You'd think by now Sharon Needles' reputation would precede her. Remember, when she was arrested for peeing on a wall? And if you thought she was about playing it safe—after she admitted on the RuPaul's Drag Race, "I’m sorry, but I’ve set up my life at age 30 so that I don’t have to answer to anybody"—forget about it.
As rock icon Jayne County explained to us after Needles' win: “I think that Sharon likes to push people’s buttons and get a reaction, whether it’s good or bad,” County said. “She sticks out and draws attention. Once you’ve got their attention, that’s when the work starts. My advice would be for her to not hesitate one iota, and take it to the next step.”
Just look at this photo from a Flaunt photo shoot by photographer Gitte Meldgaard (also pictured in the collage above), and you'll see she's still looking to push buttons.
Now it seems she's pissed off the folks at Austria's Life Ball AIDS fundraiser and is "banned" from the event after having been invited to perform at this past weekend's festivities. As Brian Moylan reports at Queerty:
"At one point she was spotted chugging beers and then spitting the beer onto the door of one of the plane’s restrooms. When the flight landed there was a red carpet to the right of the runway. Needles was one of the first off the plane and made a comment in front of the journalists and cameras that she was happy to be in Vienna, the birthplace of Adolph Hitler. Apparently Life Ball founder Gary Keszler was in earshot and did not appreciate the joke."
At the same event, the drag queen trio Willam, Detox, and Vicki performed their silly spoof song, "Boy is a Bottom" to a cheering audience. Willam as the good queen? Last week in Manhattan they were on hand at Sephora as brand ambassadors for Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics (see them in those multi-colored wigs above?) and seem to be pretty well-behaved.
Is this a case of good queen vs. bad queen?
The thing with drag queens is that they are, like stand-up comedians, pop culture's court jesters, allowed to mouth off, poke fun, and piss off those in power—that's their ultimate role. When we start sanitizing that, telling these subversive, transgressive, aggressive performers to tone it down, play by the rules, shut up, then we do ourselves a disservice.
Perhaps people have started to mistake them for something else now that they've reached a level of pop culture ubiquity and are being judged by the standards of starlets (if there are any standards these days). But just like most actors, athletes, and other celebrities deified for strange reasons, these are performers, not role models.
Referring to the Arabian Nights theme of the event, Sharon Needles allegedly commented, "They can appropriate Middle Eastern costumes for their party, but I get banned for giving them a history lesson? This is my country where I can say whatever I want.” But even that is missing the point. Being bold, brash, and brazen is always going to be a difficult role. And people in power—no matter what their politics—are always going to be unnerved by it. Sharon (and the rest of the drag queens), however, know there's great power when they put on that wig. But no one is impervious to insults and criticisms.
Watch Willam, Detox, and Vicky's performance at Life Ball below: