For Annecy, a young queer person growing up in the South, RuPaul’s Drag Race was a lifeline. In the eighth grade, Season 4 winner Aaron Coady, who performs under the stage name Sharon Needles, was “everything” to them. “He talked about being the weird gay kid and I was like, ‘Me too.’”
Annecy uses they/them pronouns. Throughout this story, Aaron Coady is frequently referred to by his drag name, Sharon Needles. Multiple sources in this story refer to their experiences with Sharon and use she/her pronouns, as is customary for many drag performers. We have chosen to keep these quotes intact, as opposed to editing for name and pronoun consistency.
As they struggled with severe anxiety, panic attacks, and bullying at school, Annecy told The Daily Beast that Drag Race and online drag culture was “one of the few things keeping me happy.” They began going to drag shows and tweeting at their favorite Drag Race contestants. In 2013, when they were 15, Annecy started to interact with their idol, Aaron Coady, on Vine. Annecy, who was frequently suicidal as a teen, recalled one night in which they “took a bunch of pills.” Annecy said they spoke to Coady that night, and he “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.”
Annecy, 15, and Coady, then 31, had never met in person.
When Annecy and Coady did meet, in November 2013, Annecy alleged that the abuse quickly escalated. Because of a superfan testimonial, Annecy had won passage aboard a Drag Race-themed cruise. Over the course of those eight days, Annecy told The Daily Beast, their hero crossed a number of physical and emotional boundaries. Annecy alleged that Coady repeatedly gave them “shotguns of weed” and encouraged them to drink alcohol. They also allege that Coady hit them multiple times. At one point, Annecy claimed, Coady “sat on my neck and choked me.”
In an email to The Daily Beast, Coady’s legal counsel wrote that they had been previously retained “to help Sharon deal with the allegations which appear to form the basis for your investigative piece.” They stated that, “Sharon has vehemently denied the allegations against her, and is prepared to defend herself against this individual to the fullest extent possible.” The Daily Beast subsequently provided Coady’s lawyer with a full summary of the allegations to be reported in this story but received no further response, despite multiple weeks of follow-up requests for comment.
Annecy also alleged that Alaska Thunderfuck, another Drag Race winner, exposed themself to Annecy on the cruise. “It was the first penis I ever saw and it was when I was 15, and there was no consent.”
They recall FaceTiming with Coady frequently over the next two years, and described an unhealthy power dynamic that bordered on life-threatening. “Any time I would be sad or whatever [Coady] just would tell me to cut deeper,” they recalled. “I was still cutting and I was still taking more pills with him in mind.”
Annecy maintained that a number of franchise stars witnessed Coady’s behavior and failed to intervene. Annecy said that Drag Race judge Michelle Visage was made aware of some of Aaron Coady’s alleged actions while on the 2013 cruise and that she allegedly complained to World of Wonder, Drag Race’s production company. Needles apparently received a verbal reprimand, but no further action appears to have been taken and Annecy does not recall any attempts being made to separate them and Sharon for the remainder of the cruise. (The Daily Beast repeatedly contacted Coady, Alaska, and Visage for comment, to no avail.)
In the summer of 2020, Annecy shared parts of their story on social media. They received no serious media coverage and few former Drag Race contestants spoke up on their behalf. Additionally, they were met with extreme online harassment from Sharon Needles fans. Coady is still working and headlining shows as a drag performer and posts frequently on social media. They recently debuted their own brand of flavored SERV vodka, alongside five other Drag Race stars.
After they posted their allegations, Annecy said that Coady reached out to them. A Facebook message from Coady’s account, which was reviewed by The Daily Beast, began, “I really sorry you feel that way chip. You were the ONE fan I worked so very hard to nurture your talents. I shared things with you I’d share with NO ONE.”
In October 2020, Annecy received a letter from a lawyer claiming to have been retained by Sharon Needles. The letter, observed by The Daily Beast, read in part, “My client fully and unequivocally denies the allegations you have made against her. Your accusations indicating that she committed felony criminal offenses are extremely serious and have caused irreparable damage.”
The letter continued, “I have advised my client that she is well within her rights to pursue legal action against you at this time. My client, however, would prefer to try to make one last attempt to resolve this matter outside of litigation.” The letter went on to demand that Annecy “retract/remove the Tweets.” Annecy has posted about Sharon Needles and their allegations since, and has not received any further legal communication. Annecy reached out to lawyers to explore taking legal action against Coady, but says that they were told it would be difficult to move forward due to potential issues of jurisdiction and the statute of limitations.
