The queer-speaking world (and its allies) unleashed a unified gay gasp earlier this year when RuPaul’s Drag Race announced the long-awaited Sasha Colby era (we had to). As a former Miss Continental and the “first child and grassroots startup queen” of her respective house (one of the most distinguished drag houses in the U.S.), Sasha’s participation on the Emmy-winning franchise was likened to – as Bosco said – “Beyonce being on American Idol”. Now widely referred to by fans (and us) as “MOTHER!” – or as she puts it, “goddess slut” – Sasha stomped into the werkroom in her Hawaiian warrior garb as the de facto frontrunner, and has since demolished RuPaul’s stage with the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent that has contributed to her enduring legacy as a drag juggernaut. As of writing, she’s conquered three maxi-challenges, two of which were consecutive: she neck-cracked her way to victory as God (fitting) in episode three; crystalised the runway in Drag Race’s landmark 200th episode; and cuchi-cuchi’d the improv with Spanish flamenco icon Charo “without subtitles”. (Imagine explaining that sentence to a straight?) There’s more: her LaLaPaRuza lip-sync against Anetra to the beat of Fifth Harmony’s I’m in Love with a Monster, featuring a plethora of flips, kicks, splits and other quintessential Sasha Colby tricks such as her ferocious hairography, has been lauded as one of franchise’s most iconic battles to date. (“I could see us looking like Swiffers at one point, just completely mopping the floor.”) The smackdown is still going viral on the social medias, as well as other hidden gems of Sasha’s spellbinding performances including a clip in which she dowses her hair in water and drenches the crowd to Paramore’s pop-punk anthem Misery Business. Following two decades as an unsung shero in the art-form, Sasha is finally – repetition, bold and italics necessary: finally! – receiving her dues on a global, mainstream level as a drag trailblazer and the trans icon the world is in desperate need of right now. “I did not expect the fanfare and the crazy outpour of love and energy,” gushes Sasha. “It’s overwhelming, and it’s made my 20 years feel worth it.”
The House of Colby came to wider prominence on RuPaul’s Drag Race last year with the arrival of Sasha’s drag daughter Kerri. While she didn’t snatch the crown for her house, the Kerri Kares star – alongside Kornbread “The Snack” Jeté – notably ushered in the franchise’s most “trantastic” era yet when three additional contestants subsequently came out as trans: Jasmine Kennedie, Bosco and winner Willow Pill. As a result, season 14 made herstory as the first Drag Race season across all ever-expanding iterations to feature five openly trans contestants. “After Kerri it was like, ‘Whoa, everyone’s trans?!’ It was wild!” laughs Sasha. Admittedly, she always intended to compete in the ‘Olympics of Drag’ – “I’ve had friends and sisters in it, it’s our World Cup!” – but it didn’t seem conceivable for her until the recent trans takeover, which also includes fan-favourites such as Peppermint, Kylie Sonique Love, Gottmik, Vanessa Van Cartier and Dakota Schiffer, among several others. “It was a slow yet long time coming, especially in the past few seasons when there was representation like Gottmik. As a trans man doing drag, it was something that people haven’t seen, so then it was easy for other people to digest when the “trantastic” season came.” Sasha particularly credits Kylie, one of her Good Judy’s, with paving the way for trans representation – and trans triumph – on the show. Kylie memorably blazed a trail in season two when she became the first contestant to come out as a trans woman. Eleven years later, a triumphant All Stars comeback saw Miley Cyrus’ drag mother join the likes of Chad Michaels, Alaska, Trixie Mattel, Trinity the Tuck, Monét X Change and Shea Couleé in the Drag Race Hall of Fame – making herstory, again, as the first openly trans woman to win the U.S. series in the process. Sasha praises Kylie’s “redemption arc”: “It was beautiful to watch. It was also beautiful as a friend and to be her roommate at the time to witness. That’s when I felt like there was space for me.” Acknowledging pre-show claims that a queen of her stature doesn’t necessarily “need” the extra exposure that comes with being a “RuGirl”, Sasha illustrates: “I’m not trying to sound verbose or anything, but I think Drag Race needed someone like me. It was my responsibility to represent every trans girl that I look up to and the trans girls that aren’t here anymore. It was a level of, ‘Yes, I would love to be on the show’ but it was very much, ‘I need to do this for us.’”
