The bullet in my right bicep always aches. It reminds me how everything about me is fair game: who I love, how I dress—indeed, my very body is up for judgment and assault from all quarters, everywhere, all the time. In 2004, I was idling in the driveway of my friend’s apartment building when a skinny kid appeared out of nowhere and fired on me. I had no idea who he was or what his beef might be. I slammed into reverse as bullets sprayed the back window of my car. I lifted my right arm to shield my head. That worked for my skull...
I don’t know the guy’s motivation, whether he was homophobic or just a little bit high on a random Friday night in New Orleans, but that doesn’t matter. Either way, the constant pain in my arm hurts the same. It’s a constant reminder of my battle: Every day, I have to fight just to be myself—Black, gay, gender fluid—in America.
I’ve come a long way since the days when I was just a kid, twerking in an underground club. Now I’m known internationally as the Queen of New Orleans Bounce—but that doesn’t mean I’m a drag queen, or a drama queen. It does mean that in spite of all the supposed downsides of being like I am, I’m accepted and celebrated because I refuse to be ashamed. My career is based on my refusal to shrink to fit. Journalists ring me up, curious about my gender identity. Who is this twerking man (woman?), they ask, with his/her flashy makeup, and diamond-studded nails? Is he a drag queen, trans or just some dude in a wig?
I understand where these questions come from—that they are well-meaning. But I do get tired of being required to define myself as though my personal choices are up for inspection like I am some specimen; like I am in some exotic tribe to be curated by anthropologists.
My identity is not something I planned. It’s not an intellectual endeavor. I haven’t manufactured some persona with my publicist and marketing team. It just is.
How do I identify? I do not mind if you call me “he” or “she.” Both are right! Although some of my early influences were the drag queens of New Orleans (including my uncle), I don’t wear dresses or high heels. I was born male and remain male—physically, hormonally and mentally. But I am a gay male. Some folks insist I have to be trans, but I don’t agree. I’m gender nonconforming, fluid, nonbinary. If I had known the “queen” in Queen Diva would cause so much confusion, I might have called myself the king!
I know people look to me to be a leader. I get emails and DMs daily from voluptuous women, queer kids and trans people saying how I inspire them. I get that. And I am proud that in just being me, I am an example of someone who doesn’t buckle.
Because of the scope of Trump’s malignant war on America, there is an awakening in this country; nobody’s safe. Even the pickiest things can be used to criminalize and eliminate our right to be citizens, equal to everyone else. Instead, who we fuck, how we dance, who we watch the weather with is used to corral us—categorize us, demonize—and ultimately, delete us. Like that kid and his firearm—he knew he could fire on me without consequence because I was wearing earrings. Seriously! Think about that. Young people—gays, trans, voluptuous or not—we all are under attack in subtle and not so subtle ways. My fans have created this groundswell of support around me because I don’t apologize for being myself. Although I didn’t build my platform—didn’t sit down with a marketing team and drum it up as some strategy—it’s my inheritance, if you will, because of the sad times we live in.
If I chose to cook up a mess of red beans and rice and twerk around my crib in a purple wig—why should that even be a thing, let alone a threat? But it is. Because anybody who steps out of line has a target on his/her back.
I look forward to the day when the first question out of my interviewer’s mouth isn’t “How do you define yourself?” I look forward to the day when any clown who smoked a bad batch doesn’t get to just fly into my grill and unload on me. People of color, gender-fluid people, people of a certain weight—we are all on trial, all the time. It gets tiresome. If I’m hard for you to define, that doesn’t bother me. I look forward to the day when it doesn’t bother you either.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Big Freedia is known as the cultural ambassador of Bounce music, a call and response style hip-hop with a rapid-fire beat indigenous to New Orleans. A staple on the New Orleans club scene for over a decade, Big Freedia moved to the national stage after Hurricane Katrina. In 2015, Big Freedia penned her critically acclaimed memoir, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva!, which will be available in paperback Dec. 2 and can be pre-ordered here.