In a series of interviews spanning over a year, Annecy told their story to The Daily Beast, including new details and context not included in their now-deleted public post. The Daily Beast reviewed Facebook posts and messages between Annecy and Coady, as well as messages that Annecy sent others about their friendship at the time. The Daily Beast also spoke with friends of Annecy’s who they had told about Coady’s behavior, as well as witnesses who alleged to have seen the abuse firsthand.
Additionally, The Daily Beast has made contact with a number of fans who say that they had their own disturbing encounters with Coady. While these allegations exist along a spectrum of severity, from emotionally harmful language to persistent and unwanted groping, they echo the abuse that Annecy claimed to have been subjected to and imply a longstanding pattern of behavior.
These combined testimonies follow years in which Sharon Needles was consistently called out for using racist and transphobic rhetoric. He has been the subject of petitions, campaigns, and countless Reddit threads, all attesting to his toxicity. But Coady’s career always seemed to survive these offenses (including his frequent use of the N-word, which has been confirmed by other Drag Race stars). Even Annecy’s allegations only resulted in a temporary social media hiatus.
Annecy’s story aside, Sharon Needles’ problematic behavior was an open secret. Despite alarming allegations, Coady was granted opportunities by the franchise, its production company World of Wonder, and bookers and promoters around the world. While Drag Race has condemned other series contestants, most notably accused serial sexual abuser Sherry Pie, neither the franchise nor the majority of its stars have publicly censured Sharon Needles. For years, buoyed by a franchise that utterly dominates and dictates the global drag scene, Coady had access to and influence over adoring fans. World of Wonder did not respond to requests to comment on this story. The Daily Beast reached out to over a dozen former Drag Race contestants, none of whom were available to comment.
Before Annecy ever met Sharon Needles, they were a superfan. Their story is representative of how the franchise has come to mean so much to so many young people; fans who first encounter drag as kids or teenagers, not at gay bars, but on the internet and Vh1. Drag Race has made a formerly niche subculture mass market, accessible in a way that changes lives.
Annecy recalled “passing through the TV channels one time in seventh grade and finding the Untucked episode where Manila is Big Bird.” They had been feeling “lonely and misunderstood,” in a Southern town at a time when “gay culture and everything was a lot less accepted.”
“I just started getting really depressed and started getting suicidal and my life was on the website Tumblr, all the time,” Annecy continued. “And I was in a very, very gay online community. So drag just became more and more prevalent to me.” The first season of Drag Race that Annecy watched in full was Season 4—Sharon Needles’ season. They remember being captivated by Sharon from the start.
In May 2013, When Annecy’s fan video won them passage on an upcoming Drag Race cruise, it was a dream come true. The lead-up to the November cruise was even more exciting; online, Annecy was actually connecting with their idol, Sharon Needles. “That whole summer, we started talking in her Facebook fan group a lot, and then we would goof off on Vine together, like make Vines at each other, and she would react to my Vines,” Annecy explained. “We started communicating and getting to know each other over the internet and getting ready to meet on the cruise later that year.”
Looking back on it now, Annecy said, “I know that there was a sense of discomfort at the time, but the main thing is, I was starstruck. I came out of years of trauma, and all of a sudden I was sharing private moments with my idol. And I just wanted to excuse everything as just her kind of tough love, or just the way she was.”
While Annecy was excited about spending time with their favorite performer face-to-face, the cruise resulted in more togetherness than Annecy ever could have imagined; a level of physical and emotional intimacy that the 15-year-old was not prepared to handle, but felt powerless to stop. “It was like eight days, and we went to Sharon’s room probably like every single day. I was with her so much, she would find me and just take my hand and we’d walk around.”
Annecy said that while they were accompanied by a parent on the cruise, their parent was not present during much of the time that they spent with Coady and did not witness the abusive behaviors that they are alleging, such as Coady choking them and exposing himself to them. Annecy added that they did not disclose these experiences to their parent at the time, instead offering sanitized accounts of the time they spent with Coady.
Lizzie Renaud, another passenger on the 2013 Drag Race cruise, said that “everybody was talking about” Coady’s behavior toward Annecy for the duration of the trip. Annecy stood out on the cruise as the competition winner, and as a much younger presence. “People knew who they were, because everyone was following that contest,” Renaud explained. Sharon was also conspicuous as one of the biggest drag stars on the cruise. Renaud recalled immediately perceiving Coady and Annecy’s relationship as “odd.” “Sharon came off as such a hostile, unpredictable person the first couple of days. And so to see them spending so much time with [Annecy], it seems like incongruent to the energy you’d pick up off of [Coady]. They didn’t come off as this really nice queen who wanted to role model and mentor a kid.”
