Latrice Royale is not your typical drag queen. Standing at 6-foot-4–inches tall (seven feet in heels and hair), this “large and in charge, chunky yet funky” diva is the big girl with the even bigger heart — a plus-size icon with an infectious laugh and a smile that can light up a room. For fans of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Latrice Royale is a household name. Having won the hearts of fans the world over when she appeared on season four of the multiple-Emmy-award-winning reality TV show, Royale has been invited back twice to compete on the spinoff series “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.”
But things have not come easy. Raised by a single mother in Compton, California, Royale fled from homophobia and violence and eventually settled in Florida, where she started doing drag. She later served a year in a Florida prison on a minor drug charge, after missing a parole meeting.
Despite having faced discrimination for her color, size and sexuality, Royale continues to approach life with relentless positivity and integrity. This Black History Month, she hopes to inspire others to believe in themselves and never to let anyone tell them they are not good enough.
What was it like growing up in Compton as a gay Black kid?
Compton was a rough place with heavy gang activity. Two of my brothers joined the military and two got into the gangs. And then there was me, playing in dresses. I was exposed to a lot as a little kid, between the gangs, the violence and the drugs. In a way, I was protected, because my brothers were like the kingpins, so nobody would mess with me, even if I wore the wrong colors. You can always tell when a kid has a little sugar in their tank, when they’re special and sweet, and that was evident when I was growing up. My brother beat me up because I was too sensitive. He was trying to make a man out of me because he didn’t want a little punk for a brother.
Why did you leave?
My brother outed me when I was 19. One night, when we were having dinner with my mom, my brother blurted out, “Your son’s a faggot.” We had this huge fight, it got physical, and then I just had enough: I ran out of the house, went to my friend’s house, bought a ticket and moved to Wisconsin. I spent a year there but didn’t come out until I moved to Florida.
What prevented you from coming out?
Even though I didn’t depend on my family, I stayed in the closet for fear they would disown me. At that point, I’d already disowned them so I don’t know why that fear was still there. My mother was different: she saw the soul of a person no matter what their orientation or identity, but my brother and I didn’t talk properly until I was on television. When he saw my documentary where I explained how he’d choked me in the front yard, it shook him to his core. We are in a wonderful place now and I’m really thankful. My brother has become a church man and a vegan—a Black vegan, can you imagine?!
You often talk about the discrimination you have faced. What has it been due to?
The first thing people see is my color. Whereas I can conceal my gayness, I can’t hide my Blackness and I’ve been called every name you can imagine. When I was a little kid, my mother taught me, “It’s not what you’re called, it’s what you answer to.” So it was instilled in me to pay no mind to people who call you names. Does it hurt sometimes when I’m feeling vulnerable? Can I go down the rabbit hole of feeling “less than” because of my color? Absolutely!
Have you experienced discrimination in drag?
In drag, the white skinny girls get sent to the front of the line. It’s tough being overlooked when others get chosen because their skin tone and shape is right. My biggest obstacle is that people can’t figure out what to do with the big Black guy. So I’m always written as the pimp or the thug or the comic relief. When I appeared in RuPaul’s Netflix series “AJ and the Queen,” I got to write my own character and I created Fabergé Legs, who represented my life story of getting out of jail and picking myself back up to become a success. And I was able to embrace and embody that.
How did “Drag Race” impact your life?
There was a shift when I got on “Drag Race.” I felt like I’d made it. But it also resulted in more racism in the drag community. Behind my back, a lot of people were saying, “This big Black bitch, who does she think she is?”
I’ve always carried myself a certain way: I have standards, morals and integrity, and I don’t get involved in the foolishness. I’ve been accused of being uppity. But what I will not be is one of these girls who gets into fights in the club, tears up her drag and rolls around in the street.
You’re not here for that buffoonery?
I am not here for that buffoonery!
Where does your integrity come from?
It has to start from inside. You have to own it and never let anyone deter you from being who you are. When you stand your ground and have integrity, it’s magnetic, it’s attractive, it makes you confident without being cocky. People see that I can hold myself and be proud of my size and stature, regardless of what other people think. It’s called being empowered. If you can’t empower yourself, there’s no way other people are going to see you as a strong force, and you certainly won’t be able to empower anybody else.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
It is incredibly important! We don’t teach Black history anymore in schools, but this entire country was built on the backs of Black slaves. The fact that so many people don’t know that is astonishing to me. It’s time to celebrate the Black people who made this country and change the way we think, look and feel about Black people in America. Especially with all the racial tension, it’s up to everyone not to be ignorant. The truth is ugly and people need to start accepting our country’s history and acknowledging that it’s not acceptable to claim superiority over another race. What’s great is that the new generation isn’t having it anymore. Racism is not acceptable in this day and age — 400 years is enough!
What message would you like to convey to queer Black kids this Black History Month?
Don’t believe the hype when they tell you that you cannot! Don’t believe that you’re not worthy, or that there’s something wrong with your color, your hair or your teeth. Persevere and push through, because there’s something magical in each of us and it’s just a matter of finding out what that is. Your skin and race do not dictate how special you are. I am where I am because I’ve never let my color, shape, or size impact my success.