Interview with Angel Axel, drag performer and DJ, on Pride Marfa

Angel Axel performing at a Pride Marfa event this past Saturday at the Sentinel. Photo by Sarah Vasquez, courtesy Pride Marfa.

MARFA — Marfa’s inaugural Pride celebration took place this past weekend and included a number of musical and drag performances from artists across Texas. Among the lineup was Angel Axel, an El Paso-based drag performer and DJ, who grew up in Van Horn. 

The Big Bend Sentinel caught up with Axel after the event via email to learn more about her background and her experience performing at Pride Marfa. 

Big Bend Sentinel: How did you get involved with Pride Marfa, and why did you choose to perform and participate? 

Angel Axel: I had never heard of Marfa ever having their own queer parties/events up until I met Chris Gonzales (Sauvignon Blanca), and Paul Chavarria back in 2019. I met them both at a queer event in El Paso, and we immediately kiki’d. They mentioned how they would love to have me and some other El Paso queer performers perform in Marfa for a Pride show. We made some connections and made it happen. QUEEÑATA was our first time experiencing the Marfa magic. I didn’t know what to expect coming into it, but I definitely didn’t expect it to be so uplifting and receptive of queer art. It was definitely a shock to me and the El Paso queers. 

BBS: Can you please describe your artistic practice, style and what you try to bring to your audiences and performances? 

AA: Queer performance art, for me, is something that I feel challenges and even violates borders between genders and sex, between private and public, and between everyday life and art, that follows no rules. My style and approach to any performance can always differentiate, but I always try to incorporate a high level of energy to whatever performance I bring. I am specifically inspired by the ballroom scene which originated the dance style that we know as “vogueing.” If there’s one thing Angel Axel can do, it’s definitely turn up the damn party.

BBS: What does it mean for West Texas to have a Pride celebration of this size and caliber in Marfa?

AA: West Texas has always felt like an afterthought or maybe even nonexistent to other parts of Texas. To have Pride Marfa at this caliber of an event means that West Texas queers now have a platform that we have been itching for. There is so much hidden talent here that is only hidden merely because of the fact that there is very little space for our art to be represented. Pride Marfa puts us on a pedestal that we don’t necessarily get in El Paso. It’s a Pride event that is unique and special in the sense that no other town with a population of 2,000 people is having LGBTQ+ artists being represented for their talents, and paid for it too. You just don’t hear of that. 

BBS: Why is it important for small rural communities, especially in Texas, to show support for Pride and LGBTQ communities? 

AA: I am a small-town desert queer who comes from the small town you pass through on I-10 to get some gas and get back on the road. Born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Van Horn, Texas, as a young queer I was always starved of the feeling of being seen for who I truly was. With Pride Marfa we are able to bring in a voice for queers, and especially queer youth who feel like they have no voice in these small towns. It’s important for these rural communities to see us, to know that we are here, to know that the LGBTQ+ community and especially trans and gender nonconforming people deserve the same rights as white cis-hetero people. As queers we don’t need your “acceptance,” we need equal rights. We need to feel safe in cis-hetero spaces, and with Pride Marfa we are demanding that. This is about equality and inclusion in the broadest sense. And that’s a conversation worth demanding year after year — even after the confetti of Pride has settled.

BBS: Can you speak to the overall vibes of the event as a performer and what the audience was like? 

AA: The overall vibes of Pride Marfa were extremely positive and uplifting. Everyone there was super helpful and nice, and I really appreciated the welcoming tone from everybody. As a performer, I’ve performed for many different audiences and I can easily say that the audience in Marfa is absolutely unmatched. It’s not just a couple people in the audience screaming for you, it’s literally everyone in that room cheering, screaming for us performers. It’s a feeling that makes every performer feel very special. A loud, uplifting crowd is always something you want when you go into a performance, and the audience at Pride Marfa was insane in all the best ways.  

BBS: Why are community and family-friendly events, such as Pride Marfa’s block party and drag brunch, important in this political climate (with a Texas representative potentially introducing legislation to ban children from drag shows)? 

AA: With Pride Marfa having family-friendly events, it brought in the conversation on whether or not it’s acceptable for children to attend queer events such as a drag show. This past month a Texas lawmaker proposed a ban on minors attending drag shows in the state. Mind you, this was two weeks after 19 students were killed by a gunman at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. In this political climate, I believe it is important for our youth to know exactly what is out there. Pride means so many different things, and one of those things is having no shame. There is no shame in a group of trans women dancing in bras and skirts, there is no shame in two women kissing, there is no shame in two men kissing. While your kids might catch a glimpse of semi-nudity, above all else they see a joyous moment of celebration and being queer and different. However, there is shame in the fact that our state has done absolutely nothing about gun laws, and our children are being killed because of it. Change is now, and Pride Marfa is a perfect example of that.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.