't bend to their individual quirks.

Yes. But none of that has anything to do with calling a person a "thing."


Oh you silly thing.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:24 PM on June 29, 2012


When introducing everyone to her drag persona via RuPaul's show, Sharon referred to herself as "Beautiful, spooky, and stupid" and elsewhere as a "stupid genius, reviled sweetheart, and PBR princess" Regardless of the qualities of the artist behind the scenes -- Aaron Coady seems to be a sweet and intelligent person -- these are the qualities of the creation. I think Cody maybe underestimated the extent to which people would gobble up the entire persona, himself included, and that he would be held accountable for some of Sharon's stupider, more monstrous caprices.

Newly famous and all, he's got a lot more control over that than he realizes. Going forward, I hope he finds and exerts it.
posted by hermitosis at 4:12 PM on June 29, 2012


I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of a drag queen performing in blackface. I mean, it kind of points to a bit of a double standard, doesn't it? Racism: Boo! Misogyny: Yay!

The idea that drag = misogyny is tired and based mainly in ignorance and underexposure. Are drag kings misandrous?


Why are these so unrelated? Drag queens and blackface are both 'dressing up as [oppressed] minority', no? For context, I don't see blackface as intrinsically racist, so by comparing them I am not saying that being a drag queen is intrinsically misogynist at all - only that if blackface is racist simply for pretending to be a black person when you're not, then to me drag queens should be seen as misogynist for pretending to be female when they're not. And I don't understand why this logic doesn't seem to apply.
posted by jacalata at 4:20 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blackface has a history of oppression that drag does not.
posted by modernserf at 4:25 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Vaginal Creme Davis has the best nom du drag ever.

And drag is part of gay culture, so it's riffing on the misogyny and gender essentialism of cis male culture. It's transgressive, not reinforcing the status quo like blackface.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:37 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a drag queen, and I call myself Ursula Hitler. I have a little sympathy for Needles. But only a little.

A little background. My name is a Monty Python reference. It's from the last line of the last sketch of the last episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. I started using it about 15 years ago, when I was just coming out as a transgender person and I was really struggling to come up with a name. Calling myself a normal girl name like Jane Smith felt like a lie, and calling myself some punny, draggy name didn't feel right either. Then I thought of Ursula Hitler, and it just clicked.

In hindsight it seems obvious, but somehow I never imagined my name would be as controversial as it turned out to be. I grew up seeing Adolf Hitler parodied in Mel Brooks movies and stuff like that, and as horrible as he was, I thought he had become sort of a historical, past-tense character, like Napoleon or something. I also just sort of assumed the irony would be obvious. I mean, Adolf Hitler would've despised somebody like me. But it turned out that a lot of people were incredibly offended, and I've spent 15 years having to explain my name, telling people that I'm not a Nazi, etc. It's been a pain in the butt, but I picked this name and I feel sort of stuck with it now. It does get me some useful attention (I'm a writer and an artist, and I have actually gotten some jobs from people who noticed me because of my weird name) and I do still like it for my own weird reasons. But I don't like offending people, and I don't like all the hassles that come with having this stupid, stupid name.

So given my experience with transgender issues, the arts and Hitler-related controversy, I feel pretty qualified to say that Sharon Needles is being a jerk with all of this drag queen Nazi stuff. Sometimes shock can be a useful thing... But when you're shouting racial epithets at people in a club, that's just nasty. Maybe she's trying to make some satirical point, but it's crossing the line into just being insulting. "Springtime for Hitler" was satirical. What Needles is doing is closer to trolling.

If people are throwing bricks at Needles, that's wrong and I do feel bad for her about that. But she's not doing herself any favors with this "I'm an artiste and these peons just don't understand me" nonsense. You have to have integrity, and you can't buckle to the whims of your audience. At the same time, you do have to listen to the feedback you're getting and give it proper consideration. I've learned just how loaded this Hitler stuff is for a lot of people, and I've always taken pains to try and put what I'm doing in context for them. If they still hate me, well, that's too bad, but at least I know I wasn't just being a thoughtless asshole. Needles just seems to be insisting that she's great and everybody else is wrong, and that's not being an artist. That's being a big attention-seeking baby.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:41 PM on June 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


Blackface has a history of oppression that drag does not.

You might have that the other way around. Male performers were dressing up as women as far back as (if not further than) Elizabethan times, because women were not allowed to play female roles. I wouldn't argue that one form of oppression is worse than the other, but drag has a much longer history, for sure.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:51 PM on June 29, 2012


This is an example of what is being referred to as "blackface"


RuPaul is someone that Sharon respects and admires. The makeup she uses is specifically tailored to look like Rupaul, and does not caricature his race. Is it still "blackface" then?



Newly famous and all, he's got a lot more control over that than he realizes. Going forward, I hope he finds and exerts it.

