I created The Queens of Color—my series of portraits and interviews with NYC drag queens of color (specifically African American and Afro-Latinx)—in response to what I saw as a stunning void. There are countless examples of how African-Americans and Latinos have contributed to music, fashion and society overall and not been credited for it. As exhausting as it is to re-open that conversation time and time again, often to seemingly no avail, it nevertheless bears repeating.
So I wanted to put the limelight on a medium and culture I’ve admired since I was a kid: drag culture.
In the past decade, drag has skyrocketed into the mainstream, and when something becomes mainstream, it begins to be absorbed into pop culture. The people in my community whom I have observed actively oppressing the LGBTQ community tend to be the same people using drag slang, makeup trends, and dances. Drag has impacted society in terms of beauty, fashion and even language, but credit is still not given to the people who deserve it the most: the African-American and Latinx performers who created much of what the image of drag is today.
As I met with the queens featured in these photos, we discussed the various trends in pop culture at large that derive from the LGBTQ community—and particularly from drag and butch queens of color. My incredible models were dropping facts and serving looks all at once while being photographed. It was an amazing journey meeting so many talented queens. Though they came up through the scene in different ways, they all had two important things in common: a magical talent for performance and a dedication to incorporating our shared culture into their work.
I hope that this work also helps prejudiced people realize the importance of understanding what words mean. Next time you start using new slang, learn where it comes from and what it originally meant. Use your language consciously: how are you using it? To whom are you saying it? Next time you think a new dance is cool and you’re praising the pop artist you saw “do it first,” take the time to actually look into who really did it first. Next time you go to a drag show at Lips for your birthday and there are categories, please keep in mind how that aspect of drag came to be.
As a woman of color with close ties to the gay community, I feel confident speaking for all of us when I say that we are tired of getting mocked or degraded for doing what we do. The very objects and artifacts we create just to cope in a white supremacist world still get “white-washed” and ripped apart from us. This photo series is a demonstration of our desire to be respected and appreciated, rather than appropriated. Knowing we can be respected enough to get credited for our contributions—that is what will empower us to keep creating.