One year after winning RuPaul's Drag Race, Sasha Velour's still fighting
One year ago, Sasha Velour ascended the ranks of RuPaul’s Drag Race‘s ninth season to claim her rightful place as the royal ruler of all things fabulous. Her mission? Defy conservative rule. Her weapon of choice? A potent hybrid of love, compassion, and expression — all in the name of harnessing the beautiful power of drag as social and political activism.
Now, as the long-running reality competition series prepares to crown her successor Thursday night, Velour sits down with EW to reflect on her 365-day reign as America’s Drag Superstar, blurring lines of gender through her art, why Bianca Del Rio would make a fabulous politician, and how queer people can make their voices heard loud enough to not only secure a seat at the table, but climb atop it with the assured clack of a glistening pair of heels.
Watch EW’s interview with Velour above, and read on below for the full interview.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s so sad your reign is coming to an end! Or do you think a Drag Race girl’s reign never truly ends?
SASHA VELOUR: It’s been an incredible year! Literally my dreams came true and more. Things I never could have imagined were in the realm of possibility. I feel like it’s just the beginning! We just came out with the collected Velour: The Drag Magazine, which celebrates three years of my partner Johnny and I making a zine about amazing drag, basically out of our living rooms. Starting with it being stapled, and now it’s a hardcover, gorgeous art book that’s twice the original size and I’m excited for that to grow and become yet another showcase for the amazing drag talent that exists out there in the world.
I love what you’re wearing today, because I think it’s a great example of what you’ve always stood for: blurring the lines of gender through fashion.
I think a lot of people who only know a very little bit about drag believe that drag is all about looking like a woman. But that’s a sort of questionable notion because the possibilities for what a woman or what a man looks like are actually limitless and should be, and what queer culture brings to the whole world of gender is that kind of blurriness.
Drag right now, being more mainstream, especially reaching more young people, we can offer this powerful message that you don’t need to look any specific way, you don’t need to dress according to the specific gender you’re assigned in any specific way, and you definitely don’t need to dress according to the gender that you choose in any sort of way. For me, dressing in a femme or a masculine way is all part of a huge queer spectrum where hopefully I’m just dressing in a way that I find beautiful, that I can be proud of when I step out onto the streets, and that’s been my goal. And I love that people love it with me, because I put so much passion and personal flair into everything I put on.
Do you remember that first moment when you were younger, thinking that you didn’t have to conform to gender via clothing?
When I go back and look at pictures of myself as a little kid, I see that push to transgress any kind of gender limitations right from the beginning. For NYC Pride I got to wear this fantastic purple outfit to close out my set on Pride Island. Purple has always been my favorite color… but purple, when I was a little kid, was a color that boys weren’t really allowed to wear. That’s what all the kids at school told me. I filled my wardrobe with as much purple as I could possibly find, because who cares? Life’s too short to dress by other people’s rules.
I know you’ve done a lot of speaking about voting and progressive politics recently. And that’s something we’re seeing more queens do now. So where’s the intersection or space for all of this to start affecting political change, for you? Where does that work begin with drag and how does drag influence the political climate?
This year we’ve seen just a shift overall in how political about the discussions in Drag Race are getting. I think that’s fantastic. There’s such a growth of discussion of racism in queer spaces because of Drag Race this season. There have been discussions about the place of trans and non-binary entertainers within our world, and that’s not because of me or because of any one queen, it’s because the queer community as a whole is learning and testing all these conflicts and all these limits, and we are hopefully going to turn back and look at our own history, which kind of has all the answers and all those conflicts going back a long time.
Well, I think it is a bit of an activism venture for you because you so often showcase the drag that isn’t displayed or easily accessible on Drag Race on mainstream TV every Thursday, and you do that most notably in Nightgowns. Would you say that show represents a fuller breadth of what drag is and that’s why you created it, to showcase those diverse voices people don’t often see?
Nightgowns is growing and I hope we can travel even further than London and Los Angeles to get in touch with the amazing queer people all over the world. There are so many options and my goal is just to stay true to the very first spirit that got me interested in drag, which is this idea that being queer can mean uniting a whole community together, and through that conversation that you get when you bring people together and bring everyone toward a place of change and progress. Drag has always inspired people to come together to be joyous and fight for what matters. If we can do it through beauty and positivity and lip-syncing our favorite pop songs, then let’s do it.
Do you guys, as drag queens on the most mainstream drag show out there, have a responsibility to make sure you’re making a change in the industry but also politically? Are drag and politics inherently tied together, do you think?
The classic way queer people have been political is by having riots and protests and being over the top and loud and really forcing public taste to confront queer lives and queer experiences. That’s powerful because that shifts the discussions that people have to have, because they can’t ignore us shouting about the real struggles our community faces every day, from homelessness to addiction to the murder of queer — and especially trans — people of color every day. That is one step, but there’s also room for us to become represented in new ways, for our voices to not just be on the street, but actually at the table. I want to see some queer politicians, some drag queens and drag kings running for office and shifting the way that policy is made as well. Drag is becoming so prevalent that one of these politicians may try to put on a wig and some heels, and if they did walk a day in these shoes it would probably change the way they thought about some important issues.
Who from Drag Race do you think would make an ideal politician?
I think Bianca Del Rio should be in politics. I think you have to absolutely not tolerate any bulls—t whatsoever to make it in a system full of so much red tape, and I feel like she could probably cut through it. I’d love to see her try. I’d love to! We’ll see, I have a lot of opinions and I really want to see some changes made, especially for queer people. This is not an official statement of any kind. I am just free-styling here, but who knows!
RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.