The legend of Sasha Colby precedes her, to the extent that when her drag daughter, Kerri Colby, competed in season 14 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the pressure of being Sasha’s daughter was part of her story line. Now, one year after Kerri introduced Sasha’s name to the world, Sasha has introduced the world to the rest of herself — not just her immense talent but her personality and vulnerability, all revealed with the goal of winning Drag Race and finally achieving the mainstream stardom that she, as a trans woman and a drag performer, long deserved but wouldn’t have been afforded without the show.
In season 15 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, it was remarkable to see someone so fully formed dominate in a competition usually predicated on self-discovery. Sasha Colby is not just a persona but a complete package. That’s why she won Miss Continental, the most important drag pageant in the country, over a decade ago, and to hear her tell it, she’s grown even more since then. While other queens descended into emotional turmoil around her, Sasha kept all that back at the hotel, entering the Werk Room with her focus squarely on the crown.
As one of the few latter-day Drag Race queens who began doing drag before the show premiered, she knew what being there meant. “I’ve been wanting this forever,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be a star. My friends all know that too. They’re all like, ‘Oh girl, you’re made for this. No one else has a stomach for any of this but you.’”
It’s been a little over ten years since your Continental win. How does this feeling compare?
Continental allowed me to be a well-known star in the queer community, a very good “If you know, you know.” But this is global. This is household. The amount of cishet people we are reaching, the amount of allies we’re hopefully making, is so important right now.
Are you able to internalize that, or does it feel abstract?
The amount of love that comes at me, even before winning, in these past couple of months of touring in cities has been overwhelming. Not in a bad way, just like, Whoa. I didn’t mind getting vulnerable to a point where people could relate. Even now, winning, I had to step away from the phone and not go on social media until yesterday to just relax and just sit in my accomplishment and not get too caught up in what people are saying or doing but really just taking it for me and letting it be special for a second.
What does winning mean on a personal level?
I am a competitor. I set goals and I manifest really hard and I didn’t leave any space to fail. But I was a nervous wreck.
Of course. You never know what’s going to happen, and Anetra’s amazing. I was up against some talented girls.
When did you start manifesting like this?
I learned to manifest right before Continental, and I was able to achieve that and make that magical moment. I always work great in tens, in decades. At 18, I transitioned. At 28, I won Continental, and now at 38, 39, I just won Drag Race. I understand my waves come in 10 years’ time, and I was able to catch three good ones. I’m going to catch a few more. Maybe I’ll chop it down to every five years.
Speed up the process a little?
Once you get into a manifestation zone and you stay grateful, it just keeps flowing.
What does the next manifestation for Sasha Colby look like?
I’m focused on making music and acting. I’ve always been focused on that, and I’m using Drag Race as a vehicle to get closer to people who can help those dreams come true. Being able to be on this platform is allowing me to say anything I want and work with anybody I could possibly make a connection with. That’s the best part, the creative process and making things happen.
How did you know it was time for this wave?
That push was watching my daughter, Kerri, watching Kylie, seeing Gottmik, seeing people that came in the first day trans. Seeing it go full circle with Kylie, who was the first person ever to be on Drag Race that came out as a trans person, coming back on All Stars and having this redemption. I was her friend and her roommate at the time, and I was helping her get ready, watching her love for the show and really taking notes from someone who ended up being a winner. All these things were like the universe preparing me: Working with someone like Sasha Velour in NightGowns, it gave me the tools to be campy and to flex my acting muscles. I spent the past few years getting it all together, silently going, I need this for something later.
Is it accurate to say that when you moved to L.A. in 2014, that was to pursue Drag Race?
Yes. Well, not just to pursue Drag Race. I came to L.A. to be a star. I was behind the scenes of music. I was auditioning for dance gigs, choreographing for Drag Race girls. I was doing the work of any creative in L.A., definitely always with Drag Race in the back of my head, but it was never the right time. Things weren’t happening.
