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  • Writer's picturemarikenney

"She won't make money off my name, darling" - Crystal LaBeija

Updated: Oct 24, 2023


The first time I sat down to watch the documentary The Queen, I didn't know what to expect.

I knew I wanted to learn more about Drag and Queer culture - and I did - but in my viewing - I was introduced to someone - someone who pioneered Drag culture for Queens of Color and spoke out against the racist policies of pageants of the time.

Anyone who has watched the documentary or knows about ball culture - knows Crystal LaBeija.

Her fire. Her spirit. Her makeup, darling - is everything.

The Queen is a documentary about the 1967 Miss All-American Camp Beauty Contest. The documentary shows the process of getting ready for the pageant - and introduces us to Flawless Sabrina and various other drag queens of the time.

Overall, it's a great documentary - but the ending - is the best.

Before I dive into the end - let's talk about Crystal.

Crystal LaBeija (originally LaAsia) competed in the drag scene in Manhattan. Unfortunately, at the time in our collective history, Queens of Color were not shown the same respect as the lily white contestants.

Queens of Color were told they could win if they just "whitened up" a little bit.


Basically Queens of Color were asked to hide who they were to fit in with the white queens.


Ya'll. Our history is messed up - kay? So let's not fall back into that bullshit way of thinking and let's not forget where we came from - because we suck - our country sucks - but that's okay - because we can change.

Back to Crystal

So it's the end of The Queen - the top five have been announced. Crystal being one of them stands on the stage - a scowl etched on her face. You can see the fire burning inside of her. And slowly and deliberately - in a show of protest - she walks (or more so glides) off the stage.

Sabrina calling from the stage that Crystal was "showing her true colors."

Esh. Racism. Absolute clear racism. And the crappy thing is that Flawless Sabrina was an influential Drag Queen of the time - and she spouted that mess.

After Crystal leaves the stage, the camera crew finds her and lets her share her thoughts. She's angry. She's fiery. And she had the right to be. Here is a clip of what she says.

It is beautiful. It is angry. It is what she needed to say.

And if you didn't know the history of racism in pageantry, you might see Crystal as out of line - but in reality - she was mad. She was made that she and her Sisters of Color were marginalized and told that who they were wasn't good enough - because they weren't white.

And ya'll - the winner - she was a pretty girl - BUT HER WIG. It was a hot mess. Hot F-ing mess.

After Miss All American Camp, Crystal became proactive in giving Queens of Color their due. So in the early 70s, Crystal and Lottie LaBeija held Balls under the house of LaBeija. (You can watch the Legendary House of LaBejia compete on this season of Legendary on HBO).

Crystal and Lottie created a safe space for black performers to be black - not have to change their skin color, their hair, their style to fit the "norm" of white culture.

Ya'll I am gonna apologize now for white culture. It's a bunch of vanilla, toast khaki nonsense. And the idea that is superior than other cultures? That's just dumb. We're dumb.

Overall, Crystal saw an issue - got fed up with the issue - and worked to make a safe space for other performers. She didn't have to do it. She could have given up. But she fought. And she fought hard.

I am thankful for Pride Month, because it is an opportunity for those LGBTQIA+ warriors get a voice. And not have to fight for that voice.

I think that is what it boils down to. We should live in a society where humans shouldn't have to fight for the basic right of respect.




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