As the cruise progressed, Renaud became increasingly uncomfortable, describing a pattern of Coady bringing Annecy into “adult” situations, exposing them to drugs and alcohol. “Nobody felt good when Annecy was around and we were all partaking in adult, consenting things together,” she explained. “Sharon brought them into that, and Sharon should have known better.”
Renaud continued, “When I say that Sharon was intoxicated on the boat, that is kind of an understatement. And I will say that a lot of us were like that on the trip, but none of us were also all over a 15-year-old kid, and taking responsibility for them.”
One of “the first weird things” that Annecy recalled Coady doing on the cruise “was giving me shotguns of weed.” Annecy detailed this allegation in their summer 2020 social media post, writing, “Sharon convinced me to join in [a weed shotgun] but instead of just blowing a small amount into my face she rather aggressively pressed her mouth onto mine and blew a big hit of smoke into my mouth. I never even had my first kiss yet and a 32-year-old man was blowing drugs into me mouth to mouth.”
Annecy said that Coady consistently did drugs around them during the cruise, including poppers and MDMA, insisted on blowing weed shotguns into their mouth, and also pressured them to drink alcohol. The Daily Beast reviewed multiple separate messages in which Annecy disclosed the drug and alcohol use on the cruise. In a 2014 message to a friend, Annecy wrote that Coady, “Gave me shotguns of weed on the boat but that’s all I do, I don’t smoke the thing it’s icky I just inhale it from her inflated lips and spit it out and cough.” In a separate 2013 conversation, Annecy said that the drag queen “gave me weed shotguns pretty much kissed me on the mouth a billion times,” later adding, “beer is gross Sharon made me try it and I spat it everywhere.”
“The issue I have with Sharon is the fact that this is like a man who, even though I looked up to him and everything, I didn’t actually know [him],” Annecy reflected. “And he was giving me drugs and doing things that lowered my inhibitions."
Renaud also remembered being disturbed by the “rough manhandling” that she witnessed between Coady and Annecy, adding, “I would not think that would be OK, for a grown man that a child has just met to be headlocking [them] and stuff like that… That was just alarming.”
Annecy alleged that, while on the cruise, Coady was consistently “grabby and forceful with me,” and that he frequently “slapped and touched their butt.” They recalled incidents in which Coady hit and choked them, including one in which “she stared growling something involving ‘I’m Sharon mother fucking needles’ and mounted me with her legs around my neck, with her crotch digging into me to the point I was choking.” The Daily Beast reviewed an Instagram that Annecy posted in May 2014 seemingly referencing that incident, captioned, “Once Sharon sat on my face and said I am Sharon motherfuckin needles and she almost choked me.”
According to Annecy, Coady’s intoxication appeared to come to a head one night on the cruise. That night, Coady began “saying all these depressing things,” Annecy recalled. “Sharon kept holding onto me and like pointing at things in the water, and then Sharon climbed up to the rail of her balcony to act like she was going to jump off the boat. And I had to scream for her other friends to come and take care of Sharon and get her off the rail.” Annecy described this incident in a 2014 message to a friend, writing, “I had to hold her and scream and cry til her pal came out and she was just sitting on the railing about to fall off for like 10 minutes and I was holding her and it was the scariest moment of my life.”
In multiple messages and social media posts reviewed by The Daily Beast, Annecy shared stories about both Sharon Needles and Drag Race All Stars winner Alaska Thunderfuck exposing themselves to the then-minor during the franchise cruise. In Facebook comments dated over six years ago, Annecy wrote, “Alaska must have been loopy bc she just pulled her shorts down and was like oops you’re 15 I’m sorry.”
Recalling the alleged interaction, Annecy said, “As soon as it happened, I went into this weird dissociated state… I just remembered feeling like I was walking in slow motion, staring up at myself in these mirrors, and it was just like a really weird experience. And then I just accepted it like it was funny and I would just joke about it with all my friends. Everything weird that happened I would just turn into a joke and just laugh about it.” In December 2013, Annecy posted a picture on Facebook of themself posing with Alaska, captioned, “Me about 30 minutes after seeing Alaskas penis.”
In a post dated September, 2015, a Facebook user shared an image of Coady and Annecy, writing “#tbt to when Sharon Needles accidentally elbowed this girl in the fucking eye.” Later on in the same post, after someone else identified Annecy as the fan in the picture, the original Facebook user commented, “Alaska showed her his dick. Less of an accident.” They also confirmed that the alleged incident took place “on the MSC cruise.” (Likely a reference to the MSC Divina, the 2013 Drag Race cruise ship). When The Daily Beast reached out to the Facebook user for comment they did not reply, and promptly removed the post. Alaska did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In a message to a friend, Annecy wrote, “I also saw sharon’s but she didn’t whip it out like alaska did she was just adjusting when she was getting out of drag.”
