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Sasha Velour on historic meeting with Ocasio-Cortez and how her new TV show will be more inclusive than Drag Race

Reiss Smith January 21, 2020
Sasha Velour dressed as a devil with gold wings

Sasha Velour has her own way of dealing with bigots. (Tanner Abel)

Sasha Velour seriously triggered the alt-right at the tail end of 2019 by basically just existing.

The Drag Race winner became a target for vitriol after meeting similarly progressive firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

A video of the pair’s encounter showed Velour – bald and beautiful in a column of pink velvet – smiling on as AOC confessed to being a fully paid-up member of the Sasha Velour fan club. The LGBT+ community – of which Ocasio-Cortez is a staunch ally – was overjoyed at this meeting of greats, declaring them the obvious Democratic ticket for 2024.

Certain Republicans were naturally disturbed, leaving comments such as the now-infamous: “If she wins in 2024 that pink tall person will be our Supreme Court judge.”

Memes quickly ensued, and Velour reclaimed “that pink tall person” as her own by releasing a luscious editorial zine of the same name in December.

“It was a pink phenomenon!” Velour told PinkNews, explaining that drag queens, by nature, are rubber to their haters’ glue.

“There are a lot of people who are not in touch with those who are different to them. They’re very closed off, and they’re very, very afraid that living authentic lives is going to negatively affect their own experiences.

“The best thing to do is to transform that kind of ridiculous hate – that backwardness, that ugliness – into something playful and fun. Something enjoyable. That’s what drag is always there to do, to transform pain or hate or ugliness into something gorgeous.”

Sasha Velour on her ‘hero’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Fortunately, the experience hasn’t tarnished Velour’s memory of meeting AOC, who she describes as simply “amazing”.

“She was so down to earth, so friendly,” she said. “She’s the real deal, a hero for our generation.”

Clever, witty, with her finger on the millennial pulse and her democratic socialist heart on her sleeve, Ocasio-Cortez is incredibly popular among left-leaning LGBT+ Americans.  She’s Washington’s very own Sasha Velour, and just over a year after her Capitol Hill inauguration, is already generating White House buzz.

But with a hypothetical AOC-Velour ticket some years off, there remains the small matter of the upcoming November 2020 election.

Sasha Velour in pink make up, body paint and dress
Sasha Velour became That Pink Tall Person. (Gina Garan)

“It feels so important this year,” Velour says.

“I hope people are really paying attention and are planning to vote, finding out what people really stand for. Because anyone can say s***, it’s what they’re actually going to do that really matters.”

While Velour will certainly be voting Democrat, she is undecided as to who is best placed within the party to take on Donald Trump.

“I really like Elizabeth Warren, but I’m also a big supporter of Bernie Sanders,” she admits.

I’m still trying to figure out what direction things are moving in and who’s gonna really make the most substantial changes.

Whatever the outcome, Velour is a firm believer that a drag show can be “a really good place to get people organised and motivated”.

“Back in the day, we’d bring along people who could register others to vote as they were flying into the show,” she explains.

“Just getting on the microphone and talking about issues, coming out and clearly saying who I’m going to vote for and what I believe in [can help].

“Even if the audience don’t all agree, it might at least get some of them thinking and inspired to actually inform themselves and to take action. All of these are small things that drag artists can do, that I plan to do.”

Drag representation outside of Drag Race.

During the last election campaign Velour was busy producing Nightgowns, the acclaimed drag showcase she had been building since 2015 in her adopted hometown, Brooklyn. She was also keeping a closely-guarded secret: that she’d been cast on season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

After winning the series with her now-legendary lip-syncing abilities, Velour invested the prize money back into Nightgowns, and three years on the show is being adapted for TV.

Billed as an “inclusive creative platform” for drag artists, by drag artists, Velour promises that Nightgowns the series will be different to anything that has come before it.

“I think every every new piece of media about drag needs to expand the borders a little. One TV show is not enough to understand the whole world of drag.”

Sasha Velour in a spiky turquoise wig
Nightgowns is Sasha Velour’s first time behind the camera. (Tanner Abel)

To avoid confusion, she stresses that Nightgowns will avoid “replicating the structure of Drag Race“, and will instead platform “unique drag styles and aesthetics” while serving as a “mini-documentary about the process of creating a number”.

Crucially, the series will continue Velour’s legacy of championing diversity. When she speaks about showing the “very, very relatable humanity” of her featured artists, she purposefully lists them as “drag kings and queens”” – not the other way around.

One of the biggest things that’s missing from RuPaul’s Drag Race, in my perspective, is more inclusive casting.

“When I go into a real drag community, when I think about the people who taught me how to do drag, there’s a lot more diversity there,” she adds. “There’s a lot of women doing drag, there are trans people and non-binary people who are very out, there are drag kings playing with masculine performance, there are people who don’t seem to be interested in gender whatsoever.

“All of that has been a part of drag for a really long time, and I think we’re seeing a shift where that is represented more in the media. Even though it maybe isn’t the slice of drag that appeals to straight people the best, it is very, very true to the art form so we need to uphold it.”

Sasha Velour on her own gender-queer identity.

Identifying as gender-queer means that Velour herself falls into this diverse category of drag. I put it to her that she is perhaps the most well-known gender-diverse drag artist in the world, but she says that even so, she’s still exploring the story of her gender.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to fit into the world, how to make sense of myself, and that is totally because I’ve had no real role models growing up,” she says.

“I think to be able to see someone who reminds you of yourself in those deep personal ways, not just in the external, more happenstance ways, is really necessary to find yourself and to be at peace with yourself.

“For young people who have that today, that that can be life changing.”

Many of those same young people will be in attendance when Velour brings her Smoke & Mirrors show to the UK later this year. Her first one-queen show, it’s made up of 13 conceptual lip-syncs including, of course, an updated version of her winning ‘So Emotional’ number.

Sasha Velour in a red bodysuit, ripping off a glove to reveal rose petals
‘So Emotional’ is of course performed on Sasha Velour’s Smoke & Mirrors tour. (Jeff Eason)

An MFA graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies, Velour has designed all of the show’s artwork, including the projections of herself that she interacts with during the set to explore the idea of “fluidity”.

“Dividing a one woman show into a bunch of lip sync performances – every four minutes – is a completely different world, a completely different interpretation, a completely different metaphor to present myself through,” she says.

“I don’t feel like my life can be summed up in a single way, you need all of those different contradictory, shifting concepts to accurately describe it.”

Reviews have called Smoke & Mirrors “a spellbinding tour de force” and a “perfect storm” of glorious gender-fuckery, testament to Velour’s dedication to showmanship.

Regardless of her more intellectual leanings, she insists that she is above all else “an entertainer”.

“I want what’s onstage to be delightful and over the top and grandiose, while still just being me onstage,” she says.

“Drag is a joyous explosion of creativity and possibility. It’s rooted in an amazing history that I want people to learn because it speaks in defence of trans and non binary people’s inclusion in the art form – but it is also very free and open, and I think it has the possibility to change even more in the future.

“Sometimes our community has a hard time getting in touch with ourselves, but drag unites so many people under the queer umbrella. It is crucial.”

Sasha Velour’s Smoke & Mirrors visits the UK in March. Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns is coming to streaming platform Quibi this spring.

More: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, RuPaul's Drag Race, Sasha Velour

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