While it’s true that Icon Ebony-Fierce — a 1990s-obsessed, wildly artistic mother figure in the LGBT community who identifies with they/them pronouns — has made a name for themselves as a member of the city’s ever-evolving drag and queer performance scene, the driving passion behind their work has been activism.
They’ve performed a wide variety of shows with an even-wider palette of themes, from classic R&B/pop artists like Janet Jackson and Donna Summer to programming thematic wonderlands based around popular cartoons like “Steven Universe” or “The PowerPuff Girls” to radically queer PowerPoint presentations where they break down systemic racism on stage.
To Icon, it all fits under the same umbrella.
As they say in one of their presentations, “Any bias should be looked down upon, I don’t care if it’s your best friend, I don’t care if it’s somebody that you really like — create a culture of welcoming. All we want to do is to do art and perform and express ourselves.”
It’s this heartfelt, intense spirit that Icon brings to every endeavor, including their involvement in the queer BIPOC-empowered burlesque troupe Raspberry Royale.
Members of this troupe present powerful expressions of feminine energy, often in LGBTQ spaces where there is some modicum of queer empowerment. But, just as often, Raspberry Royale fearlessly performs in dive bars, strip clubs, punk venues and other spaces where the artistic expressions of queer people of color are not the norm.
The energy of the performances is electric: Members don elaborate costumes adorned with spiky crowns and chunky metal necklaces, exquisite velvet, lace dresses all tied together with ravaging stiletto boots.
Each member — all black and brown, all different body types — own their looks, taking on various themes with expert precision. A video on their Facebook page shows a powerful exploration into goth aesthetics: whips and chains, leather bustiers and corsets, cowrie shells capping long dreadlocks and Icon themself, standing 6-foot-4 and center-graveyard, sporting a campy devil’s-horn cap revealing their trickster nature.
“We all come from a place of activism through artistic expression, kink culture, dark spirituality, general nerdiness, music, our cultural backgrounds, body and sex positivity,” said Icon when asked about the wide variety of their shows.
“We all have different energies in the group, and we have different ideas of executing the ways to form them together. This helps us in the best way with our creative process with coming up with a theme, concept and an ‘era,’ if you will. We love to send our audience on a journey from promo to event.”
Formed by, as Icon put it, “the amazing badass femmes” Luzifer Priest, Jessa Jordan and Lilith Von, the crew now consists of members La Deva Arazel, Bugalu Boogie, Essa Terick, Bryan Green and Mia Secreto.
The troupe works to be as inclusive as it can and caters to vast audiences, but the members are adamant about their need for representation to be intimately and innately black and brown.
“We are strictly POC. Our events are welcome to all who want to support us artistically, but we center POC folks,” Icon explained. “We have black and latinx members and exclusively book QTPOC people as guests. It hasn’t been like that before, but we recently established ourselves.
“I think with the lack of representation in shows and the growth of QTPOC cabaret artists, it’s important to have spaces where the weird POC, sexy kids can go see a show where people look like them, from body type to gender identify and beyond — not just have one or two black people in a show and audience and call it a night,” they added.
“Also, with racism existing in queer spaces, we should not have to force ourselves to adjust to situations and places that make us feel uncomfortable when we just want to let it all hang out without fear of judgment.”