Looking back on that moment now, Annecy remembered being with Coady in his room while he was getting out of drag. “He had me help him untie his corset, and then he started taking off his tights and was like watch this, and pulled his tights down so his butt pads flew out,” Annecy recalled. “He squatted down and pulled his underwear down; it was brief but it was enough for me to see… I was a foot away from him and we were talking, he could have told me to look away.”
The fact that Annecy posted about many of these allegations on social media, combined with the alleged abundance of on-cruise witnesses, points to an alarming level of complicity amongst the adult organizers and attendees, and a larger unwillingness to hold Sharon accountable. Renaud says they personally complained to Coady’s management after witnessing him use the N-word two times, once in reference to a Black crewmember. Renaud remembered getting in touch with his management and speaking to them on the phone. “They said thank you for letting them know and blah, blah, blah… But we were never made aware of anything, and it’s not like her behavior improved. For all we know, they could have just never even spoken to her.”
When it came to Coady’s behavior toward Annecy specifically, Renaud is confident that the powers-that-be on the cruise were aware of the troubling dynamic. “People talked about it and tried to bring it to who they thought were the figureheads of the cruise, which most commonly would be a queen that you would run into. And I’m not saying that [the queens] needed to be responsible, but it’s not like this complaint didn’t make its way up the chain of people on the cruise. It started on guest level and kept going upwards. Ultimately someone at the very top should have heard all these rumblings from the bottom up and said, you need to go home.”
Annecy said that they specifically disclosed the marijuana shotguns to Michelle Visage, the perennial franchise judge and RuPaul’s second-in-command. “Michelle was with another Drag Race girl and another drag queen. And they all heard me say that it was just weed, and they were all like it’s not just weed, an adult shouldn’t be giving kids drugs,” Annecy recalled. Per their recollection, Visage reported this to World of Wonder, which led to the production company calling Coady on the phone to verbally reprimand him. In a 2013 message to a friend, after describing the weed shotguns, Annecy wrote, “And I told Michelle Visage who is his boss and one of the judges on Drag Race and he got in trouble and had to talk to his production company on the phone for two hours.” In a 2014 message, they relayed that, “Sharon and I got in trouble with [Michelle Visage] because of me… I told her Sharon gave me drugs… Sharon was so mad at me it was scary but it was like when ur mama gets mad at you but she still loves ya.”
In a 2014 podcast interview, Visage recalled Annecy telling her on the cruise that Sharon Needles gave her drugs, and said that she “had to talk” with both Coady and Annecy. In the interview, Visage seemed to express doubt over whether Annecy was telling the truth or just making claims for attention. Annecy told The Daily Beast that they found Visage’s retroactive skepticism incredibly upsetting. They said that while Coady did eventually pressure them into retracting their allegation on the cruise and telling Visage that the drag performer had given them “pizza,” not drugs, “The pizza thing was so stupid and obviously made up and I don’t understand how [Visage] didn’t put together that he convinced his 15-year-old fan to lie so he didn’t get in trouble.” Annecy added, “I specifically told her he gave me weed and didn’t take it back during the conversation until after she reported Sharon.”
“How is it that everybody was talking about Annecy and nothing happened?” Renaud asked. “It’s because Sharon is terrifying, and I don’t think anybody can make her do anything, or wanted to be responsible for the potential harm that would be done to them if they tried.” When it comes to popular Drag Race stars, she concluded, “there are different rules.”
After the cruise, Annecy and Coady stayed in close contact. They estimate that from December 2013 to around April 2015, “We FaceTimed almost every week.” Annecy maintained that abuse and manipulation always colored this intimacy. They say that the drag performer consistently encouraged their self harm and suicidal ideations. “Anytime I mentioned that I was sad or whatever, or she found out that I cut, she would say things like cut deeper, cut in pretty patterns, cut in argyle shapes… And I tried to say it was like reverse psychology, but I was still cutting and I was still cutting in argyle patterns, and I was still taking more pills with her in mind.”
Annecy remembered one particularly traumatic incident, when they say Coady ordered them to stop taking their antidepressants. “I just stopped cold turkey because she said I’d be better off without taking them… I spent like two weeks hiding [medication] in my nightstand drawer instead of taking them. And that just made me lose my mind, like get super depressed and suicidal.”