I had to go through life, too. I had to experience my father’s death and find resilience in my queerness, being the one strong person in my family to actually deal with death and grief because queer people have had to deal with grief and death at an early age. Whether it’s death of their family or their connections, we just know how to deal. My family, all these cishet people, were like, “I don’t know what to do.” So of course the queer kid has to come up and take care of family business. It helped me to have a better frame of mind going into this, realizing we’re playing dress up. This is going to be fun, and you’ve actually dealt with a lot worse in life, so let’s just have fun and be joyful.
During that time when you were in L.A. but not on Drag Race, from 2014 to now, drag has changed a lot because of the show. What was your experience of watching that change?
I was intentionally in the city that every drag queen moves to because that’s where the career calls them. I went there to be in it because if you want to grow, you surround yourselves with the people that you want to grow with. So I put myself in next to Drag Race girls. Going to L.A. as a trans performer, there were maybe three of us at the time in 2014. There weren’t a lot of trans girls that were even comfortable doing drag. Maybe they were performers, but that was not the thing for trans girls. Most of them at the time were sex workers, especially in those times in L.A., and the drag was for the butch queens.
I’ve been there now for nine years and changed the whole pH of that. To have baby trans girls all up in drag, and being honored to have created a show like Heavenly Bodies that showcases trans drag and the power of it — it was a conscious effort to raise L.A. to this point where you are going to accept drag in all forms. I see somewhere like downtown L.A. have such an amazing, I would call it a “Brooklyn” expression of drag, where there’s all these different forms of drag that weren’t there even back in 2014. So because of things like Dragula, Drag Race, and the trans movement in general, and having people like Trace Lysette and Laverne Cox and MJ Rodriguez, having Kim Petras come out at an early age, these are all things that are now in the social zeitgeist that makes people more cued in to understand that this is just a normal thing.
You mentioned before that part of the love comes from how vulnerable you were. How did you think about opening up on the show?
I realized vulnerability was magic when I did Continental. I competed four times and won the fourth time. Every time I got to question and answer, I was so scared about what people would think of me and I wouldn’t say my truth, but that’s what they want. They want your truth at this moment. I realized that what I was ashamed of was actually the power: me talking about my drug addiction at an early age, being addicted to crystal meth from 19 to 23, and not being afraid of it or ashamed of it after five years of living in the shame. The second I said it, I not only won Continental, but then I got this overflowing amount of messages about how I just helped someone get off it or helped someone who’s struggling. That’s so powerful.
I knew going in: I have to reveal everything. I have to leave everything out there. It was important for me and my personal human growth to show the self-work that I was doing. It was important for me to say my truth as a trans person. I knew every time I was vulnerable, someone else could relate.
On the show, you talked with Ru and Michelle about the feeling of not wanting the girls to dislike you. We didn’t necessarily see you go through that; we saw you more on the other end of it. How did you process those emotions on the show?
With that, the work was happening in the moment. It was in real time. Growing pains because you’re growing. I thought, You just got a third win. You’re sweeping, and the first thing you think about is, ’Oh God, I don’t want these girls to hate me’. I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t say a lot of it while we were on set, but while in my room thinking about this, there was this crazy full moon, I had my Tarot cards, and I was crying, trying to understand. What is this thing? Why do I have this need to dim my light just to have the room like me or not to offend anyone?
I realized it’s all about abuse. Abused kids end up being people pleasers because they know how to monitor themselves in order to make someone not hit them. I had to pick that scab and be like, Oh God, I thought I got through all this family stuff. It felt like energy that I was holding on to, realizing that I just did something important and good for myself and I didn’t have to share it with my family. It was finally not about getting their approval. The whole time I was doing Continental, I would just wait for my mom to say, “I’m proud of you” or “You look pretty.” And there was never any of that. It was always shame. So it just made me feel like anything I did was pointless.
