"Don't you darling me darling!"
How can we have Pride Month without mention of Crystal LaBeija. She was so fabulous. So delicious. So catty and witty and didn't take shit from anyone. When I first saw the documentary, The Queen, I was drawn to her immediately, so much so, when I started doing drag, I almost considered the name Madeline LaBeija. Crystal was a proud Black trans woman, a drag mother and a pageant girl. She was myth, legend and over the top fabulous. And she was a force to be reckoned with. Crystal almost single handedly created the lifestyle and action of drag queens today... The attitude, the cattiness and the act of the "reading". She was sharp, and could read someone like a description for a set of steak knives honey. In addition to paving the way for house culture, and ballroom, she was the first to create a "house" in ballroom, House of LaBeija.
She was sharp witted, could cut to the chase and rebelled against the drag pageant system in her now iconic moment in drag history that paved the way for House Culture. Crystal was only one of a very few black queens awarded Queen of the Ball title at usually all white organized Drag Balls. Many were told to even lighten their skin. She knew her own worth. When she walked off the stage one fateful evening in 1967, she was protesting what she believed to be a rigged contest in favor of a white, blond queen, and the fireworks went off. Many think the contest was rigged for a queen Harlow to win, who coincidently had been dating Grace Kelly's brother...a Philly scandal.
In fact, after her explosive blow up.... a gay classic really...and should be mandatory gay viewing, that experience led her to organize her own ball for black queens. This move changed everything, and gay culture. House and Ball was officially born. Each drag house consisted of either a Father or a Mother, and they were the bosses of the house and looked after their drag children, taking them in off the street for a safe haven, and teaching them dance, fashion, and make-up techniques and preparing them for ball. These house Crytsal created and other were not just about everything fabulous but were also safe havens for runways and displaced LGBT youth who had either been discarded by their families or were living on the streets for any number of reasons. They provided a bed, shelter, and a support system of friends and belonging. Crystal LaBeija was one of the most iconic moments in drag, changing the whole lifestyle and the nuisances we know today, that I can tell you, some queens have no idea. Crystal also paved the way for not only house culture, but voguing, Paris is Burning and the TV series, Pose. But the most important thing she did was create the development of Ballroom and drag culture was forever changed...and the tradition of Houses has transcended beyond drag into modern LGBTQ culture still today. In my opinion Crystal and her drag daughter Pepper were two of the most influential drag icons to heavily influence drag and LGBT activist who fought to keep drag alive.
And here is the scene from the Queen of her epic blow up. If your so inclined here is The Queen. documentary.