Much of Annecy and Coady’s conversations over those years took place in semi-public corners of the internet, including Twitter, Facebook, and Vine. Annecy said that they were a part of a private Facebook group that included Coady and some of his closest friends and fans. Annecy alleged that Coady posted consistently in this group, content that ranged from rude and insensitive to racist, offensive, and sexually explicit. Annecy said that, to their knowledge, two other members of this group were minors. Per Annecy’s recollection, the private Facebook group was at one point reduced to around six members because Coady “decided she couldn’t trust some people in the original group.”
“I made this group to keep up with Sharon and her friends,” Annecy explained, “and Sharon and her friends I guess decided to make it just disgusting and racist.”
Via Annecy’s Facebook account, The Daily Beast reviewed a number of posts that Coady made in a private Facebook group. They include numerous sexually explicit and graphic images. The sexual “jokes” often directly implicate Annecy, such as when Coady wrote, “I’m gonna wash yer mouth out with sperm Annecy.” These posts are all dated around 2014, when Annecy was 16. Another post shows Coady posing with a naked man, captioned “this one’s for Annecy.” The Daily Beast also reviewed a text that Coady sent Annecy in 2014, which contains a GIF that appears to show naked underage children interacting with adults in a sexual manner. Annecy told The Daily Beast that they attempted to report the GIF by calling a Department of Justice tip line in early 2021. In a January 2021 message to a friend, Annecy sent screenshots showing the Department of Justice webpage for reporting violations under the “child exploitation and obscenity section,” and wrote, “I called the cyber tip place that I found on this first website.” They added, “Idk what’s gonna be done but like I can at least finally do something about the creepy text messages.”
Annecy said that Coady consistently expressed interest in their sexuality. When Annecy came out to Coady on the cruise, they say that Coady immediately insisted that they weren’t actually attracted to women. “There were several instances throughout our friendship where he’d just deny that I’m gay.” Annecy recalled other comments about their sexuality, like Coady saying, “You know you like dick” and asking them “what I think about when I touch myself.”
After meeting on the cruise, Annecy said they saw Coady again in person just a handful of times. In 2014, Coady helped cast Annecy in a supporting role in a play in San Francisco and Annecy said that they were together for several hours every day during that week. Subsequently, they only saw each other for brief periods of time. During the Charlotte, North Carolina, stop of the 2015 RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle of the Seasons tour, Annecy said that Coady verbally and physically attacked them. Lauren, who knew of Annecy from the drag scene and followed them on social media at the time—but did not know them personally—said that she witnessed the alleged attack.
In an email to The Daily Beast, Lauren recalled waiting by the tour buses after the show in the hopes of meeting some drag performers. She said that she saw Annecy and Coady arguing, and watched them enter the well-lit tour bus together. “Me and a few other people were watching out of curiosity to see what was going on. All of a sudden you see Sharon lift her arm up to slap Annecy dead in the cheek. And it was not a light one. Annecy covered their cheek, beginning to cry, and ran off the bus. Sharon followed behind them, continuing to scream and cuss at them.”
Lauren continued, “Me and many other people left after that because of how uncomfortable that was to witness.” When she saw Annecy posting publicly about Coady’s behavior, and specifically attempting to accumulate “evidence,” Lauren “decided to let Annecy know that there was witnesses to that incident and I would be glad to share what i saw, because it was a disgusting thing to see from someone you once considered your favorite queen.”
In June 2020, after Annecy came forward on social media, an anonymous Twitter user referenced this incident as well, tweeting, “Are you the girl Sharon slapped and berated after BOTS in Charlotte NC?” They continued, “That moment is stuck in my brain. Like, I was so excited to meet Sharon, gave her a frame picture, she threw it, busted it, then attacked you. Even my partner remembers it vividly. I’ve discussed it on reddit several times over the years.” The user linked to a reddit post, writing, “five years ago.” The post described Coady slapping an unnamed fan “no older than around 19,” as well as using the N-word in a conversation with another fan, before eventually being escorted away by a security guard.
Later that same year, Annecy and Coady had a falling-out that Annecy said ended their friendship. In their original social media post, Annecy took full responsibility for the incident, writing that they had inadvertently leaked a demo of Coady’s new music before it was officially released. According to Annecy, Coady was “furious” and they apologized to him profusely.
Annecy next saw Coady a few months later, when he performed at a local drag bar. Annecy recalled that night in their call-out post, writing, “She took me to her dressing room… When she told me ‘you got fat,’ recited her quote ‘cut deeper’ to me, and told everyone in the room I was probably going to kill myself that night, I just agreed with her.”
