This story originally published online at UNC Media Hub.

When the lights went out, Naomi Dix thought she’d missed a stage cue.

She worked through the production notes in her head: she was introducing the third act, which was meant to start with a blackout — but it shouldn’t have happened while she was speaking.

Later would come the revelation that the county’s power substations had been shot up by suspects who have yet to be identified. Then would come the months of harassment and death threats to the drag performers who’d come to Southern Pines on the night 45,000 people lost power. But in that moment, Dix’s sole concern as a seasoned drag queen was the captive crowd in the pitch-black theater.

Backstage, waiting for the music to kick in, her bodyguard (the venue hired 30 after the protests) told her the power was out. He radioed the snipers on the roof who reported back that all the buildings had gone dark. There were no lights on in Moore County.

She went back onstage and the guards followed, flanking her on all sides — already worried that the outage could be part of something larger, something potentially violent.

The mic was out, so she yelled to the hundreds of guests in a voice honed through nearly 10 years as a drag queen.

“Do you want the show to continue?”

The answer was a resounding yes.

She couldn’t sing alone, not loud enough for everyone to hear, so she told the crowd to join her in singing Beyoncé’s “Halo.” As she performed what may now be the most infamous show of her career, the audience lit the theater with their phones, illuminating Dix in the glow of over 300 individual spotlights.

“It was like looking into a sky of nothing but stars,” she said.

Naomi Dix — three-time drag pageant winner, member of the Triangle’s premier drag family: The House of Coxx and the self-described “Pink Afro-Latinx Barbie of N.C.” — was terrified of drag queens when she first saw one at 16.

“These are like really tall people with deep voices and hair and makeup with really big breasts and really exaggerated hips and corsets and high heels,” she laughed, lounging in a plush chair at Queeny’s bar in Durham, “It kind of scared me, and it scared me not because I thought that they were like bad people. It scared me because I was uneducated in knowing who they were and why they were doing what it was that they were doing.”

She’d just run away from home to New Orleans, moving in with a much older boyfriend and fleeing unsupportive parents in Raleigh.

She remembers what her mom said to her on the phone after she ran away:

“You will need us before we need you.”

It turned out to be true.

When the initial excitement of running away and connecting with her community for the first time faded, the reality of the abusive nature of her relationship set in.

“At the time, you think it’s really cool,” she said. “Like I’m 16, I’m staying with a German guy, he’s super hot, he has a business, he lives in New Orleans right off the French Quarter — and then you realize when you’re older ‘that was actually illegal.’”

After nearly six months away from home, Dix returned to Raleigh.

The Megabus dropped her off at an empty home where she sat on the doorstep until her mother, who worked as a prison guard, arrived. Her mom silently unlocked the door and let her inside. The first words she said to her, three days later, were “you know what time you need to be up for school, right?”

Dix tells her stories with the bluntness and levity one might expect from a drag queen: recognizing their importance but indulging very little in self–pity.

She’s just returned from weeks of traveling to speak at conferences and perform across the country. She’s even grown a beard — a consequence of not being in drag for two weeks, she says. Dix is not transgender, but she keeps her male identity private and strictly separated from her drag. Only a few people in her life have even seen what she looks like out of drag.

“It’s nothing to do with fear,” she said. “I just like the mystery. I like that it sets drag apart from anything else.”

For a long time, though, the privacy was more of a practical necessity.

When Dix returned from New Orleans, her relationship with her parents was difficult. They didn’t speak about her running away, pretending to live a life where their son never fled and wasn’t gay.

When Dix found drag, it added another layer to the distance between her and her family: a bright pink bow around the closet she’d been put back into.

The hiding and the inconvenience were worth it, though. Drag, which had at first scared and confused her, became the most intimate family she had.

She never intended to do drag, of course — she never really liked it to begin with. None of the drag queens looked like her — they were all white.

That was until a friend took her to The Pinhook in Durham for the first time.

“My name is Vivica mother—-ing C. Coxx and I am Black and I am educated,” the queen who took the stage said. She was wrapped in a custom-made dress in the style of a baseball uniform, with a bedazzled bat to match.

Naomi Dix backstage in Moore County. Credit: Jailyn Neville / UNC Media Hub

“I looked at my friends and I said, ‘OK, yes! I’m about this life,’” Dix said.

Coxx, the eponymous founder of the House of Coxx and Dix’s longtime drag mother, did something different than the queens she’d seen before. Her show had lip–syncing and dancing and jokes, of course — but it was also about education. She started her set by talking about consent, preaching safe and respectful sex to the crowd.

“Educated doesn’t mean that you went to university, it just means educated in a way that you are aware of the space that you take, you are aware of who you are as a person, you’re aware of the platform that you possess — and she was aware of all of those things,” Dix said. “And so I felt so peaceful, and I felt so heard and seen as a person of color.”

Not long after, Dix began her own drag career, entering an amateur contest hosted by Coxx.

She was so worried about being seen in drag that she booked a hotel room to get ready in. She still remembers her outfit, picked out for her by the gay salesman at Forever 21 who immediately guessed that she was a drag queen: tight black shorts, a lace cream leotard with spaghetti straps, far-too-tall heels and gold jewelry — she had to superglue the earrings to her unpierced ears.

That night, Dix performed to Beyoncé’s “Partition,” wobbling on The Pinhook’s tall stage in her cheap heels. It was terrifying, but it also felt like an experience she’d been waiting for her whole life.

“It felt like I was honestly, truthfully who I’ve always wanted to be,” Dix said. “Not even as a drag artist, but just as a person — as a human.” 

