To Bey Or Not To Bey: How A Freakum Dress Got Black Queer & Trans* Folk Into Formation

There are very few recording artists who can capture the public’s attention to become a global household name. There are even fewer artists who achieve icon status and maintain their solo success for 16 years, growing ever stronger with each passing year. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter has done just this in a wide variety of ways, from giving the world not only one but two dance crazes and even performing leaning back on a chair while heavily pregnant with twins at The 59th Annual Grammy Awards.

Beyoncé has channelled her pop, rock, soul, R&B, funk and hip-hop influences into one velvet punch which has captured the world’s attention. Her growth from a quietly confident teenager in Destiny’s Child to daring soloist and then slowly morphing into the world’s most-watched entertainer has provided the perfect soundtrack to many queer and trans* youth finding their path in a world with no auto-pilot. Beyoncé’s Black womanhood has presented her with challenges in an industry dominated by powerful men, many of whom are white, who do not understand her perspective of the world and her expression of self. Discrimination coupled with double standards provides a surprising unity between Beyoncé and her large Black queer fanbase.

This is something Beyoncé is well aware of, as she noted in a 2011 interview with PrideSource, commenting: “Most of my audience is actually women and my gay fans, and I’ve seen a lot of the younger boys kind of grow up to my music…I have my (gay) stylists and my makeup artist, and all of their stories and the slang words I always put it in my music. We inspire each other. As I said, we’re one…If anyone is brave and true to themselves, it’s my gay fans”.

From the belles of the balls to the monarchs of the dancefloor, Black queer and trans people are the personification of the phrase “creatio ex nihilo” – creation out of nothing. Beyoncé matches the same energy, as seen through the popularising of the term Bootylicious, the title of the Destiny’s Child single of the same name. When you think of Bootylicious, you think of the iconic music video and the lyrics, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly/ ‘Cause my body too bootylicious for ya babe”. The lyrics are perfect for a community who sings, dances and performs its way to and through liberation, using the tools that all human beings have – our bodies and expression of sexuality.

Bootylicious GIF

Beyoncé has risen into the stratosphere, proudly taking her Creole heritage and southern roots with her all around the world to the delight of fans, with fan favourites featuring AAVE such as Kitty Kat, “How you gon’ neglect this? You is just a hot mess/ You can call Tyrone, you ain’t gots to lie Craig”, and Formation, “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros”. The inclusion of language particular to African-Americans has gained Beyoncé deep affection from the originators of much of American popular culture, who are systematically and mockingly misrepresented in global representations of their heritage (often performed incorrectly and sloppily by non-Black performers in a caricature style).

Icons like Beyoncé have a way of storming through the darkness of reality to bring light to others. Miss Shalae, American trans* performer and Beyoncé impersonator, released Lemonade served Bitter Sweet in 2016, featuring all trans* collective, The Glass Wing Group, influenced by Beyoncé’s video album, Lemonade. Shalae commented to PinkNews, “I used to perform whatever music spoke to me but since my transition, I’ve been sticking with Beyoncé…She is an all-around true inspiration.” Shalae was also shouted out to in the crowd in Beyoncé’s Homecoming documentary on Netflix, with Beyoncé calling, “I see you! How did you do that so fast? She has on my outfit, y’all.”

Beyoncé’s commitment to vocal and performance excellence and living her purpose as a master visionary in re-imagining the current world in all its beauty, pain, glory and anger has provided a lifeline to thousands of Black queer and trans people. This world is not safe for folks who not only live at the margins of conventional understandings of identity but threaten binaristic constructions of the self to the core. Beyoncé’s music and work ethic have given millions of her Black queer and trans* fans the confidence to be their best selves and to be the Beyoncé’s of their own world.

Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest is holding a We ❤️ Beyoncé event, where they will be two film screenings in adoration of the Queen B herself at Theatre Peckham on Sunday 30th June. Waiting for B is a film about the young queer Beyoncé fans in Brazil camping out 2 months to be the first in line at her show. They will also be screening Dreamgirls so grab yourselves a ticket and join the fandom! Tickets HERE. You can follow Fringe! on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.


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