Thespian, musician, environmentalist, filmmaker, dollmaker, scholar, drag queen and all around explosion of quirky charisma—the world can’t get enough of Tammie Brown! Her collective time on “Rupaul’s Drag Race,” where she appeared on both the first ever season and the first All-Star season, was brief (she’s the only contestant in the show’s history to last two episodes in each of her seasons) and left her with mixed feelings about the franchise. But she still served us a grand buffet of memorable quotes and moments, and was perhaps the show’s first cast member to really challenge the “wisdom” of RuPaul and her panel of judges to their faces. Tammie’s living proof that, RuGirl or not, a great drag queen has to have first and foremost a dynamic personality. Our girl’s got that in spades, and she’s bringing every bit of it to her digital 40th birthday this week. [Cover photo: Thomas Evans]
Thotyssey: How are you, Tammie?
Tammie Brown: Very Good! I’m here in Long Beach, CA (Bow-Wow-Wow-Yippie-Yo-Yippie-Yay)! Of course there’s all the fires going on, which is really sad.
I was going to ask you about that. You’re not anywhere near all that, right?
No, not too near us. But we can see the ashes.
The pictures we’re all seeing are absolutely terrifying, with the raining ash and the blood red skies… it’s like the apocalypse.
Yes, and that’s what’s been happening in Australia, too. And if we were doing the proper thing here in the U.S. – slash-and-burn, like what the native Americans and even the native Australians did – we’d be just fine. But we as gentrified, colonized nations don’t follow the rules. We do everything Euro-style.
Yes! And of course, the frequency and severity of these fires are also indicative of climate change.
Correct. And the major media is not covering that, because they are [all about] the money.
They have sexier things to discuss, I guess… like the coronavirus and Trump.
[Laughs] Oh yes, he’s always very sexy!
So as an environmental activist, how do you keep yourself educated on those issues?
Just being informed and paying attention; I don’t just take everything the media puts out as fact. And I do a lot of studying. I’m studying a lot of languages right now, like Nahuatl, which is the Aztec language. Over a million people speak it, which is really cool—a real American language!
I watched the first two installments of your wacky, fun and informative “Queen With A Cause” video series, which has you as an environmental crimefighter sharing wisdom about specific pollutants whist kicking ass. Your whole first episode discussed palm oil, a very common natural ingredient in our food and beauty products. I had no idea that the way we harvest it is so harmful to the environment!
Now they’re saying that there’s more of a sustainable [version of] palm oil. But we have to read between the lines of that, because not everything [manufacturers] say is right [or true]. There’s always a loophole.
Have you been able to create more of your signature online content during this lockdown, like “Queen With A Cause” and of course your nutty vignette series “The Browns?“
John Mark (my creative partner and director) and I are working on two more “Queen with a Causes” to come. And we’re gonna be working on more of “The Browns” eventually, as soon as we can get around the [social distance] regulations of filming. There’s big things coming for “The Browns,” so get ready! We’re working on a new series on my Instagram story called “Tammie Tails”; that’s where “The Browns” originally started.
And I’ve been working diligently on my #ragqueenz, the folk art dolls I make, and the embroidered facial masks I make as well. As for music: I’ve been working with my creative musical producer Rodrigo Barroso (known for “Shaka Buku U,” “Clam Happy,” “Love Pinata,” etc). And I’ve been working with Michael Catti on new music as well. So that’s exciting.
Wow, you’ve been so productive!
I’m so busy, I’ve been having to delegate! I have Michelle run my Planet Tammie store (which is doing really well). We’ve been designing garments—I went to school for fashion design, and that’s what brought me out to California—it’s all full circle now.
Have you been able to keep up with Drag Race this year? There’s been quite a lot going on!
You mean the fracking?
Ha! That too! I was actually the all the new seasons and spin-offs that we’ve had these past several months.
I have some friends in the franchise [this year]. There’s Tynomi in Canada. And in Thailand, I keep up with them through Instagram. I don’t per se watch TV, I usually just watch documentaries and films.
That’s admirable. You did miss out on an unusual amount of drama, though. And now there’s a new Ru show that just premiered, Vegas Revue, which isn’t a competition, it just details the backstage and personal dramas of the queens doing the live Vegas Drag Race stage show.
Yup! You can see the whole show on the commercial, and hear all the flatulence that comes out of their mouths! Derrick Barry is all “Oh the coronavirus is coming, it’s a big deal!” And then you see that one that everyone thinks I have a problem with—Kameron Michaels—swapping spit with one of the other ones. And then there’s Ru, standin’ there, tall, without a wig on. That’s the whole show.
What’s happened to RuPaul? She’s vanished from social media. Was she frightened away by the increasingly negative fanbase?
