Sasha Velour is a winner. In June of 2017, the drag queen took home the crown on season nine of RuPaul's Drag Race. More than a year later, she's still using her queendom to spread the word about drag, and challenge perceptions about the art form.
On stage at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, Velour was dressed in yards of shiny silver fabric adorned with hundreds of huge, multicolored gems. She described the look to NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg as "a crown as a dress," or "what Queen Nosferatu wears to her daughter's lesbian summer wedding."
"Sasha Velour" is the gender-fluid drag identity adopted by Alexander Hedges Steinberg. Velour explained the essence of drag: taking clothes and the beliefs surrounding them and making them one's own. "People are so serious about ourselves, and drag suggests that maybe it's all just a bunch of ideas and we can be a little bit more flexible with them," she said.
Unlike many drag queens, Velour often forgoes wigs and appears on-stage with a bald head. It's a tribute to her mother, who had cancer for the last five years of her life, and became bald as a result of chemotherapy treatments. "It was something we talked about a lot," Velour said, "because she was worried about how she'd be received out in the world as a bald woman, when femininity and hair are so significantly tied, culturally." Eventually, after seeing her mother "rock her beautiful bald head every single day," she said, "I thought, 'That to me is just the essence of beauty and power, and I want to rock that in my own life.'"
Velour's baldness was highlighted in the performance that led to her coronation as the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race season 9. Lip syncing to the song "So Emotional" by Whitney Houston, Velour took the stage wearing a red wig. At the climax of the song, she removed it. "I had the entirety of Michael's craft store rose petal department stuffed under my hair," Velour joked. The petals cascaded down her body, and onto the stage, bringing the live audience to its feet. "When you are feeling emotions about love or heartbreak or anything like that, it escalates and so I had to have the rose petals escalate as well and they sure did... There was a lot of truth and a lot of my biography in that performance."
For Velour, drag is something that grants confidence in a world where "there are so many voices that tell people, especially queer people, that they don't have importance and regality," she explained. "Drag is about asserting your power and your brilliance and your importance... when a room like this is supporting you to the extent with love and encouragement like you get at a drag show, you really feel invincible and every person deserves to feel that."
For her Ask Me Another challenge, Velour played a game of "This, That or The Other" against rapper and actor Awkwafina: Drag name, rap name or off-brand soda?
On who can and who should do drag:
"Absolutely anyone can and must do drag."
On the unofficial Rupaul's Drag Race rule that a queen should never take off her wig unless she has another one underneath:
"I thought I already had a pass on that rule because I had a full head of foundation under that wig."
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