The House of Colby originated from the legendary Cassandra who, like Sasha, is a native Hawaiian and trans woman. Sasha first encountered Cassandra when she sneakily minced her way into LGBTQ+ bars to watch drag shows at age “17 or 18”; at the same time, she was on the prowl for a seasoned queen to channel their maternal instinct as her drag mother. Reflecting on this enlightening – and trying – period in her life, Sasha laughs. “I asked a bunch of queens in Hawaii that I looked up to [to be my drag mother] and they said no! They said no because it’s a lot of responsibility, and I was probably a handful back then.” There was an indescribable “energy” between her and Cassandra when they first crossed paths. “There’s so many similarities with us. How we grew up, how native Hawaiian cisgender males treat us, how our family members treat us. She saw herself in me, which is probably why she’s been hard on me since I was a little kid.” Sasha recalls the day she confided in Cassandra about her trans identity, which left her now-drag mother “scared” due to the harsh adversities that trans people faced at the time and, as we’ve lamentably witnessed with the countless archaic legislatures targeting the community, continue to face in the U.S. and all corners of the world. “I was just like a son to her. I called her whispering at home – trying not to have my mom and dad hear – and I told her, ‘I really need to be a girl. I don’t feel comfortable.’” Sasha pauses, before continuing: “Seeing her and other trans women have careers and homes and cars, seemingly well-adjusted, knowing that it could be so much better and easier and a weight lifted off my shoulders [to be out], it felt right. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t meet her at an early age. I don’t know if I would’ve been brave enough to transition.” Twenty years later, Cassandra still plays a crucial role in Sasha’s life and career – after all, she is the reason why she became so “fertile”. “Cassandra blossomed and had a lot of kids. Bunkbeds turned into multiple bunkbeds, someone sleeping in the corner. We all naturally formed this little gang and called it the Colby’s.”
As one of the first States to legalise same-sex activity, Sasha’s native island is known for its LGBTQ+ friendliness and progressive values – particularly amongst those who identify as transgender, which is referred to in Hawaiian and Tahitian cultures as “Māhū”. “Your bus driver is probably a trans woman and you don’t even know it,” jokes Sasha. “Your bank teller? Māhū? You don’t even know.” As “most people” in Hawaii have a trans relative, Sasha says high school bullies and their anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric when she was a teen didn’t “hold as much weight and hate as it does now in the mainland U.S. and countries around the world, because if you’re teasing me, you’re teasing your aunty!” Hawaii’s liberalism is reflected in its thriving pageant scene. The first pageant she ever ran – and won (only the goddess slut!) – was Miss Hawaii Continental in 2005, which set the stage for her herstoric Miss Continental win seven years later. Fun fact: she made a pact with fellow Drag Race star Naysha Lopez that, whoever wins Miss Continental first, must crown the other. The following year, that became a reality. (Other notable winners and icons include Amber Richards, Candis Cayne, Erica Andrews, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Jazell Barbie Royale and Vanessa Van Cartier.) “We love pageants and there’s so much trans representation in Hawaii,” she says of her island’s history with the art-form. “I think it’s because it’s a melting pot of so many different cultures: there’s Samoan queens, Hawaiian queens, Thai girls and Philippine queens. These are all countries that have such a big trans community, and we all happen to be weathered by colonisation and bringing foreigners in to do work. Somehow, we all connected in Hawaii, so it is a very interesting subsect of queer culture because it’s also on an island, so you can’t go anywhere. Everyone knows everyone!” I ask Sasha to share some of her favourite pageant memories. With joy, she reminisces on her first-ever “baby pageant”, Miss Ko Olina. “It’s a beach pageant on the 4th of July. You have to make an evening gown out of something you find on the beach. You create it with your team and then you have a showgirl competition. We’re parading on the beach with straight people cheering us on. Then, you perform a talent… It’s so hilarious that I won that. That kind of sums up what Hawaii is.” Hearing Sasha speak of her love for Hawaii and how queer people foster such a tight community on the island is, honestly, euphoric. (Sasha Colby’s Hawaiian Drag Race when?) “It’s so fun. All the aunties, the sissies and the sisters gather all the time,” she continues. “There’s a big national pageant called Universal Show Queen, and they do these crazy Las Vegas-style pieces. It’s full out and it’s been going on since the early 80s. Growing up and seeing these beautiful showgirls… That’s what is in my DNA now. Even when we’re not at shows or pageants, the Hawaii queens will have picnics and parties. We’ll have a beach day and everyone will make potluck, dance hula and play music.”
