The Block Beat multimedia series is a collaboration with The TRiiBE that roots Chicago musicians and performers in places that matter to them.
“Being here today after being on Drag Race is, like, full circle,” the Vixen says. It’s a sunny April morning, and the 27-year-old drag queen is sitting pretty with a curly pink wig and beat face inside the Jeffery Pub, where she first performed professionally. Located at 7041 S. Jeffery, the pub is not just Chicago’s only black-owned gay club but also one of the oldest LGBTQ+ spots in the country, operating since 1965, according to owner Jamal Junior.
At the time, fiercely popular VH1 reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race was only about four episodes into season ten and already seething with controversy. A blowup between the Vixen and fellow contestant Aquaria left the former battling the “angry black woman” stereotype while the latter cried white tears—a display that cast the Vixen as the irrational aggressor and Aquaria as the fragile victim.
In the real world, though, the season had completed filming before the Vixen’s shoot with the Block Beat, so she already knew she’d be eliminated. Her final appearance was in episode eight, “The Unauthorized Rusical,” which aired on Thursday, May 10—her Cher impersonation left RuPaul Charles and his judges unimpressed. The Vixen’s “full circle” musing carried emotional weight for her that we couldn’t feel during our interview, because she wasn’t yet free to reveal her fate.
“It feels like I’ve come all the way from Calvary back to Bethlehem,” she says—an apt analogy, considering everything she’s already endured as a black drag queen. The Vixen was born at Jeffery Pub in April 2013. “My drag started as live performances, because I love to rap,” she explains. “I was rapping and doing my own thing, but I had never been to a drag show. So a drag queen happened to stumble upon my show and invited me to the Jeffery Pub to perform—and it changed my life.” Underneath a disco ball that hovered above the stage, she left behind her boy alias, Tony, and assumed her queenhood. She performed a medley of her favorite Beyoncé jams, including “If I Were a Boy” and “End of Time.”
“I was nervous as all hell,” the Vixen says. “But the crowd was really there for it. Thankfully my drag mother, Savannah Westbrooke, was there to egg me on from the microphone, and she was very supportive. It just pumped me up.”
Walking around the pub takes her back in time. “It’s very strange to be looking at the curtain, literally the birth canal that Vixen walked through on the first time she ever came out to the stage,” she says. “It’s very exciting to be here, and I feel just so blessed to look back at how far I’ve come.”
The Vixen’s progress came in spite of Chicago’s unyielding racial segregation, which makes it difficult for black queens to advance their careers while performing in their neighborhoods. In 2013, she says, folks who came to Chicago in search of queens for big opportunities like TV shows rarely looked beyond Boystown. The Vixen soon shifted her professional efforts from the south side to the north-side queer scene so she could be seen too.
“As far as the girls working the bars in Boystown, they’re more likely to get on Drag Race,” she explains. “Those bars are more mainstream. When you audition, they’re more likely to say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of Roscoe’s. I haven’t heard of Jeffery Pub.'”
Once in Boystown, the Vixen found a new set of challenges. As far as she could tell, bars and venues would book one token black drag queen per show and stop there. “No one would say it,” she says, “but you would look at the posters and you’d never see more than one [black] queen per night.”
Junior, who used to party in Boystown in his younger years, agrees that the north-side neighborhood struggles with inclusivity. “We have a lot of black promoters in the city of Chicago, and the venues they have these events at is white owned, and you don’t really see us behind the bars we support,” he says. “Sometimes you go to these spaces and you can tell they’re not happy about you being in there. They just there to collect their money.”
This antiblack attitude became even more painfully obvious to the Vixen during the 2016 Pride festivities, when a bartender commented on Facebook that “south side trash” was ruining Pride. The Vixen launched into activist mode.
“When someone’s referencing the south side, they talking about black people,” she says. “So I was not here for the casual racism, and I really pushed. I got loud and I got angry, and it made a lot of difference and it made people realize and face what their real issues were with south-siders.”
To support her fight for equality in Boystown, in fall 2016 the Vixen cofounded her own curated drag show, Black Girl Magic, which has run every month or so at Berlin ever since. Then, after three unsuccessful auditions for RuPaul’s Drag Race, she got a callback to be on the tenth season. Another black Chicago queen, her close friend Shea Couleé, had competed on the ninth season, which surely helped—the two have performed together, and the Vixen appears on her 2017 track “Cocky.” When Shea was away working on the show, the Vixen picked up many of her gigs. Drag Race became a larger platform for the Vixen’s activist message—not least because season ten included five black queens, not the usual one or two.
“When I say things like ‘Don’t call me south-side trash’ or ‘Don’t call me a savage,’ now it’s not just landing on deaf ears,” she says. “It’s not just the people at the club hearing me. The whole world gets to hear what I think and what I feel.”
Black Girl Magic with Asia O’Hara, Monét X Change, Monique Heart, the Vixen, Shea Couleé, Dida Ritz, Bambi Banks, Eva Styles, Lucy Stoole, and Sasha Love
Tue 6/26, 8:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, $30, all-ages
The Vixen didn’t take home the Drag Race crown, but she’s using her newfound stardom to create a more inclusive queer Chicago. In June, Black Girl Magic will move from Berlin to a much bigger room at Metro, featuring an all-star cast of black queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race and beyond.
“Right now in Chicago, and especially Boystown, I’m proud to say that black drag queens are respected and viewed as viable entertainers,” she says. “Hopefully that becomes black-owned businesses in Boystown.”
A Monday night at the Jeffery Pub in 2014
In the meantime, the Vixen remains thankful for the Jeffery Pub—which continues to host drag nights on Saturdays—and its five-decade legacy as a black-owned safe space for queers in Chicago. For her, the Jeffery Pub will forever be home.
“Being here at the Jeffery Pub, I’ve learned so much from the black queens who came before me—Savannah Westbrooke, Ebony Delite, Terry D’Mor,” the Vixen says. “So many black queens taught me what it was to carry myself with dignity, respect, and class.” v