Sasha Velour On Why Drag Is A 'Political And Historical Art Form'11:06
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Contestant Sasha Velour attends the season premiere of "RuPaul's Drag Race" on March 7, 2017, in New York. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
Contestant Sasha Velour attends the season premiere of "RuPaul's Drag Race" on March 7, 2017, in New York. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Sasha Velour won season nine of "RuPaul's Drag Race" on VH1 and Logo, and she's unique: Velour, the stage name of Sasha Steinberg, was a Fulbright scholar and has a master's degree, and takes an intellectual approach to drag.

"The truth is I do take drag really seriously, and I think that there's kind of a place for that, to see it as this political and historical art form," Velour (@sasha_velour) tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson.

Interview Highlights

On her intellectual approach to drag performance

"The truth is I do take drag really seriously, and I think that there's kind of a place for that — to see it as this political and historical art form, and to want to continue pushing it in new directions. And also honor the old directions as well. So I'm sort of like a drag intellectual/drag queen."

"I went to Vassar College for undergraduate and studied literature and queer theory, and all of the above. And then I took a Fulbright scholarship in Russia. And that's really where my direction shifted a little bit, because I became really interested in what kind of work actually helps to change things for queer people. And I became really fascinated with drag because it's such an accessible and joyful art form. I wanted to create beautiful images in drag that would not just inspire queer people who need to see some beauty and need to experience some joy, but also would engage people politically."

On the story behind why she doesn't wear a wig

"Right when I was starting to experiment with drag, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and during her chemo treatment she lost all of her hair. And for her, the idea of being a fem with no hair was really difficult. But I really actually appreciated that she didn't wear wigs at the time, that she didn't wear hats or scarves, she just let her beautiful, bald head air out, and she found ways to make it beautiful with earrings and with fashion. And I loved that so much I wanted to pay tribute to that with my own drag."

"I wanted to create beautiful images in drag that would not just inspire queer people who need to see some beauty and need to experience some joy, but also would engage people politically."

Sasha Velour

On how she found her way to "RuPaul's Drag Race"

"I auditioned for one season before, for season eight, and I didn't make the cut. I didn't get any phone calls. They totally weren't interested. And then, I'm someone who... I try to change as fast as I can, just as many new things as I can explore. So then by the next year my drag had completely shifted in new directions. And then I actually got the call while I was visiting my dad in Russia, in the airport. And I hurried back to New York with only 14 days to prepare to go film. It was a really wild experience."

On the role of drag in LGBTQ advocacy

"We need to talk about representation for queer people in the media and also in law. And there's a long history of drag queens leading those discussions in marches on the street and even in bars going back to the time of Stonewall and before. Gay bars have always been spaces of getting angry about politics and about legal situations, and we need that now more than ever."

"Drag is so much more than gay men dressing up as women. It's about creating space and creating validity for people who want to express gender differently and by their own rules. And drag queens, drag kings, need to be at the forefront of pushing for rights and protections and safe spaces for the entire spectrum of gender non-conforming and trans people."

On how young people can get their start in drag

"It's the simplest thing. You just go and you find whatever you can find. If it's a simple pair of heels or if you have to strap some cans of food to the back of your shoes so you have that little lift, if you want to go and get some mascara or if you want to use a little Sharpie on your eye, you can make drag out of absolutely anything. And if that is what inspires you, I say everyone should go out and do it."

This segment aired on July 24, 2017.

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