Dix won the contest, and not long after Coxx was asking her to be part of something she was starting. The House of Coxx was going to be more than a drag family who just performed together — this was going to be a drag house focused on advocacy and education.

Dix had never really considered herself to be an advocate, but she resonated with Coxx’s message. She’d never spent much time thinking about LGBTQ+ issues, but soon she found herself speaking about trans rights and raising money for queer youth.

Though she’d never expected to be a drag performer, much less a community advocate, she took to the role with an intensity and dedication that shocked her drag sister, Stormie Daie.

“I don’t remember meeting Naomi, but I remember all of the complications she brought,” she joked.

Daie remembers seeing Dix bring massive plastic tubs of clothes to shows, taking up entire dressing rooms with gowns and makeup and her endless entourage of friends.

While unsure of each other at first, the two quickly became friends after a Valentine’s Day show where they accidentally picked the same Beyoncé song — forcing them to perform together.

As she found her place in the family, Dix dominated the Triangle drag scene, winning Miss Hispanidad NC in 2017 and bringing shows to venues that had never even seen drag before.

“I don’t think anyone has more shows under her belt than Miss Naomi Dix,” Daie said. “She’s everywhere, girl. She’s an air sign — that girl is like the breeze.

Drag ended up being the final straw for Dix’s relationship with her parents. She’d managed to keep it secret from them for four years. In the end, it was a YouTube clip sent to her sister that ended things.

Dix was in drag in the clip, doing an interview about her shows. The email from her mother came a few days after she saw it. It was filled with religious appeals: telling her how she had disobeyed God, of her imminent destruction in hell, her disappointment as a son. 

Despite all the time spent teaching crowds about acceptance, Dix had learned that not all things could be solved with education. Some people can’t change.

“I can no longer be a part of this relationship,” she wrote in a long message to her parents. “Thank you for giving me the clothes on my back and the roof over my head and the food in my mouth and thank you for giving me life. I love you. And maybe we’ll talk someday, but I’m not banking on it right now.” 

They never responded, and nearly five years later it remains the last thing she’s said to her parents. When Dix speaks about her parents now, she uses a familiar phrase:

“They’re going to need me before I need them.”

The thing that puzzles Dix about the backlash to the show in Moore County was that it was the fifth one she’d performed there.

The House of Coxx was expanding its scope, bringing LGBTQ+ events and spaces to North Carolinians in areas with less queer visibility. Since 2021, Dix had hosted a variety of drag brunches and shows across the county, primarily in Southern Pines.

Something about the Downtown Divas showcase in December struck a nerve with people though. Some criticized the fact that the flyer didn’t initially list an age limit — an addition the theater quickly made after backlash from the local Christian school.

Naomi Dix and Stormie Daie. Credit: Jailyn Neville / UNC Media Hub

Dix thinks it has more to do with the location. She’d booked the Sunrise Theater, a fixture of the community in Southern Pines, one the residents are fiercely protective of.

“When I bring a whole multitude of people: myself, my cast, my team, my people, they’re like, ‘Wait a minute, now you’re starting to move into our territory, we have an issue with that,’” she said.

Dix knew that she’d be walking into a volatile environment on the night of the show. A group of residents had organized a protest outside the venue, gaining national attention after the viral Libs of TikTok account tweeted about the show.

“As I was driving through, I even said to my husband, ‘This is the first time that I’m going through Southern Pines and feel unsafe,’” she said.

They’d planned for this, though. Community groups had chipped in to get bodyguards for every performer, extra security outside the venue and even snipers on the roof.

Performers entered the theater from a back entrance, escorted by security, but Dix went out front just before the show started. Split down the middle, two groups of people stood with signs in the neon glow of the Sunrise Theater’s retro marquee.

On one side, around 40 protesters stood in opposition to the show. On the other side, a sea of pink (Dix’s favorite color) cheered for the queen who brought drag to Moore County.

She came out and spoke to the pink side, to the ones who wanted her there. 

“I wanted them to see that when times like this happen, this is not a time for you to stay silent, this is a time for you to show up and show out,” Dix said.

Four months later, law enforcement in Moore County have not said if the attacks were related to the drag show.

“The investigation continues day in and day out,” Richard Maness, chief deputy for the Moore County Sheriff’s Office said. “Anything that comes up, we’re looking into it, but I have no information about suspects.”

Dix refrains from saying who she thinks the perpetrators were, but she said the events speak for themselves.

“When we’re thinking about these attacks that have happened to marginalized communities, the answer is always the same,” she said. “The answer is always, ‘Well, we don’t think that it really had anything to do with that, and we don’t really know what happened.”

Dix has changed since Moore County, her friends say.

“You can tell that she’s working to keep things together, instead of just being together,” Daie said. “She’s putting in more effort to make sure that she’s got what she needs.”

She’s channeling the pain from Moore County and all the offenses that came before it into her work.

If advocacy had been an essential component of Dix’s drag before, it’s now the primary directive. She’s spending her time fighting the hundreds of anti-trans bills that have been filed and passed in legislatures across the country.

On a rainy Saturday morning in Durham, Dix shuffles through CCB Plaza in fluffy slippers, waiting on her husband (she married in 2020) to bring her heels. The beard is gone and replaced with foundation and highlight. She blinks in the rain through three-inch-long eyelashes and adjusts the long blonde hair resting on her black dress. 

Once the tents are set up and rainbow umbrellas have been distributed to the dozens of attendees, Dix speaks to the crowd that’s gathered in protest of Tennessee’s bill to restrict drag performances in public.

“Could you imagine how much of a difference it would make if we were to tell someone today that we love them,” she said. “If we were just to let people know that it is okay and there is nothing wrong, and that you will not be put in danger by simply being yourself.”

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.

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