I find that a lot of his reactions seem to be lashing out in frustration - he's being asked "PROVE YOU'RE NOT RACIST" which is impossible, especially since there is a dedicated group that will keep trotting out the same pictures and quotes over and over again to make sure that everyone remembers "SHARON NEEDLES IS RACIST!" Every action and every performance there will be people looking for something that might be considered hateful, so they can post it on tumblr and disseminate it far and wide, with the proper inflammatory commentary, torches, pitchforks, etc. Nothing anyone says, nothing that Aaron says or does, is going to change their minds. Some of the things that he says seem to be a way of saying "You know what? The only way I can win with you is to stop performing entirely and just curl up in a ball and die, so fuck you."

I don't think that he's making the wisest choices representing himself on that front.

Blackface has a history of oppression that drag does not.


Of course. Nobody has ever been arrested, assaulted, or killed because they were in drag.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:54 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ugh, my first-ever comment on Metafilter, and I already wish I could take it back. I didn't watch Drag Race and I only have a superficial knowledge of Needles, the controversy surrounding her performances and her response to it, and I feel like I need to be more informed about this before I sound off. Maybe Needless is a jerk, maybe not. I'll leave it to more informed observers to say.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:12 PM on June 29, 2012


@louche mustachio -- who's been killed for appearing in blackface? I think you're reading me incorrectly. Blackface is associated with racism in America (and in a much more recent history than Elizabethan times.) While drag can be used to mock women, its not generally associated with maintaining patriarchy the way that blackface maintains bigotry.
posted by modernserf at 5:29 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf: Oh you silly thing.

Well done for entirely missing the point. I mean, that took some reach.
posted by Dysk at 5:31 PM on June 29, 2012


Ah, sorry, modernserf, I misread you there. People have been assaulted and killed for appearing in drag.

And Ursula Hitler, I thought you had some valuable insight, actually.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:18 PM on June 29, 2012


Ursula Hitler, your perspective is so helpful. I agree that we're all talking about performances we didn't see, which is obviously far from ideal, but if the report of racial epithets being shouted at the audience is accurate, I don't think it's inappropriate to wonder whether that's a great choice for a performer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:26 PM on June 29, 2012


Believe it or not, that was not the Dinah Cancer I was thinking of. The one I knew was a drag queen DJ.
posted by ltracey at 6:36 PM on June 29, 2012


Well that's dumb.
posted by ethansr at 7:05 PM on June 29, 2012


The moral of the story here is that Latrice Royale was robbed.
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:57 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


So I watched the entire Atlanta video. It was really hard to watch. Aaron approached the whole thing really earnestly. It sort of belies the tone of the fpp -"Fuck you I'm an artist and I'm famous and I can do whatever I want!" - is not what I got from that at all.

Something kind of important that is missing from the lead paragraph is that he promised not to use the "n" word any more. Repeatedly.

He could not promise that he would never again do any other potentially offensive thing ever, which is what was pretty much demanded of him.

The interview at the end was heartbreaking. I think he really wanted to reach some kind of understanding and was there to open some kind of dialogue, hoping that these protesters would be more open than the people who attacked him in Pittsburgh.

"I know that no matter what I say ...I can just tell in the tone of their voices that this was already decided. I couldn't understand why he kept laughing like it was funny. That's just.. when you know things are attackive...when they're just laughing and demanding."

"You wanted to be famous your whole life, and the second you get it, you don't even know why you wanted it any more."
posted by louche mustachio at 9:11 PM on June 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Interesting. I also watched the whole discussion video (not a terribly enjoyable 17 minutes, regardless of your opinion on the issue!), but my takeaway was nearly the exact opposite of yours. I think it might be one of the worst examples I've ever seen of an artist defending their work, although I do really like that the conversation in the video happened with each side being seemingly interested and invested in the dialogue.
posted by broadway bill at 9:53 PM on June 29, 2012


I think part of that might have been because he was unsure what he was being asked to defend. A lot of the things that have been brought up as examples of offense happened a really long time ago or have been grossly mischaracterized, and he seemed kind of confused and blindsided.
Bear in mind, too, that he doesn't have a history of defending his work in formal critique - he dropped out of high school because he was so badly bullied. He didn't develop his art in a formal academic setting, so he might not really have the vocabulary you're looking for.

I concur that it was a good thing to have happened, and appreciate that it happened. Hopefully both sides will listen to each other and evaluate things fairly, but hope springs eternal, it's easier to shout people down, and there are lots of bricks laying about.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:44 PM on June 29, 2012


Can we all agree that throwing bricks is never cool?

No.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:05 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Wearing a nazi swastika?
Yeah. Not something you should do."

Unless you're Peter Falk... or Alec Guinness... or Tom Cruise... or John Cleese... or Charlie Chaplin... or Keith Moon... or... basically any kind of entertainer.

Why are they throwing bricks at a drag performer, but Mel Brooks still walks the street in peace?!
Mel Brooks was funny; The Producers was filmed over forty years ago.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:13 AM on June 30, 2012


Bah, it's been done before.

I, too, was wondering about what led Butt Trumpet to this...
posted by beerbajay at 5:03 PM on June 30, 2012


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