Through a blur of twirls, runways, joints, and death drops, LA-based choreographer, activist, and drag queen Jay Jackson a.k.a. LAGANJA ESTRANJA has awoken to a crystal clear mindset, merging her love for the arts and her advocacy for medical marijuana.
There’s nothing more transformative nor creative than the art of drag, from glued-down eyebrows to corsets and reveals. And out of the ashes of burned lace front wigs comes RuPaul’s Drag Race, unarguably the most watched reality show about drag with a cult following. A whole world of iconic moments throughout nine seasons (and counting) are immortalized in every fan’s mind, but one drag queen had us at, “Oh y’all wanted a twist, eh?” Laganja Estranja remains one of the most quotable queens, and apart from stealing our hearts with her death drops and splits, she’s about to get a lot louder. Well come on, Jay Jackson, let’s get sickening.
“I’m originally from Dallas, Texas. I grew up in musical theater, having a love for stage and lights at a very young age,” the artist shares. “Growing up, I honed in on dancing, which led me to California Institute of the Arts where I got my degree in choreography.” Stepping into the real world, his look was still too feminine, too eccentric for the LA palette, but it was those critiques that brought him to drag. “I entered an amateur contest in West Hollywood and became a full-time show girl there, and that’s how it began. It was never intended, it was just something I fell into.” Transforming into the loud and proud Laganja Estranja might’ve been his second skin, but soon the edges started to blur. “I’d say we’re pretty much the same now. Laganja was more of a character, but I’ve come to discover that being a drag queen is trying to figure out what is authentic to you. She’s not a character anymore, I just like to dress up and think of it that way.”
“My advice would be nothing is black and white these days. Explore the grey areas. Be whoever you want to be, there’s no right or wrong, and to open your eyes to fact that there are many people out there who feel the exact same way as you.”
But before reaching the level of serenity and becoming an icon for gender fluidity that she is now, Laganja just wanted the world to hold her hand after her stay at the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Hitting the bottle one too many times, she then sought for help and got clean. With a new outlook on her career, this isn’t just another day in the work room for the drag queen. Not only is she channeling her energy towards her drag, but she’s also paving the way for the cannabis community and its release from the stigma. “I want to include the LGBTQ community and recognize its history in cannabis usage, like how they fought for medicine for people with AIDS,” he explains. “My main goal is to change the stigma. A lot of times, we’re seen as stoners sitting on a couch, but it’s the complete opposite. I hope I can do a lot of things for both the LGBTQ and cannabis community.” If it ain’t green, she ain’t interested, and it just goes to show with her new project involving all his passions in one. “Medicated dance sessions are my favorite thing to do–it really brings all the things I believe into one concise kernel. We’ve done one in San Francisco, one in Los Angeles, and we’re looking to continue to do it around the world where marijuana is legal.”
“My main goal is to change the stigma. A lot of times, we’re seen as stoners sitting on a couch, but it’s the complete opposite. I hope I can do a lot of things for both the LGBTQ and cannabis community.”
How would you describe Laganja and your personal style?
Laganja: I think Laganja’s style is very slutty, she’s very promiscuous with lots of lingerie latex clothing and high heels. My personal style is a lot more comfortable. I like sweatsuits, I like matching outfits so that I won’t have to think what looks cute together. I like tennis shoes and I like sportswear a lot more as Jay.
Tell us about your experience in Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and how it changed your career.
L: Well Season 6 was a very trying time for me. It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever been thrusted into a reality competition TV setting, so if you ever watched the show, then you would know I wasn’t very successful. But it taught me a lot about myself and it really forced me to grow very quickly, which I’m very thankful for. I don’t think I would be the artist that I am today if I didn’t have the experience that I did.
Can you tell us about what you went through after, and how you think you’ve changed since?
L: After the season premiere, I definitely started abusing alcohol and I was quite the party-goer, and I think it’s because I was receiving such mixed reviews and I was hoping to escape all that. When I began to realize that my professionalism was being affected by my alcohol abuse, I got sober and really started committing a lot more attention to detail in my work as an artist. But I do now, and I’m meticulous about everything. There’s not a piece of music that’s not on time, or a costume that hasn’t been practiced with a million times so the reveal would be perfect, so I’m very methodic with how I do things now.
Aside from the dancing or performance aspect, what is your favorite part of drag?
L: I think the fashion–I love fashion so much.
If you could give advice to your many young fans out there–about gender, open-mindedness, drag, anything–what would it be?
L: My advice would be nothing is black and white these days. Explore the grey areas. Be whoever you want to be, there’s no right or wrong, and to open your eyes to fact that there are many people out there who feel the exact same way as you. I think a lot of times, you feel ostracized by the media or by what people tell us, but we don’t realize that there’s a huge group of people out there that does feel in between, that doesn’t feel male or female or feel like they even need to put a label on what they are. They just know what they are and that they exist, and they shouldn’t feel wrong for feeling that way. So again, this goes back to what I was hoping to do as an activist, and it’s to show people by example that they can be whatever they want to be. I consider myself non-binary, so I don’t really feel that I’m either, of course I recognize that I have male genitalia but as a person I don’t really identify as male. So I would like to say to those people who are struggling, believe in yourself, love yourself and truly accept yourself for who you are and with all the questions that you have, you don’t have to have all the answers.