On the first true day of warm, spring weather in New York, RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Monét X. Change swept out of the bathroom, resplendent in a purple and green printed gown, covered in what looked like abstract renderings of heads of lettuce and maybe, a human brain. “I got this at the Bronx Terminal Market, girl, from this lovely African man,” Monét told Jezebel. “I don’t remember his name, but he was very interested as to what I was making. I said, ‘Girl, you don’t wanna know!’”
With two instantly-iconic lip syncs under her belt—including a Shania Twain-inspired motorcycle pantomime and a fake-out death drop that still gives us chills—Monét realized that whatever she did from that point forward, she’d have to step her pussy up. In this week’s episode, she did not disappoint. We caught up with Monét to talk about the pressure of being a New York girl, whether or not drag has a cultural appropriation problem, and the nightmare that is disappointing RuPaul and an entire nation by ending up in the bottom.
Below is a lightly-edited and condensed version of our conversation.
On the tenacity, audacity, and determination it takes to stick it out:
New York queens were dropping like fuckin’ Trump cabinet members, one after the other. New York queens have, throughout the history of Drag Race, done fairly well, with at least three of them being from New York City being already winners and New York queens have a reputation of being great queens on Drag Race. Cracker and Aquaria were doing really well so I know that I’m at the top of the game in New York City, I am a very popular queen here at home in New York, I work a lot. I feel I just wasn’t staying true to my brand which is being a fierce queen from New York. I wanted to step that up to show RuPaul like, “Hey girl, I know i fucked up a little bit but trust me, I am here, I’m from New York City and I am a fierce competitor so give me one last chance, I promise, I will show you that I can prove myself again.”
I still stand by it, week number four, my martian [look], my whole package was not a bottom package. I still love my red vinyl outfit, I liked it! I was like “Girl, I am stepping off the space ship onto Mars, and I am like giving you like blonde, black Marilyn—Blarilyn!”
On being “unapologetically black”:
I pride myself on being unapologetically black. I guess a lot of little brown kids growing up in America and in the world don’t always feel like who [they] are is acceptable. And now, you kind of see there’s a resurgence, and people are reclaiming their natural hair, their dreadlocks—whatever that Africanness is, people are really reclaiming that and it is being defined as being beautiful. So, I try to personify that a lot, even though today I’m giving you 627, blonde, Marcel wave. Tomorrow, I’ll be wearing a dreadlock wig or on Saturday, I’m wearing some Bantu knots, you know what I mean? Always switching it up because the truth is, people of color, we do switch it up a lot, girl. We have the freedom to wear box braids and not be looked at sideways by people because we can wear that. Where as you see Sidney in upper Williamsburg wearing the dreads, and you’re like giiiiiirl.
On the notion of cultural appropriation in drag:
Drag is a very particular niche art form where you can blur those lines of what is culturally appropriative and what is not—what is acceptable. Drag has always been something that pushes the envelope and pushes the boundaries. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into the club in the city and seen Asian queens, white queens, Latin queens with big Afros, you know what I mean, or wearing braids down to their assholes. But drag has always been cutting edge that way, so I don’t feel like it bothers us so much in the scene and in the world of drag. Although now, RuPaul’s Drag Race, we on VH1, it is viewed by a much larger audience. Obviously, you’re going to get more opinions about what queens should and should not wear, or what kind of hair is or is not appropriate, but I feel like—listen, I am a drag queen, girl, I’m just trying to get this $2 tip from this man sitting over here, without worrying about how my outfit is going to affect the world. Drag is about pushing the boundaries, so I feel like let’s just say in that. Let’s not get too crazy. Do you want to start policing drag queens, really? Like, I think all bets are off at that point. You can’t police drag queens! Let Yuhua Hamasaki wear her braids, girl. Let her live her braid fantasy.
On the hell that is being in the bottom:
I really feel like I can’t even describe it to people, because when RuPaul says those words, like you do feel like the air is being sucked out of you. You feel like, “Goddamn, dishonor on me, dishonor my whole family, I have done fucked up drag for the second week in a row.” It is a very numbing feeling, but at the same time, in me, that performer activates. I’m like, “Okay, so there’s one more thing you can do to stay here. Go balls to the wall. Go in and just have a good fucking time. Make RuPaul laugh.” That is the goal of a lip sync. It’s for you to be the entertainer that you are and for me, that is a comedy queen. So what can I do in this number that I do back at home. What can I do on the stage that I do at Industry Bar every Tuesday when I’m back at home, to really captivate the audience and make them have a good time. That’s where my mind immediately goes and that’s why I try to do the best, craziest lip sync I can do to make RuPaul be like, “Alright bitch, you can stay.”