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Sasha Velour on the evolution and power of drag

BY READERS DIGEST

14th Nov 2023 Celebrities

4 min read

Sasha Velour on the evolution and power of drag
Sasha Velour pushes the boundaries of gender and art in her drag performances. Ahead of her The Big Reveal tour, we asked her about how drag can transform lives 
Sasha Velour is a drag queen known for pushing the boundaries of what drag means and represents. On season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she won the crown with her iconic rose petal reveal and, since then, she’s written a book. The book is called The Big Reveal and Sasha is set to head out on a tour of the same name. In the book and in her live show, she takes you on a journey through the history of drag and discusses gender, drag and self-confidence in the modern era.
Ahead of the UK leg of her tour, which sets off on March 8 2024, we asked her about her book, her tour and drag in 2023.

What is your book, The Big Reveal, about? Did reaching a lot of different audiences matter to you?

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It’s a fresh story for everyone who has an interest in drag. I wanted it to be my story of discovering my identity in drag and my queer identity. Alongside that, I wanted to tell the whole history of drag and the global meaning of dressing up against gender.  

Drag has evolved so much over the years. How has it impacted the broader LGBTQ+ movement and the understanding of gender expression?

We wouldn’t have pride without drag and we probably wouldn’t have an LGBTQ+ movement without drag. If you look at queer parties in the 1800s, they are filled with crossdressing.
"We wouldn’t have pride without drag"
Perhaps it was an excuse to gather together, but I think it’s the radical act of dressing up that inspires people to speak up.

Do you have an example of when you felt drag really have that transformative effect on you?

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I discovered drag at a time in my life where I was recovering from an eating disorder and drag gave me a joy with my body. It gave me a confidence from the outside in and taught me to have fun being a human being again. Around that time, my mum became very sick and that made me think about hair and femininity.
Sometimes we may give in to trends and follow pop culture, I think drag challenges that and pushes the needle on what we value.

Do you believe that drag can resonate with people who grew up in a different era or are more conservative?

Some people may have a narrow view of what drag is but, at a show, they then see the diversity in the expressions of gender. They see beauty represented and positivity. I always say that the magic of drag is the joy of it. You cheer people on in a way that you don’t normally in theatre.
"My entry to this world of drag was through older women"
Sometimes people will bring their grandmother to a show and they love it. I always was close to my grandmother and she would dress me up in her sequin dresses, so drag, in a way, started there for me. My entry to this world of drag was through older women.

You were the first drag queen who illustrated a self portrait on the cover of the New Yorker. What was that experience like?

My parents always had a copy of the New Yorker. It seemed to embody everything about New York and was one of the reasons that I wanted to move to New York. I had actually worked as a graphic designer for the cover editor, for the New Yorker, Francoise Mouly. I learnt a lot from her.
It felt very full circle when she reached out to ask me to do the cover of the New Yorker.

How is it being a host on HBO's We're Here?

I love that show. Helping to bring drag to small towns, like the one I’m from, is very exciting. Small towns have a queer presence, but it’s not always obvious. Bringing an HBO camera to those towns is exciting.

At the moment, you are working on a full length theatrical work. Where did the ideas for the show come from?

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Everything has been following on from the book. I aimed, with the show, to talk about the history of drag, in the form of a vibrant story, which is very exciting. It’s all about the magic of theatre and it’s definitely something new for me, just like the book was.
I always try to surprise people. I’m very inspired by songs. In a different life, maybe I’d be a director for pop music videos.

Did you feel the excitement that drag brings out in people when you did your iconic petal reveal during the final of RuPaul’s Drag Race?

I did. I practiced it so much in my hotel room, so I was really into the technical quality. The crowd’s surprise and delight was amazing. That’s what it’s about.

Drag has become so much more mainstream. Do you think it gives young people a sense of community?

I think it’s great for young people to see adults having fun with their clothes and how they look. You can see an alternative to just being a “normal man” or “normal woman”.
"It’s great for young people to see adults having fun with their clothes"
I hope people know to look beyond Drag Race. You don’t need to have a fancy studio, just an idea.

In what ways do you see the drag community continuing to evolve and how do you think your book will play a part in that?

I wanted to celebrate drag kings in my book. Representing women in the drag world is something we need to do more. I also want to say that it’s a world where you don’t have to look a certain way, or be thin, or conform to a norm to be a model.

What can people expect from the UK tour dates of The Big Reveal live show?

TBR
I think there are nine or ten performers in the UK leg of the tour, where there were only six or seven in the US leg. They are all performers from the UK and Europe, who each have something to offer. I can’t reveal anything more! Just fun genres, crazy music choices and some guests from each city.
Sasha Velour tours the UK with The Big Reveal tour in March 2024. Get your tickets here.
Banner credit: Sasha Velour (House of Velour)
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