Figure 1. Trixie Mattel accepting the winning title of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars on Vh1 (2018).
On March 15, 2018, the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 aired on Vh1, announcing Trixie Mattel as the winner and newest inductee into RuPaul’s drag queen all-stars hall of fame. As someone that identifies as one of The GaysTM and a stan of Trixie Mattel, I was very invested in her performance. Beyond my personal love of all things Trixie, her win had me thinking of how her particular form of drag functions as a (hyper)performance of American femininity. Combine this with her popular Youtube series turned Viceland TV hit, The Trixie & Katya Show, and her position as a musician with a chart-topping folk album, and Trixie appears to have the capability to open up drag and gender performance to a demographic who may be unacquainted with the queer community at large. So, who is Trixie? What inspires her drag aesthetic and what does it tell us about American ideals of femininity? And how can her particular brand of drag, music, and television career impact hetero-mainstream American society?
Figure 2.Image of Brian and his drag persona, Trixie Mattel, who is featured as a Barbie salon styling head. From Trixie Mattel’s official website.
Trixie Mattel (aka Brian Firkus) is a drag performer, musician, comedian, and gay man from Milwaukee, Wisconsin born in 1989. Her drag aesthetic is largely based off of many facets of American (particularly Midwestern Americana) identity and femininity. Trixie has stated in interviews that her childhood obsession with Barbie and children’s toys of the early 90’s, Dolly Parton and other country/folk music icons, and the color pink inspire her drag. Even Trixie Mattel’s name reflects this, with her first name being a reappropriation of the derogatory term, “Trixie” and her last name being a reference to Mattel, Inc., the toy company that sells Barbie. Trixie is known for her bright costumes, giant blonde wigs, and distinct makeup that blend together the aesthetics of drag star Divine with 90’s-era Barbie and Dolly Parton. This drag style plays with American ideals of beauty, which subscribes to the notion of thin, white, blonde, straight women as the prototypical model of femininity. Furthermore, as a gay man of both white and Native American (Ojibwe) descent who grew up in a lower-income household and jokingly refers to herself as a “skinny legend”, Trixie embodies subversive commentary regarding cultural norms in the United States. Not only is she toying with notions of gender and sexuality, Trixie is also making statements on race and class. What I find particularly interesting about Trixie is how her ethnicity and Midwestern identity allows her the space to oscillate between folksy/country diva looks and hyper-femme valley girl and/or doll-like looks.
Figure 3. Trixie Mattel/Brian Firkus in country-inspired costumes as promotional photographs for the 2017 album, Two Birds. Photography by Lisa Predko.
Trixie’s popularity as a folk musician is another element that roots her in Midwestern American culture. As stated previously, Trixie is inspired by Dolly Parton (so much so that she portrayed Dolly during a Drag Race All Stars episode), often wearing her signature blonde wigs and brightly colored Grand Ole Opry-esque costumes as she performs her music. The music itself is another part of Trixie’s art that I am fascinated by, as she is one of very few drag queens that performs outside of club music genre. In reference to the position of folk music’s attachment to conservative heteronormative facets of Midwestern American identity, Trixie has stated:
“Folk music feels like it’s not for us because the culture that surrounds folk music is so old school and very religious. We feel like we can’t belong in that genre of music. When is a gay [artist] ever going to win a CMT Award? Probably never. Or even like an Americana award or something smaller. It’s a challenging thing. Folk’s contemporary movement is a little more liberal.”
This liberal moment in folk music is the perfect opportunity for Trixie to gain access with a whole new audience that may never have known about her, or the concept drag, previously. I say this because her two albums, Two Birds and One Stone have both reached the top of the iTunes album charts upon their respctrive releases in 2017 and 2018.
Figure 4. Figure 5. Album cover art for Trixie Mattel’s albums Two Birds (2017) and One Stone (2018).
Folk and country are heavily driven by feelings of sadness and storytelling that allow vulnerability and, I argue, for listeners from varying demographics to identify with a gay man in a way that they may not have considered previously, opening up the potential for progressive discourses in a contemporary moment that has many Americans feeling very divided. As Trixie aptly mentions in an interview about her art, “My music isn’t about being a drag queen or being gay. My music’s about being a human being.”
Ultimately, Trixie’s access to multiple populations from various socio-cultural backgrounds has occurred through her music and television career on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 7, RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3, and The Trixie & Katya Show. All of these avenues not only appeal to people of different age, gender, ethnic, racial, religious, and political intersections, they also allow for her audience to see her as a fully rounded character in and out of drag. I’m interested to see how Trixie evolves over the next few years. She bridges the queer-hetero divide in a way that is, in my opinion, very unique. As another queer Midwesterner that grew up in the early 90’s, I get it. I hope that the rest of mainstream America does, too.
Figure 6. Trixie Mattel (left) and the author, Meghan Morris (right).
- UNHhhh. Youtube series starring Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova. Uploaded by WOWPresents. 2016- 2017.
- The Trixie & Katya Show. Television series starring Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova. Featured on Youtube by WOWPresents as well as online and vie cable through Viceland. 2017-present.
- “Mama Don’t Make Me Put on the Dress Again.” Music video performed by Trixie Matel. Directed by Billy Butler. 28 April 2017.
- “Break Your Heart.” Music video performed by Trixie Mattel. Directed by Billy Butler. 17 March 2018.
Meghan Morris is a graduate student at Old Dominion University’s Institute for the Humanities. She has a Bachelor’s of Arts with a concentration in English Literature and Women’s Studies from Old Dominion University. She is a novice scholar interested in topics related to gender, sex and sexuality, media and pop culture, and American Studies. She enjoys coffee and (good) memes.