I AM YOUR QUEEN: Black Benatar

Welcome to I AM YOUR QUEEN, a Pride Month hootenanny that sidles right up to San Francisco's biggest drag superstars, whispers unctuous praise in their ears to get their attention, and grips them by the wrist until they spill it.

We turn the keys over today to Black Benatar, a radical faux queen whose origin story is simply too good not to reveal right at the top.

“Black Benatar is the love child-slash-loin trash of queen divas Divine and Patti LaBelle,” she says. “In the midst of a one-time haze of diva-on-diva carnality, an egg popped out. They named it 'Patti Divine.' Everyone knows queens come from eggs … duh. Mama Patti couldn't handle a love so queer and she left Mama Divine sitting on that egg until she died. Half-baked, shellshocked, and alone, Patti Divine cried for 40 days and 40 nights, and through the heat of her tears and anguish she hatched herself — and Black Benatar was born. A soulful death-metal diva of gargantuan proportions.”

[jump] What name(s) do you perform under?
Black Benatar, aka Patti Divine.

Where do you perform?
I co-host perform for a quarterly showcase of performers from the African diaspora at Strut and will be the featured drag queen for Radar Productions' next Drag Queen Story Hour at the Eureka Public Library in The Castro on Aug. 13 at noon. I'm a good-cause queen, so you'll likely find me performing outside of the nightclub and at special events. But I have been known to tear up the stage at The Edge and Oasis.

I'm not a queen who's out performing everywhere. I'm also a director, artist, and coach, so I'm often juggling a lot of projects. When I put together a number, I want it to be about something, like my Black Lives Matter piece. I like to use my time on stage in the spot light to shine a light on challenging issues or human conditions. I want people to take away an insight or share in a moment about something. I'm an art nerd. I try to root my performances in an artistic concept or activism that makes it feel like a happening.

How long have you done drag?
My first dabblance into drag makeup for kinging and queening was at Hampshire College's notorious Halloween celebrations called Trip or Treat. I was in an all girls punk rock band so performing live so lip syncing never occurred to me. That came much later here in San Francisco.

Do you have a theater/performance background?
Yes, my father is a thespian and a total hambone. He has run theater companies throughout my life, so I have literally been on stage since I was a baby. Literally I think my first role was as the baby in A Raisin in the Sun just a few weeks after I was born.

Is realness important to you? Something else?
No, Patti Divine aka Black Benatar is an 'it.' I am playing with femininity and taking it to the grotesque. I ask myself 'How far can I push the tropes of femininity?'. How far until they become gross, until they are scary and off-putting? Until they become a weapon against oppression, misogyny, and rape. I am playing with weaponizing femininity, making it aggressive, powerful, and something I can wield like a sword. Something that can protect me.

When you were starting out, what was the biggest hurdle?
Learning how to contour on dark skin. Most of my queen friends were white! Thank god Black women wrote the book on drag, cuz there are so many tutorials that will seriously teach you how to beat a face down and contour for your life. Add that to some really good sister queens, and my theater makeup skills and voilà. 

What do you love most about drag?
I love that it engages so many art forms and techniques. I love that a performance can be so powerful in a tight package. The ingenuity and innovation is endlessly inspiring.

Assuming she is among us, does your mother know?
Oh, yes! She thinks I am so clever and always asks me if my padded hips are real. So many people ask me that! I'm like, 'What do I have to do, I have already added 4 inches on to my naturally awe-inspiring hips.'

My dad actually gets it. He understands the activism behind my performances but he often defends or explains me to his friends an acquaintances.

Have you had any trouble with Facebook's “real” names policy?
No, but I think it sucks. I myself am too lazy to keep up with two separate accounts. I'm not a millennial, so social media is a learned skill. I'm totes jelly of all these young queens and their Edward Keyboard hands! These babies need to teach this ole' cow!

What's your day job?
I am a self-employed consultant, artist coach, writer, and editor. I help organizations and individuals with strategic decision-making, goal-setting, planning, and accountability. I write articles and put together webinars, workshops and seminars. I host, I moderate, I facilitate. I hustle so that I have the freedom and flexibility to make art. Contact me. I probably do it or can connect you to a resource for it!

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