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Bob the Drag Queen: I Can't Talk About My Blackness Without Talking About My Queerness

The Ru Paul's Drag Race and We're Here star discusses intersectionality, racism, and the power of protest in America.

AS TOLD TO JUSTIN KIRKLAND
JUN 15, 2020

Pride has never looked like this before. Parades are canceled. Gatherings are a public health concern. But that hardly means that Pride is canceled. This month, Esquire is examining what Pride means now, beyond the parade and for the next 50 years—whether it's advocating for justice over Zoom, discovering the intersectionality too often missing from Pride, or simply existing as a trans father. The protest continues.

We have asked four figures from popular culture to be Pride guest editors during the month of June. This week, Bob the Drag Queen—co-host of Black Queer Town Halldiscusses the topic of intersectionality, racism, and the rural queer communities that thrive in the South.

I moved to New York City when I was 22. I didn't quite move from Columbus. When I moved to New York City, I had actually come from being a traveling actor for a children's theater company, and I moved here in an attempt to be a famous comedian or Broadway actor or something like that. I was very bright eyed—a dreamer, you know?

[On We’re Here], it was actually eye opening for me to go to these places across the South. I was born in Columbus, Georgia but I lived all over the south. Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. I was born in Columbus, Georgia but I lived in Alabama. Then Corinth, Mississippi. Then LaGrange, Georgia. So it was really eye opening to me cause I never looked at any town like somewhere where I grew up as a place that would have a queer community, but as you saw, they did have queer communities. Like vibrant queer communities. I was under the impression that there was none of that there, but it really showed me how poignant the title of our show is. We're Here. We call it We're Here, not just because me and Shangela and Eureka showed up, but also because people like us already exist in these places.

I feel like intersectionality is a word that I've only been hearing recently, but I remember once I heard it, I was like: this describes what I'm always talking about. You know, Black queer people understand what it means to be Black and also understand what it means to be queer simultaneously, and I feel like that seems to just provide some sort of strength in general. It seems to make people stronger. Maybe that's me making that up in my own head, but I know that I can't talk about my Blackness without talking about my queerness or vice versa.

I had a period of my life where I was really not interested in what I considered going backwards, basically. And that was how I viewed it. Like when I'd go home, I'd just get irritated with people who hadn't had exposure. And to be honest, I still do. There are times I'm still like, these fucking bumpkin ass blah blah blah... but then I have to realize too that before I moved to New York City before I was exposed to different people—different ideas and concepts and ways of thinking. I shared a lot of these opinions. I really really did.

In America, this idea that racism doesn't affect all of us is not true. Racism is an American problem. And I also feel like there are times in my head where I feel compelled to educate and times where I don't feel compelled, and that's my prerogative to choose when I want to do it and when I don't. Sometimes I'll see someone do something and I'll think to myself, I want to take this opportunity to gently educate this person about this. And sometimes I see it and I just get upset, and I say enough is enough and I'm not gonna. It honestly depends on how I'm feeling in the moment and what limit I'm up to. How far I've been pushed. How I respond to different things at different times.

But I like to kind of turn things on their head. I like to take an audience on a journey with me. Sometimes if something is really deep, I like to combine humor with thought. I know that I like to receive information that way. Whenever I think about the way that Chris Rock’s and Wanda Sykes’ comedy has affected me, you know they use humor as a way of evoking thought in me, I try to do that with my art sometimes, too.

[In 50 years], on the hundredth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, I will be 82 years old, if I live that long. What do I hope to see by the time I'm 82? Oh my goodness. I like to quote Martin Luther King who was quoting a famous sermon: The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. And I would like to see more of that.

I was talking to my mom the other day and she was really upset with me because I was out at the protests in the middle of a pandemic. She also was nervous that I was out there and what the cops might do to me, and I told her, “I'm out there because hopefully one day by the time my niece Nevaeh is older and she has a kid my age, she won't have to be as concerned as you are. You know? When my niece is 59 and has a kid going to protest, she won't have to think to herself, “I hope my kid doesn't get murdered or hurt or killed at one of these protests or hit with tear gas or beaten with a baton.” And I am grateful enough that people did it before me—that I was able to march without getting hosed down or bitten by dogs. Because someone did it beforehand.