There’s no doubt that you will recognize one of our fave LGBTQ+ icons: Jay Jackson, AKA, Laganja Estranja from the Emmy award-winning reality television series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Laganja first sashayed into our lives back in 2014, when she appeared as a contestant on the legendary sixth season.
Despite a controversial run on the show – and a placement lower than she anticipated (8th) – Laganja became one of the most iconic and quotable contestants in Drag Race HERstory, gaining a cult-like following and devoted fan base.
Laganja publicly announced that she’s a trangender woman in 2021 during an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I am so proud to identify as TRANS and to be living my truth,” she said.
The 32-year-old later wrote on Instagram. “Happy PRIDE, you are beautiful as you are.”
For Pride month in 2022, she launched a trans merch collection, Laganja’s Pride Trans Apparel, for anyone who’s interested in embracing their identity or showing the LGBTQ+ community that they are allies. Her Pride Month apparel features gender-neutral, pastel colors, the trans flag and her name printed in white.
There’s no gimmicks or catchy phrases to gain traction on her Instagram posts and stories. This is one of the traits I admire about her — she’s genuine. Plain and simple. The LGBTQ+ community and even heterosexual folks adore her, and there’s no wonder why.
During this exclusive interview with GO Mag, Laganja Estranja opens up about her life, coping with homophobia, the complexities of balancing two separate lives, her work as a cannibis activist, and much more.
GO Magazine: Hey Laganja, Thanks for taking the time to chat! Can you tell us about yourself in case some people aren’t familiar?
Laganja Estranja: For anyone who hasn’t heard of me, I am most known for my appearance on season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But my birth name is Jay Jackson. I am an international female impersonator, dancer, model, choreographer and cannabis activist.
GO: You really do it all.
LE: The act of balancing two separate lives between Laganja and Jay is overwhelming. And unfortunately, stress gets the better of me. I’m a Capricorn, we are known for being perfectionists. But that is why I use coping skills like practicing yoga and consuming cannabis in any form to maintain balance and remain motivated. I think the first step in any kind of conflict you have in life is recognizing it. And I know that stress plays a large role in my life and that is why I take the steps I can to suppress that.
GO: Would you change any aspects of your career?
LE: Between dancing, choreography, modeling, and all the other artforms I enjoy, I’d actually change some things about modeling. Most of the modeling I do is for Instagram and it’s all organized on my own between myself and other collaborators in California. I’m looking into getting representation in this field so people take me more seriously as a model and finally compensate me for all this kind of work.
GO: You have chosen to embrace so many different forms of art.
LE: I attended the California Institute of Arts from 2007 to 2011 and got my degree in dance and choreography. So, showcasing this artistic side of myself has always been important.
And drag is just one medium I use. My favorite art form — if I had to choose — is choreography, and of course dance. That’s really where I feel like I am most at home. It ensures that my voice is unique and amplified at the same time.
GO: As a cannabis activist, what changes are you hoping for in 2022?
LE: I’m hoping to see more safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ folks — we have cannabis available to us here [in California] because of our community. “The Compassionate Use Act” made weed available to us before California became a recreational state. So yeah, I think it’s of the utmost importance that we continue on that lineage and create spaces where communities can come together and feel safe.
GO: Does cannabis consumption help inspire and influence your artistic abilities?
LE: Yes, cannabis enhances my artistic abilities — absolutely! When I was a senior in high school, I was first introduced to cannabis. My girlfriend Lauren told me that pot would help me become more creative with choreography, and it did. I was actually awarded “Presidential Scholar in the Arts” for a piece I made while medicating on cannabis.
Till this day, ganja helps me function throughout day-to-day life by regulating my eating habits and sleeping cycles. But cannabis also inspires me as an artist and allows me to tap into a part of the brain I normally wouldn’t have access to.
GO: What was your experience like on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”?
LE: My experience as a contestant on the sixth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was quite tumultuous. I had never been on television before, so I had no idea what I was walking into. At the time, I was 23-years-old.
While there were many fun and joyous moments, the whole experience was stressful. We spent 14 hours a day on set in drag for up to eight hours… fully tucked and padded and we had earrings glued to our ears and nails to our fingers. This felt uncomfortable, causing anxiety because I desperately wanted to perform well.
GO: Can you tell us more about your drag family?
LE: My drag family is Alyssa Edwards and Shangela Laquifa Wadley, say what!!! While we are no longer working together as a fam, I am so grateful for all the things that they’ve done for me. I wasn’t the most loved person when I came off season six. But I was able to tour with the “Haus of Edwards” and the whole time, I had two loving and adored queens promoting me alongside themselves. The support encouraged me to rebrand myself, which helped show people the real me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my drag family. And that’s a fact.
GO: Have you met many homophobic people throughout your career?
LE: Of course, I absolutely have experienced homophobia in the art and cannabis industry. The most specific example that comes to mind is when I had performed at High Times’ Cannabis Cup in the beginning of my career. When I took off my clothes and performed my normal act as Laganja, I didn’t get booed off stage, but I was greeted with unwanted and hurtful responses.
Since then I have made sure the groups I run with are supportive — I protect myself in that way. But as an activist, I’m hoping to really change the landscape and do more events that may not make me feel comfortable. In doing so, perhaps this will help others feel less nervous about embracing their true selves and worry less about acceptance from strangers.
GO: Will you share some details about your experience as a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance?”
LE: Most of my fanbase knows that I was a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance?.” However, there are still several people who follow me but have no idea. So first and foremost, thank you for recognizing the work I’ve done. I can share some details with you about my experience, like how it was so different [from] “Drag Race.” This is due to the fact that my stress was much more manageable because the nervousness I felt was all based around dancing, which I’m formally educated in and have extensive training for. I felt comfortable in the arena. The crew I worked with happened to be the most incredible people I’ve ever worked with during a production. I still stay in touch with many of them now, up until present day. Amy was one of the showrunners who I adore with all my heart, and she comments on almost all my Instagram posts even now. So I feel like they’re family and I really hope that the show renews once the pandemic ends and I can return to being a choreographer.
GO: Do you have any final words you want to share with our audience?
LE: Absolutely! Go ahead and plug into my weekly series, “Muse Me,” that launched around a year ago. You can see behind-the-scenes work and the collaborative efforts between Robert Hayman and I.
Hayman is coined an “everything artist.” And in the first season of “Muse Me,” our work together included an Atlantis-like orgy of water and jewels, a rainbow celebration of nonbinary beauty, a Marilyn Monroe-inspired light symphony, an edgy futuristic space witch, and an homage to the 1978 film noir “Eyes of Laura Mars.”
He and I will take you on photo shoots — from creation to concept, and then the final realized image. So I would really love to promote that. Hayman is a brilliant photographer and he considers me his muse; hence the name of the series. New episodes drop every Monday on my YouTube channel at 4:20 p.m. (Could there be a better time?)
Thank you so much, Megan. I really appreciate you sharing my story. I’m sure we’ll chat again soon, girl!