Laganja Estranja is a triple threat, just not in the traditional sense—then again, there’s not very much that’s traditional about her—working as a choreographer/cannabis activist/drag queen. She’s currently breaking boundaries as the first professional drag queen on So You Think You Can Dance and, in doing so, is barreling into the mainstream with a hefty load of taboo on her shoulders. Yet she’s still able to handle it with grace, intelligence, and strength, living by the credo that “drag chose me, I did not choose drag.” We chatted about weed, drag, dance, and being your true self.
First off, Happy Pride.
What’s your origin story? How did Laganja Estranja come to be?
I definitely knew that I wanted my name to rhyme, and I knew I wanted to involve marijuana ‘cause marijuana was such a huge part of my college upbringing when I created the character first. I grew up in Texas where it was very illegal and very hush-hush, so it wasn’t until I moved to California—and, unfortunately, hurt my back—that I got fully exposed to marijuana and it changed my life. So I wanted it to be what I would have behind me as a drag queen because I believe every good drag queen should have a platform in which they represent and stand upon.
It’s not just about representing the LGBT community, it’s about bringing an important issue to the forefront and I think specifically here in California with the Compassionate [Use] Act, people often forget about the LGBT people that fought for Prop 215. So it’s been really cool to come full circle with that and bring some recognition to what I believe is the original community of at least why California has marijuana.
We met you on RuPaul’s Drag Race a couple years ago, and you’re currently back in the spotlight with So You Think You Can Dance, which is amazing, congratulations, you’re a vision on the show.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
You’re the first drag queen on the show, right?
As far as I know. I think there have been some other queer figures on the show, but I definitely am the first professional drag queen that’s been on the show.
I saw you mentioned in 2015 on Hey Qween that you weren’t going to do reality TV again. What do you think changed?
Well, I live in Los Angeles and bills are very expensive. I think what I meant by that statementon Hey Qween was that I probably most likely would never do RuPaul’s Drag Race again, meaning All-Stars. In that moment, that’s probably what I meant because So You Think You Can Dance has always been a dream of mine; I grew up watching Season 1, you know? This was more about me making a statement than me being on a reality competition show.
When I did Drag Race, that was a very specific goal of mine: to win. Whereas with this show, it’s always been about representing the community, and as a queer person who’s watched So You Think You Can Dance for many seasons and seen the queer people get negative comments and Nigel has been very public about when—he doesn’t like it when men dance effeminate. So this was more about making a statement and showing people that you can be your true self and you can still shine.
I couldn’t help but notice you’re going by Miss Estranja on the show.
Yes, so everyone has been up in arms about that, #SayMyName, which is so funny…but you know, at the end of the day, I’ll be very transparent: I chose that, as an artist. I didn’t want to give them any reason to not show me.
Yeah, I get that.
To me, it’s not that big a deal. It’s so funny to me that so many people feel that they censored me, but at the end of the day, I censored myself. And not because I don’t love the cannabis community or because I don’t want to support it, but because for the last five years, I’ve been known as a drug addict, a pothead, and I’m trying to change that image. And so that’s part of my rebranding: dropping that initial part of myself that makes people sometimes turn away from me.
Because I believe the more mainstream I make myself, allow myself to become, then I can really educate people on marijuana and it won’t be this shock value that I went for before. So that’s my hope at least because cannabis is never going to leave me, that’s always going to be my platform and what I believe in and fight for, but we have to give it a different image. It’s part of my whole stance on recreational versus medical.
Like I really wish we went medical first across the board federally before we started doing all this recreational. Because I believe that until we change the stigma, it’s never going to get better, we’re never going to get the proper research that we need on this plant to see what it can really cure and do, because now, unfortunately, dumb people are going out and getting too stoned and doing stupid things.
I’m all about education. So that’s why I didn’t want to go on a family-friendly show and hurt my chances. I don’t know if they would have censored me, I could have gone in there and said my name and who knows, but I just didn’t want to give them any little thing for them to be like “Oh, we can’t show her.”
What’s the hardest part of walking that line of being a cannabis activist – which obviously is still taboo in some places – while still remaining accessible?
I’d say what’s been most difficult for me is that I teach children, I teach children dance. So a lot of times I try to keep my personal life as separate as I can from my business life. Well, my business life involves cannabis. Even yesterday, I was filming my show on World of Wonder called Puff Puff Sessions where we basically have a special guest on, we medicate, and we play games.
It’s really silly, it’s fun, it’s great, but I posted yesterday for the first time since So You Think You Can Dance about cannabis, and I was nervous. And I did, of course, see a lot of negative reactions from new followers—“What is this? I don’t understand,” and that’s where the education is going to come in. Hopefully, because they will have fallen in love with me, I can educate them.
I think it’s gonna bring up a conversation, and even though like I said I chose to modify my name for the show, I’m still very much an activist, I’m just doing it in a new way.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Jessica Gonzales on High Times
Published: June 14, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News