In messages to a friend dated December 2015, Annecy wrote about the interaction, saying, “She told me 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.”
Jake Register, a longtime friend of Annecy’s, also remembered that confrontation. Register and Annecy met on Tumblr when they were teens, and connected over Drag Race. Register recalled accompanying Annecy to a drag show in Greensboro after their falling out with Coady, and Annecy being apprehensive about seeing him again. “Flash forward like 45 minutes later,” Register said, “And Annecy is just sobbing, because they went into the dressing room to talk to Sharon… It was heartbreaking to see because Annecy was 18 at that point, and Sharon is a grown man—and it’s like, this person is expressing remorse, and you’re just using it as an opportunity to not only scream at them, but also publicly humiliate them.”
Looking back on his friend’s relationship with Sharon Needles, Register concluded, “It’s not just that Sharon is ‘shocking,’ it’s that he uses that as an excuse to do whatever he wants. And he took advantage of a child, and basically used Annecy in a lot of ways as an outlet… Annecy [was] a superfan and would do anything for him.”
After that 2015 incident, Annecy said that they saw Coady a few more times, including at a DragCon convention and a party. They stayed in touch, although it was nowhere near as constant as before their falling-out. Annecy described themselves as very confused about the relationship at that time, vacillating between missing Coady and their friendship and being grateful for some of the experiences they shared together, and feeling increasingly uncomfortable about how he had treated them. “One day I would be venting to my friends about how I felt he was toxic but didn’t want to accept it, and the next me and Sharon would have little interactions and I’d get all happy but confused again,” Annecy explained.
As #MeToo cases became increasingly prevalent in the news, Annecy felt something shift; their desire to ensure that other fans weren’t hurt by Coady began to outweigh their desire to preserve the friendship that had meant so much to them. It also outweighed the terror they felt about coming forward: “I was just like, I can’t hold this in anymore.”
Annecy isn’t the only person who alleged that Coady routinely crossed boundaries, exploiting his power over fans and within the wider drag community. The Daily Beast spoke with multiple fans who said that Sharon Needles made them uncomfortable during meet-and-greets, the portion of a drag event when attendees line up to speak with performers one-on-one. One fan, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled one such incident at a club in Southern California in 2015. “I get in, I say hi, my name, the show was really great, it’s nice to meet you. And she just is like, oh hi. And then immediately sticks her hands up my blouse and grabs my boobs.” She left shortly after, saying that she “just sort of wrote it off as like, I had a bad night at this club.”
Another former fan, who asked to remain anonymous, lined up for a Sharon meet-and-greet at a 2019 Glasgow show. “When I finally went up it was like just normal chit-chat,” they told The Daily Beast. At the end of the meet-and-greet, they hugged Coady. Just as the fan was about to walk away, they remember Coady saying, “I can feel your bones, remember to keep throwing up.” The then-15-year-old fan, who was suffering from an eating disorder at the time, remembered being flattered by Coady’s disturbing comments “because I was ill.”
Serena, who is being identified by a pseudonym in this piece, once considered Needles a friend. She’s known Coady for around three years, and described herself as “one of the more recognizable Sharon fans in the U.K.” What started as a fan-performer dynamic quickly escalated, Serena said, with Coady hanging out with her after shows and taking her out to bars.
When Annecy first came forward with their allegations, Serena told The Daily Beast, they immediately rang true. “A lot of this stuff that Annecy said, I was like, I think that’s probably true, because I’ve seen it or I’ve experienced it.” Serena added that every in-the-know Needles fan knows who Annecy is and that “none of the things that Annecy said read as out of character” for Coady.
For example, Serena continued, “Annecy said that Sharon told them to kill themselves a lot of times and that is absolutely one of Sharon’s favorite jokes. She said that to me so many times. She would get hold of my arm and run her finger over my wrist and say, when you kill yourself, make sure you cut it this way. She gets really specific.” She recalled a time when she got upset with Coady after he told her to kill herself, and how the performer just laughed it off. Serena said she’s also seen Coady tell other fans to kill themselves or hurt themselves.
“I’ve seen Sharon buy drinks for [fans] many times and encourage fans to drink, even if they’re underage,” Serena continued. “There have been times when I’ve been at a bar with Sharon and she’s offered me a drink and I said, no, and she’s like, tried to coerce me into drinking. I’ve seen Sharon shotgun weed smoke in people’s mouths. She’s done it to me with absolutely no warning… I’ve seen Sharon fat-shame fans, and she’s done it to me.”
