'Drag Race' star Sharon Needles accused of "terrorizing" a 15-year-old super fan
Her alleged behavior shows an upsetting pattern of toxic abuse.
This article details situations of physical and emotional abuse, child pornography, and references to suicide.
The internet has forever changed the culture of fandom. From Tumblr (RIP) to Reddit, private Facebook groups, Instagram DM threads and beyond, it’s now very easy for devotees of celebrities to connect and form new subcultures behind their favorites. One place this is extra common is within the fanatical world of supporting popular drag queens. Queer community still has a way of remaining fringe online, and within that niche enclave, it’s easier for personalities to emerge amongst the fans themselves as sort of leaders of the group.
With the celebrities now sometimes getting taken up with these outlets as well, a once rare occurrence of directly connecting with your hero is now far more possible. This seems to be the trap that was laid in 2013 for then 15-year-old super fan Annecy, when they became intimately connected with their idol Sharon Needles over the internet. What started out as hopes for queer support, allegedly turned sinister and toxic very quickly, with the Daily Beast publishing a scathing exposé detailing what sounds like an extensive history of abusive behavior by Sharon Needles.
Annecy, who struggled with bullying and suicidal ideation as a queer eighth-grader in the south, found their lone solace in the wild world of Ru Paul’s Drag Race — particularly Season 4 winner Sharon Needles. They quickly became a super fan, and by 2013 at the age of 15 had cemented an actual private online relationship with Needles, who was 31 at the time, via Vine. What started out as an enthralling connection quickly turned dark and unsafe. Annecy recalls “taking a bunch of pills” one night in a bout of suicidal depression, and that Needles, “started talking to me about how he thinks suicide is beautiful and that I should keep eating pills, and kept calling me an idiot and a moron.” When Annecy won a ticket aboard a Drag Race-themed cruise, the eight-day encounter with Needles saw the digital abuse become physical. During the cruise Needles forcibly shotgunned marijuana hits into Annecy’s mouth, encouraged them to drink alcohol, led them into adult situations that included nudity, drunkenly threatened suicide by hanging off of the boat and physically assaulted Annecy, at one point sitting on top of their neck and chocking them.
Unfortunately, this eight-day nightmare wasn’t the end of Needles’ alleged abuse of Annecy. Their relationship continued with weekly Facetime calls for years, during which Needles allegedly continued to stoke suicidal ideation in a vulnerable Annecy, torment their mental health, and even send them images of child pornography. The Daily Beast’s year-long reporting found corroborating witnesses to the inappropriate behavior with Annecy on the cruise, as well as dated messages of Annecy commiserating with friends about their interactions, and messages with Needles herself that make clear the abusive nature of their relationship. There are also witnesses to Needles physically abusing Annecy after a drag show towards the end of their intimate relationship, as well as Needles telling Annecy, “I was fat and said she’ll come to my funeral when I kill myself… She mostly yelled at me and was crying and doing drugs and telling her boyfriend to punch me,” in one of their last in-person interactions back stage. After Annecy started coming forward on social media about the reality of their relationship with Needles in the summer of 2020, they faced extreme online harassment from Needles fans that included mocking of their mental health.
Beyond the horrific revelations about the way Sharon Needles tormented Annecy for years, the alarming story also raises the question of how people in positions of power at Drag Race and in the drag scene have enabled Needles’ cycles of abuse. Needles, whose real name is Aaron Coady, became one of the franchise’s most recognizable figures after she won Season 4 in 2012. Needles, whose schtick was the art of shock, made a name for herself pushing boundaries. But rumors and reports of problematic behavior over the years have propelled a narrative that Needles has trouble separating the artist from the art — making a gag of ignoring consent for physical touch at meet-and-greets, casually using jokes of suicide, fat-shaming, and continually spewing racist and transphobic slurs, even directed at fellow contestants on the show. All of these reports also allege Drag Race producers, club handlers, show promoters, and even Drag Race figureheads like Michelle Visage all consistently turning a blind eye to Needles’ flagrant behavior. With the power of Needles within the scene, it seems many queens have been afraid to speak out as well for fear of harm to their careers. Since Annecy came forward on Twitter, Season 6 contestant Joslyn Fox has been the only Drag Race alum to confirm rumors Tweeting, “This is heartbreaking. Even harder to read when you know it’s true.”
Ru Paul’s Drag Race has become a global phenomenon over the years, catapulting the art form from its historical place as a pigeonholed queer subculture into a mainstream medium. With catchphrases like, “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else,” the show has been credited with spreading the message of LGBTQ+ joy directly into people’s living rooms, and helping destigmatize queerness for the white bread masses. But with that wholesome yin is also clearly a problematic yang. There seems to be a dark underbelly to what is now the machine of Drag Race and its production company World Of Wonder. With what sounds to be endless money to be made, a pattern of overlooking problematic behaviors from contestants for the sake of preserving the franchise emerges from these rumors. Hopefully these new highly corroborated allegations will bring people forward to tell some truths. As Annecy told The Daily Beast, “I just want to see some sort of accountability, but at this point I don’t think that’s something I’m going to get from [Needles], so it’s up to the people around him to hold him accountable—and I don’t feel like that’s happened.” At the time of this writing though it does not seem that anyone in the drag community has commented, and Sharon Needles is not even trending on Twitter.