By now, you’ve probably heard about how Sharon Needles (of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame) has used what I will call “The N-Word” (I’m a wuss) in her act as a form of social commentary. Is it a bit iffy? Yes, but art is supposed to shake you out of your comfort zone in order to discuss things you wouldn’t normally ask yourself. This is more or less what happened when Sharon agreed to have a conversation with people who were planning on protesting an appearance she was making in Atlanta. Apparently, Sharon was graceful and conciliatory, and her protesters were … less so. Via Project Q Atlanta:
Needles said the meeting was called because detractors in hometown Pittsburgh weren’t willing to have a conversation, instead aiming aiming violence at her and her home. In contrast, she welcomed a dialogue with people willing to have a face-to-face about it. Enakai Cisneaux offered similar stories about the black experience in queer bars that he said don’t provide a safe space for people of color. Instead, he’s faced with gay people stereotyping or flat-out ignoring him.
“My intention was never to hurt anyone,” the performer said in opened the conversation. “As a transgressive artist, I and a lot of my idols use language and shock imagery to juxtapose certain images and words – like I put the word love next to ‘that word’—to mock and shine a light on things that scared the shit out of me when I was young. Another word with a double “g” was thrown at me a lot. I’ve been called faggot, queer, and it scared the shit out me. I know what it’s like to be hurt by those kind of statements, and my intention is to subvert them and bring them to light.”
“I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the last several days, and the word is out of my vocabulary,” Needles said. “I don’t want to be counter-productive. I want to bring people together,” conceding further that, “I understand that my shows aren’t for everyone and how it can be misconstrued.”
Unsatisfied, the Ciseauxs asserted that Needles’ statements felt like the performer was saying the offending material was dropped, but that they weren’t hearing a concession that anything was done wrong. They asked for a public apology and for a specific plan for not using racial imagery in the future.
Needles apologized three times for hurting anyone, including the Ciseauxs. “I do apologize for anyone who was offended or hurt, because that was never my intention,” Needles said.
The discussion devolved rapidly. After making clear that their goal was to “never see [Needles] again” and not frequent Jungle “as long as they employ people like you,” the Ciseauxs stood up and left. After the pair walked out without goodbyes, saying they’d “heard all that we needed to hear,” Needles broke down into tears.
Oh for … seriously? Look, I understand if people are offended by what she says, but there’s a difference between interpreting something someone says through your own experiences, and having someone explain the intentions behind something they said only to have you ignore them because they aren’t exactly what you wanted to hear. Words aren’t inherently bad, hurtful or racist: it’s the intention behind them.