Serena reached her breaking point with Coady in October 2019, when he invited her and some of her friends to a bar after his show. “While I was in the bar, she started touching my body and I was pushing her hands away and I was telling her no, and she was just like laughing and kept touching me, and I yelled at her and she just laughed again.” Serena remembered that, disturbingly, this happened shortly after a group discussion about Dr. Luke and sexual assault. “And she just kept slapping my ass, and she was like touching my back and sides and stroking me. I kept pushing her hands away, and I kept telling her stop it, I don’t like that. She just wouldn’t stop.”
Serena said that while she had never seen Coady “continually override someone’s boundaries like that before,” she had witnessed him being “quite grabby in a playful way, particularly during meet-and-greets.”
“I would say that she is very physically affectionate with her fans, particularly the fans who she recognizes… She likes to hug them and kisses them, and she’ll hold their hands and stuff like that… If she’s hugging and holding hands and it’s adults, that’s fine. But when she’s pushing boundaries, that’s not really OK.”
Serena has witnessed the Drag Race fandom’s demographic shift to include more and more young people. “[Sharon] definitely has a lot of teenage fans; I know a lot of fans who are 16 years old and younger.” Serena cited a much greater demand in recent years for 14-plus shows (as opposed to 18- or 21-plus), before noting that Coady appeared to “object to the idea that she would have to perform any differently for a 14-year-old than for a 21-plus audience.”
A 2013 documentary, currently available on World of Wonder’s streaming service, is titled: Sharon Needles: Parental Guidance Suggested.
“She’s marketing herself in a way that attracts the 14-year-old who wants to be treated like they’re not 14,” Serena proposed. “So already, part of the shtick is kind of a nod and a wink to like, you may be 14, but let’s pretend you’re a grown-up.”
“I think that good drag pushes societal boundaries, not personal boundaries. There’s a difference between [making] a political point and physically touching someone or repeatedly giving them drugs and alcohol when they’ve already said no, or telling them to kill themselves. Yes, drag is boundary-pushing, but in a different way.”
Serena and Annecy both cited Aaron Coady’s seeming un-cancellability—the fact that he’s been publicly called out for racist and transphobic behavior as early as 2012, and continued to perform in franchise-sanctioned events all over the world.
“Sharon’s been called out since the beginning of her career,” Annecy told The Daily Beast. “Even I saw that stuff when I was friends with her and I would just make excuses for it, because I was so hypnotized by her.”
“I’ve seen so many BIPOC and trans performers from Drag Race be attacked by the fanbase and scrutinized and have racist rhetoric thrown at them, while this white cis dude just gets pass after pass.”
“[Sharon] has a lot of very dedicated fans,” Serena explained. “She brings in the money and so promoters keep working with her, because they go where the money is… Sharon is a very popular queen who gets booked by a lot of promoters in a lot of countries around the world. I think that there are queens who are concerned about hurting their professional relationship with Sharon, because they are concerned that they will never work again.”
Pittsburgh drag performer Bebe Beretta has personally witnessed the “qualified immunity” that is allotted to franchise contestants. “Drag Race, having that label on your name, offers a sort of privilege.” They continued, “I have no major bias against Drag Race. I know it’s a machine, it’s a reality show, the contract is murky at best… But people get caught up in that. They’re excused, if they were on Drag Race, from poor behavior.”
Beretta said they’ve had their own encounters with Sharon Needles, as they run in similar drag circles. In early 2015, Beretta claimed that they were backstage at a show when Coady confronted them over a perceived insult against one of his friends. “She was drunk or whatever, and it got to a point where I was just trying to pack up. I just wanted to get home. And I said, Sharon, why are you back here? Like, back in the [dressing] room? And she said, well, I never left, thinking that I was asking why are you back in Pittsburgh. And I told her, I know you haven’t left and you probably never will, but why are you back here? And at that point, she grabbed me by the hair and started punching.”
Beretta said that they were shocked by the escalation; “I was like, is this really happening?” By the time people began breaking up the fight, Beretta recalled, “I was on the ground and Sharon was trying to stomp my face in.”
According to Beretta, Drag Race’s stranglehold on the drag industry has created a dynamic in which contestant appearances are so profitable that venues overlook bad behavior. “People at [the bar] were begging me not to call the cops. They didn’t want the bar to look bad. Like, really? That’s what you care about?”
As for the franchise’s silence, Beretta pointed to the business interests behind the show: “I think people don’t look high enough into that to see why Drag Race girls aren’t speaking out. Because, going back to the contracts, they’re beholden to World of Wonder…So they are stuck. And then people are thinking, well, these Drag Race girls aren’t coming out to corroborate any of this, so it must not be true.”
