When Mill Blackburn first saw RuPaul’s Drag Race, the eight-year-old was instantly hooked.
Now the youngster regularly plays in drag and Mill’s mom is supportive, but not everyone has been so nice.
Mill, who is non-binary – identifies as neither masculine nor feminine – using the pronouns “she” and “them” and debuted in August 2019 with their lingering persona.
On stage at Denver’s Dragutante – a festival that celebrates self-expression through drag – to sync lip with a song by singer Lizzo as their spirited alter-ego Salt Qween, brought Mill down the house, with older drag mentors hitting it insisted that the starlet perform in their biweekly shows.
With Salt Qween’s career taking off, life for Mill has now become a whirlwind of colorful wigs, sparkly sequins and grueling weekly rehearsal runs.
But Mill’s mom Manige Blackburn, 34, says some critics even accuse her of child abuse.
The charity worker from Denver, Colorado, USA said, “I get a lot of people who say it’s disgusting to have my eight-year-old son perform – lots of biblical quotes are thrown around, too.
“I have been told that I exploit my child at the expense of a ‘normal childhood’.
“But I don’t see how anyone could get an eight-year-old to put on a big dress, a wig, and get all that attention caught up against their own will.”
She continued, “Drag is like protective armor to me. It protects children while examining their gender.
“I honestly classify it as mental health for Mill. The big purple wigs, the makeup and the new name – it’s all so cathartic. “
Manige, who also has a daughter, Teya, 12, explained how Mill’s first attempt at towing came only at the age of two.
After watching an episode of VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, the toddler proudly announced, “I’m a drag queen” while strolling around the living room in a pink, fluffy dress.
Explaining how Mill would occasionally dress up in Teya’s clothes, Manige, who has been in a relationship with father-at-home Cameron for 37 years, said: “Growing up. Mill could be very feminine and want to dress up in Teya’s clothes and makeup, but it was very rare and I never expected them to get such a sheen to drag.
“Other times, they can also be very manly, dressed in their favorite Hulk outfit or a bow tie.”
Then, last summer, Mill again experimented with towing on a family day out to Denver Pride.
“We walked past a booth that gave kids the chance to get dragged and play on stage with a local drag house, and Mill was determined to get involved,” remembers Manige.
“If Mill has their opinion on anything, nothing will change, so let’s pair them with a drag artist who spent the next hour or so.”
But before Mill could get to the Dragutante stage, the most important task was to come up with a name for their feminine alter ego.
Manige explained how she helped come up with the pseudonym and said, “Mill has always had a pretty salty attitude – salt means cheeky and maybe even a bit cranky.
“Even as a child, when people cherished them, they rolled their eyes as if to say” Urgh “to the world.”
She continued, “They come up with the funniest phrases and say things like,” Many, you’re out of control “to me.
“So that’s where the name Salt Qween came from.”
With Mill’s stage name chosen, Manige waited with bated breath as Salt Qween made her stage debut for Lizzo’s Like a Girl, dressed in a fuchsia pink dress – with a matching wig.
“I was so nervous waiting for them to come onstage, but as soon as they did, their whole faces lit up. The audience was beating it up, ”she recalled.
“I thought,” Oh my god, you’re good at this. “In the past I tried to make them dance, karate, run, but at that point it was clear they had to do this.”
It wasn’t just the crowd who loved Salt Qween – the drag community hosting the event insisted that Mill join them for regular performances.
“It almost started from there. Mill immediately became part of the Denver drag community, “added Manige.
Manige described the fortnightly performances, which are usually sold out to a crowd of about 45 people, explaining that the shows consist of 12 individual performances by six to seven queens.
Manige takes place at a local pub every Sunday lunchtime and is religiously up at 6:30 am to ensure everything goes smoothly.
“Mill chooses the song they want to play a week in advance and then they come up with their own choreography and lip sync – looking up the audience for tips,” she added.
While currently fit to perfect their act around school, Mill is determined to become a full-time artist one day.
Although Manige is extremely supportive, she also wants to ensure that her children have ‘realistic’ ambitions.
“Mill’s number one dream is to become a full-time drag queen, but I’m not sure that’s realistic and I made that clear to them,” she said.
“I asked them what else they want to pursue and they said they want to become astronaut Doula – someone who delivers babies in space – because they are convinced that by the time we will all be in space with babies they are a adult. ‘
In general, both audience and fellow performers are all enthusiastic about Salt Qween – but Manige has faced anti-aircraft guns for getting her child into trouble.
She explained, “Most little kids know who RuPaul is now – it’s part of pop culture. He’s no longer the bad guy in a dress on TV, but you still get the strange comment.
“At the end of the day, it can make some people uncomfortable, older children playing with gender.
“But everyone who knows us knows I’m not the driving force behind this. I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on wigs and makeup. I’m the least feminine woman I know. I don’t even have a skirt!”
She continued, “I just let my kids chase what interests them, and when it hisses out, it goes out – in this case it isn’t yet.”
Determined not to let the ‘medieval views’ of others spoil Mill’s pleasure, Manige is convinced that towing can only benefit young people.
“I think their confidence has increased tenfold,” she said. “It’s hard to find a place to experiment with gender role play and drag, which has allowed them to do that.”
She continued, “It was invaluable – I can’t quantify how much. Mill is only eight and there is still so much to tell about who they are.
“We can’t know what Mill would look like without towing, they’re only eight, but I imagine they’d have had a lot more gender identity issues without this.”
And Manige couldn’t have been more grateful to have the love and support of the drag community – it described it as “one big family”.
She concluded, “People love to sexualize drag, but if someone is gay, they will be gay regardless of whether they play drag as a child.
“Mill turned to me last month and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m a he, a she or a she.’ That would never have happened so organically without being part of the Denver drag scene.
“I just told them it’s okay and to let me know once they figure it out and I know they will – because of their drag family.”
She concluded, “My child loves every second of life and is now part of a huge, loving community that they can look up to and talk to – how can that be a bad thing?”