I did so much for so many years trying to get these people to like me. My dad left me a home and the responsibility of taking care of my family, and they took advantage of it. I ended up having to set these boundaries of not even talking to my abusive mother or family. I was about to win $200,000, so I had to say, “You’re not taking advantage of me anymore” then and there. Because I’m not getting a phone call that says that your nephew needs some life-altering surgery that happens to be $200,000. Then I talked to Ru about it, and it was really about feeding that inner child that she always talks about. I had to heal that kid that was still feeling she might get abused when I was actually getting the reward of my life. It was so much shedding that night. It was a lot of crying.
You went through all of this in one night?
Yeah. I get to the point. I had to finish this competition. I didn’t have time to show any weakness right then. I had to fix this. I was like, I’m not sabotaging myself. I’m learning this lesson once.
You mentioned in the finale that you want a TV show. How do you feel about being a part of the “mainstream”? Does that mean having to change yourself at all?
Right now, I’m in the mainstream for being queer, for being myself. A lot of the hang-ups that these mainstream people come across is because they’re trying to hide themselves to be famous. I’m famous for being myself. I just showed everybody everything I can do. My situation is perfect for a queer person to make a splash in this mainstream media. We used to be mirrors of pop culture. Now Gottmik and Violet are in fashion. Bob is opening for Madonna. We’re everywhere. We’re the tastemakers.
Can you explain what you mean by “mirrors to pop culture”?
They say it in Paris Is Burning: Before, in the ’60s, it was showgirls and Las Vegas, and then in the ’70s it became more streamlined and doing models like Cher. And then you got into the ’80s and it was Dynasty. In the ’90s, trans girls were models like Mimi Marks, Monica Munro, Erica Andrews. They looked like Yasmin and Cindy and Naomi and Linda. We were following pop culture. We were mirroring it. Then there came Drag Race, which allowed us to have the mirror put against us. We mirrored our idols, and because they’re so good, now pop culture wants to mirror us mirroring them.
You’ve talked about self-monitoring as a trans woman before. I would imagine that is heightened when filming a TV show.
It was completely wiped out. I couldn’t monitor anything. After two or three days in front of that camera, you forget the camera’s there. I don’t remember saying all that on TV. I don’t remember half of the things I said on the show, and now I have a T-shirt made out of it. Once you self-monitor, you’re done, because you’re not fun, you’re not expressive, you’re not good TV.
But how do you get to that place? It sounds a lot easier said than done.
I’ve been called every slur in the book while walking the street for years. It really does build a thick skin. Being told by other trans women that I’m a clown by doing drag and I’m clocking myself and I should be ashamed. Being told by cis women, “He looks so cute, he’s so pretty.” All those microaggressions, I just take them with me. I’m like, You literally have said everything bad you could to me, and the last thing you’re going to do is take my joy. The best revenge is pure success.
You mention that you’ve been told by other trans women that you’re clocking yourself by doing drag, and there’s been controversy over Ru saying in the past that trans women doing drag is not transgressive. What does the connection between transness and drag look like for you?
My connection came from Hawaii. There was no disconnect of doing drag. More than half of it was trans women doing drag in Hawaii. So that was never a thing until I came to the Continental U.S., the mainland, as we call it. That’s when I started to be like, Oh, there’s a difference. Certain cities are like, “Oh no, girl, we don’t do that.” I don’t know if it was just because of survival as a trans person, where they didn’t want to outright clock themselves and do shows. That was in specific places, more so the West Coast, to be quite honest. But Texas, the South, New York, Chicago, those were all heavily trans drag areas. Those are all pageant areas, too.
Being able to participate in the conversation by representing on Drag Race, in particular, is so important. You can’t tell the story of drag without talking about trans drag. When they were locking us all up at Stonewall or when they had to wear “I’m a boy” pins in Hawaii, they didn’t care who we were. We all went to the same jail cell. So we all can also reap the rewards and the benefits that drag and Drag Race has to offer.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.