To be a Black drag queen in the 1960s was one of the bravest things one could do. That’s exactly why Marsha P. Johnson – a Black drag queen who was reportedly responsible for starting the historic Stonewall riots – demands our utmost respect. All Black drag queens deserve our admiration.
The popularity of shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race and We’re Here has brought Black drag queens more into the mainstream eye. We’ve made strides, but we know that we still live in a world where being a Black drag queen takes a special level of valor and that’s why MADAMENOIRE shouts out these Black drag queens who deserve your attention. They are fierce, they’re fabulous and they inspire us all to live our truth.
Disclaimer: the drag queen community has not reached a consensus on pronoun usage. Some members prefer to go by the gender of their stage character while others prefer to go by the gender of their off-stage identity. For the purposes of this piece, we will refer to them as she/her as we are highlighting their on-stage personas.
Bob the Drag Queen
Bob the Drag Queen, born Christopher Caldwell, won the eighth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She went onto to use her platform for queer activism. Along with fellow former RuPaul contestant, Peppermint, Bob the Drag Queen organized Queer Town Hall – a three-day event celebrating Black queer excellence. The event boasted celebrity thought provokers and leaders in the queer activism space including Laverne Cox and Dr. Angela Davis.
Jaida Essence Hall
Jaida Essence Hall, who was the winner of the 12th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, went on to compete in the all-winners spin-off RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars and then toured nationally with other former contestants of the popular reality show. Before landing a spot on RuPaul, Hall took home titles in several drag queen pageants across the country and even made history when she performed at a Milwaukee Bucks halftime show in 2019. She’s since shared the stage with Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry and landed a residency at Resorts World in Las Vegas.
William Dorsey Swann
William Dorsey Swann is widely regarded as the very first “out” drag queen, says PBS. Swann was born into slavery in 1858 and spearheaded queer activism groups at a time when such efforts were unheard of. In fact, Swann organized several secret balls for formerly-enslaved Black drag queens. The queen who could not be disheartened suffered many arrests for “female impersonation” and for the aforementioned drag events but never stopped fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
There are so many reasons to love Meatball, but let’s start with this: Meatball already participates in the beautiful art of “being what you aren’t supposed to be” i.e. drag, and even within that, she doesn’t conform to drag queen tradition. Meatball is purposefully messy, sloppy and hairy. She is non-conforming in a tradition that is, at its core, already about not conforming. You might know Meatball from her appearance on the first season of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula and she recently performed in the Netflix is A Joke live festival.
Hot Chocolate (real name Larry Edwards) was the one of the earliest Black queens to win the Miss Gay America pageant, taking home the crown in 1980. And Hot Chocolate is still performing. She’s best known for her work as a Tina Turner impersonator and does a lot of work in the Las Vegas drag scene. In fact, she acted as Celebrity Grand Marshall of the Las Vegas Pride Parade in 2010.
Monet X Change
Monet X Change, born Kevin Bertin, appeared in several seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and is in RuPaul’s Drag Race Hall of Fame. In addition to appearing on reality shows, Monet X Change is a singer who has released several singles and EPs, a talk show host and a podcast host. In fact, she took home a 2021 Queerty Award for her work as the host of the Sibling Rivalry podcast.