I don’t think she was chased away. I think she said, “Oh, I got my millions, bye! We’ll just take our private jet plane to the ranch that’s like Neverland, minus the kids!”
Have you seen the Drag Race fanbase get much more aggressively negative and mean towards the queens since your time on the show, or is their negativity just now getting spoken about more?
We had a problem from Seasons 1 through 5, and then in Season 6 RuPaul and World of Wonder finally started doing something about it. We had such a young audience, and they’d say things like “Tammie’s not tucked!” there were a lot of pressures, but then that changed.
But there was always a problem with people calling the black queens on the show the N-word, even the winners. The black exploitation [of the show’s queens] has never really been addressed, either. I’ve been speaking out about it—I’m not afraid to be an advocate. But it’s a major problem.
One night on my Instagram, about two years back, I was chatting with Jasmine Masters, and some people came on [to the livestream] with the N-Word [and hate speech] and it became a flash mob. My feed went from 30 to over 200, and [the mood changed] from angry to spooky. [They were saying] “Oh, are you in your house alone?” That was one thing I experienced.
But I don’t [personally] get a lot of negativity. Just petty complaints like “you’re charging too much for your #ragqueenz” from 16 year-olds who can’t afford it, or something like that. But that’s it, really.
I do feel sympathy for someone like The Vixen. She’s a young queen with a strong point of view who arguably got a bad rap and toxic feedback from both the Drag Race showrunners and the fanbase.
Let’s speak up for her right now. The Vixen is doing just fine! She’s very talented. The Vixen fully knows what’s going on. So do Gia Gunn, Condeleeza Rice… all these people playing these villain parts. They know exactly what they’re going to do. RuPaul’s Drag Race pulls people in, and in a sense has them act a “fool”, act like an “angry black woman”… they [promote] these stereotypes on purpose; they propel that.
But The Vixen is a very talented, nice and smart person. She’s doing just fine. And now that the cards are on the table with this awakening of society, you can see that this was a racial issue. Our society is highly racist. People here are sensitive and don’t want to face the music… we’re a failing empire and racist as ever. It’s ingrained. People need to study James Baldwin more. And Nikki Giovanni… she’s out there speaking right now, and has some really cool things to say.
You are native Texan… do you see a big difference in how racism plays out in coastal cities, as opposed to the South?
Racism is everywhere. But where I’m from–Rockport-Fulton, TX (a small retirement community, population about ten thousand)—it’s a mixed community, lots of Vietnamese. But since 2017–since Donald Trump took office–Confederate flags went up. People felt they had the right to express this, and we had never experienced that before. The media heightened that. And after George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, there was a white rage happening in my town. My dear friend [who still lives in town] was speaking Spanish in pubic, and said she felt uncomfortable. I [felt threatened] for being gay when I was down there that week. We never felt uncomfortable before. We have a silent majority there with “Trump this and that” now, and I can’t handle it.
Switching gears a bit, I was wondering if you were a fan or a friend of any particular New York queens.
Oh, there’s so many! I love Lypsinka, and there’s my friend Charles Busch, and Hedda Lettuce. Jackie Beat, Sherry Vine… they’re out here now. All of those queens. Joey Arias… oh, and Flotilla! I love Flotilla.
Yes! I thought Bunny was genius to bring Flotilla in there to do that song. Oh, and I love the one [in New York] that’s in politics.
Yes. And Rify Royalty is one of my buddies too. We support each other; I’ve done “Straight Acting” with him. And I also had a sold out concert at 3 Dollar Bill [in Brooklyn] in November. Hopefully I’ll be coming back there soon. Last year I did Bushwig. And I do the Laurie Beechman from time to time, when the politics are right with that. I really love coming to New York and doing business there.
Happy birthday, by the way! And it’s the big 4-0 for you. I had mine not too long ago and I hated it! How do you enjoy the prospect of turning 40?
Well, to be honest with you, I can’t wait ’til I turn 96! With light blue hair and a nice leisure suit, looking out at the Gulf coast! I have no problem with turning 40, and I really look forward to celebrating with my Digital PrideFest concert.
Yes, I just ordered my cake from Rockport Bakery… support your local businesses! The puppet’s gonna join in, and I’ll have freshly written jokes and some new songs to put out there. And there will be other celebrity guests in the audience! It will be a really nice way to celebrate. And the 15th is my actual birthday!
Wonderful! Is there anything else you might want to tell the children?
I think it’s very important for us to go back to our roots in nature–do our best for Mother Earth. And take this time to do a lot of self-growth.
That’s very wise! And speaking of wisdom: in closing, what might be your best advice to a queen who confides in you that she’s going to be on the next season of Drag Race?
Use your platform to create value! Know your game and play it.
Thanks Tammie, and happy birthday again!