The fake blood isn’t what sets Needles apart, though. Rather than sashaying in shiny outfits for the thrill of it, she performs to make a point. Gay America has responded by falling hard for someone they would typically shun at a bar.
Needles is touring the country this summer and headlines the Red Cap Garage Block Party during Portland Pride. Don’t expect everyone to enjoy it, she tells WW.
“If a few people aren’t offended at my show,” she says, “then I have completely failed at my job.”
WW: What’s your impression of Portland?
Sharon Needles: You know how RuPaul always says, “You better work?” That phrase really applies. Kind of like—no, you better work. Get a job!
But Portland is known for being alternative and weird—kind of like you.
I don’t like dreadlocks, and I don’t like granola. I like to ride my bicycle, though.
People like to describe you as “goth” and “spooky.” Do you agree with that?
I’m a drag queen, and what that means is I go on stage and I lip-sync to songs I don’t like. So I’ll do Britney’s “3,” but I’ll do it dressed as a doctor with a human centipede in front of me all sewn together from mouth to asshole. Or I’ll do “Burn Baby Burn” and I’ll burn a Quran [while] dressed as a priest. I always try to keep Sharon a little on the macabre side—I would say “macabre” over “goth.”
You’ve said before that you’re the future of drag.
I bite my tongue on that one sometimes.
What is the future of drag?
The media and the film industry have always portrayed drag queens in the same way—as these showgirls with feather boas and sequins and blah, blah, blah. Since the beginning of drag there was a part that was more underground, more punk. It was more about the message, the fun and the shock value than it was about being all pretty and primpy and stuff. So what I meant by being the future of drag was that I’m bringing this style of drag to the forefront.
What will happen to drag as it becomes more mainstream?
Drag is merely a reflection of the social climate, so it’s always going to evolve. I think in times of political upheaval or when things start becoming stagnant and boring, I think that’s when drag starts getting really cool. I think Nixon paved the way for John Waters. I think because of Reagan, all the girls started chopping off their hair and all the guys started wearing eye makeup. I think Bush is what created RuPaul’s Drag Race. When things are going nasty in the country, we tend to want to escape, and drag queens are great clowns for that.
You’re doing the block party, right?
Oh, I canceled it. You know, I have $100,000. I don’t really need the coin, so I won’t be attending.
Damn. But really, what can we expect?
You’re going to get the messiest show on Earth. That party and the one in Seattle I’m completely, personally customizing—some cities get the same show that was at the city before. But it’s going to be a big, messy, gory, funny time.
Do you feel like you have to keep a lid on yourself sometimes?
Sometimes I don’t give a fuck, and sometimes I feel like, God damn it, I got all these damn, fucking 16-years-olds who look up to me and I got to keep it cute. At the end of the day, I say success comes with compromise, so if the entertainment industry can compromise with me, I can compromise with them. But if I ever feel like I’m being a puppet, I’ll tell ’em to fuck off. I can’t do that shit. I can’t do it. I’ll go crazy.
Are you going to have time to see Portland?
You know, I hope so. I really feel like I’m missing out. I’m headed to every city in the United States this year, but I never really get the opportunity to see the sights and have a good time. But yeah, Portland’s a really current town, and I would like to see all the punks and all the hipsters hang out. Unfortunately, being famous, I won’t be able to. The paparazzi just won’t leave me alone.
Life is so hard.
Life is so hard.