Ever since season four of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Latrice Royale has been an icon in the modern drag community, inspiring both established as well as up-and-coming queens over the course of her long career.
Latrice visited UC Santa Barbara this past Thursday for a performance followed by a Q&A session centered around her career in drag, as well as her personal journey from incarceration to self-acceptance through drag.
The night started out with Latrice’s spirited lip sync performances of “Respect” and” (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” both of which paid homage to one of Latrice’s biggest inspirations: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.
Latrice draws inspiration from the aesthetics and performance styles of black soul singers from the 60’s and 70’s; from her elaborate eye-catching hairstyles, glamorous flowing gowns, and emotive facial expressions and choreography, Latrice truly captures the spirit of these performers.
But beyond aesthetics and choreography, Latrice also embodies the spirit of joy, pain, and persistence that soul music is known for in her stage presence.
Latrice stated that she resonates with the messaging in soul music due to her experience in the prison system, during which she drew strength from the empowering narratives found black soul music.
She explored the relationship between black performance art, the prison system, and LGBTQ+ identities in her recent documentary, “Gays in Prison,” in which she reveals her own experiences in jail and explores the stories of gay men and transgender individuals both inside and outside the prison system.
Latrice also spoke to the audience about these experiences after her performance, and despite her undeniably entertaining lip sync, this discussion was definitely the most engaging portion of the event.
Latrice cited her time in prison as the darkest period of her life, during which she felt alone, isolated, and cut off from the community that she had once embraced through drag, prior to her arrest.
In order to keep in touch with the individuality that prison tried to take from her, Latrice took solace in music, and listened to her icons like Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin to remind her of her drag persona and draw strength from creative expression.
Moving forward, Latrice started to view drag as a means of communicating both with the world and herself through performance art. Presenting herself through the glamorous, dramatized lens that drag offers has allowed her to channel her biggest inspirations and give voice to LGBTQ+and black communities in ways that resonate with larger audiences.
Latrice’s personal journey in drag reflects a broader truth that creative, individualistic expression, however unconventional, has become an invaluable cultural staple in LGBTQ+ communities of color.