Recently, there’s been renewed debate over the contract that contestants need to sign in order to star on Drag Race. Poring over leaked contracts, fans have questioned the amount of control that World of Wonder appears to have over performers’ careers, even after their seasons air. Series stars like Willam Belli have confirmed aspects of series contracts. In a May 2021 YouTube video, Belli said that after their 2012 season, they had to ask the franchise powers-that-be for permission before pursuing career opportunities. They added that they personally had no issue getting approval for their gigs, remarking, “That was so easy… now it’s not.” Throughout the video, Belli indicated that the restrictions and expectations placed on more recent contestants, like an alleged clause granting “Producer” the option to “serve as my exclusive manager,” are far more extreme than what they encountered on their season. At the end of the YouTube segment, Belli joked, “Everybody sign your lives away! It will be great.”
Annecy has heard rumors that “maybe the [Drag Race] girls have been told to stay silent.” They’ve consistently said that many other franchise stars were aware of Needles’ behavior toward them, and that some witnessed the alleged abuse firsthand. So far, only one Drag Race contestant has publicly confirmed this: Season 6’s Joslyn Fox, who tweeted in response to Annecy’s post, “This is heartbreaking. Even harder to read when you know it’s true.” From other posts on her social media feeds, it appears that Fox, unlike some of her fellow Drag Race stars, is openly critical of the franchise and World of Wonder. (Fox did not respond to requests for comment.)
Beretta isn’t the only performer to allege that Sharon Needles created a toxic work environment. In an August 2021 episode of their podcast Sibling Rivalry, Drag Race stars Bob The Drag Queen and Monét X Change didn’t hesitate when asked which performer was the “most problematic” to work with, quickly agreeing on Sharon Needles.
In an episode of Drag Her! A RuPaul’s Drag Race Podcast, also released in August 2021, Season 4 favorite Dida Ritz discussed Sharon Needles’ behavior when they were on the show together. “Sharon Needles walked around calling everybody the N-word behind the scenes, and nobody in production reprimanded her, yet she won the damn show.”
Dida went on to claim that Coady had personally called her the N-word, as well as a number of other Black queens on set, and that “people on production witnessed her saying it, and they just laughed it off.” In the interview, Ritz contextualized these allegations within a larger conversation about racism in the franchise and the fandom, calling out World of Wonder and Drag Race for consistently failing to offer queens of color the same opportunities as their white counterparts. (Ritz did not respond to requests for comment.)
When Annecy posted their statement in summer 2020, they became a prime target for Sharon Needles superfans. As soon as they posted, Annecy told The Daily Beast, “I was getting non-stop attacks from strangers on the internet.” Fans began sending them hate messages and digging through their social media accounts. They remembered one particularly disturbing message: “Somebody sent me a bunch of pictures of—I guess they had cut themselves, and they sent me pictures of it like thanks, now I’m never going to meet Sharon.”
“I was just so overwhelmed,” they added. “I have mental health struggles and stuff, but I’ve never felt like I was losing my mind the way I was last summer.”
Annecy never stopped being a drag devotee. Almost every source who contributed to this piece spoke about Annecy’s dedication to and love of the art form, whether they heard about the superfan in drag communities and online or witnessed Annecy’s enthusiasm firsthand.
“I try my best to just shut everything out, but I don’t want to just unfollow every drag artist in the world,” Annecy explained. “In the past year, I’ve been getting these advertisements for shows that [Coady’s] in. Like, I’ll scroll on Facebook and there’s a post for a show with like a bunch of Drag Race girls and Sharon’s on the bill, and it just confuses me.”
Referencing performers who continue to work with Coady, Annecy continued, “I guess people just need to make money or something, or maybe they don’t know? That’s my hope. That they don’t have control over the lineup and they needed the gig… 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 him, so it’s up to the people around him to hold him accountable—and I don’t feel like that’s happened.”
Annecy said that scrolling through social media and seeing other performers interact with Sharon’s content, or post pictures with Coady, leaves them terrified of an in-person run-in—and unsure of how welcome they would be in shared spaces. “I constantly feel like I have to hide under a rock, because I’m gay, I’m nonbinary, I want to be around my community, but I don’t know who to trust, and I don’t know who supports me. I don’t know who to feel safe around.”
“It makes me really uncomfortable that he’s still allowed a platform, and that people are still letting him have shows. It feels like I’m being punched in the face. At the same time, my brain turns around and is like, this is all your fault, what did you expect? This guy has a lot of power, he’s a public figure, people aren’t going to care.”