Sasha describes RuPaul’s empire as the “ultimate pageant, and being in a pageant, for me, is like having a mirror up to your life in that moment. If you’re going to sell yourself and sell a product, you need to know everything about this product; what it does and doesn’t do, its limitations and how to sell that correctly. You also need to have mental and emotional stock of who you are.” In addition to her challenge wins and fierce stunts on the main stage (seriously, that hairography?!), as well as her enthralling talent show number to The Cranberries’ Zombie and revelation that Beyoncé’s alter-ego was (absolutely) inspired by her (to be confirmed), Sasha’s status as a proud and thriving trans woman of colour has been commended by viewers and fellow Drag Race alum. While it’s arguably still important to hear stories of the adversities that trans people endure, Sasha’s confidence, fierceness and heartwarming journey has inspired countless trans-identifying viewers and shown those who aren’t immersed in the community that trans people can lead triumphant and fruitful lives. Before she made her debut, Sasha says it was vital that her gender identity wasn’t “an issue or a topic, or a reason why I was doing well, and it wasn’t. It was about good drag.” She lauds the show for allowing her to “speak on trans issues” when it was comfortable for her, such as her poignant moment with rotating judge Ts Madison in the 10th episode of Untucked. “To this day, I am constantly having to explain my experience as a trans woman in the world and as a trans woman in drag,” she says. “It’s pretty exhausting having to explain why I’m doing this. So, the more we can have these conversations, the more we can start talking about other things and other layers of people.” Authentic and positive depictions of trans people in mainstream media is still weak, although Sasha highlights and commends the TV shows and films that are devoted to depicting trans experiences “without the trauma”: “[Media] often touched on the transition instead of why we transition and the great outcomes of transitioning. Now with people like Jazz Jennings and Kim Petras, younger trans icons that are fully realised in their skin, it’s why this whole political climate is like this – because they see us being successful. They don’t want that, because if too many people actually do what they want, they can’t be controlled.”
“I’m gonna go off on a tangent now because of the political times, because I’m in awe of this rhetoric when it comes to the ideology of being trans, as if it’s a choice or religion or way of thinking,” she passionately continues, before laughing at the ludicrousness of right-wingers believing they’re “gonna catch the transness”. [Insert Sasha’s OCP – Oh Child Please – meme here.] This year alone, hundreds of bills have been introduced in the U.S. specifically targeting the trans and drag communities. On 2 March, Tennessee became the first state to ban drag shows from taking place in public spaces and/or places where minors may be present, with similar legislation introduced in at least 14 others including Arizona, Oklahoma and Kentucky. “My existence is really messing up their whole spiel. It’s wild because when I’m looking at that [Jon Stewart] clip, you can tell the other guy doesn’t even believe it. They’re worried about us controlling or ‘turning’ children when that’s what they do with gay conversion [therapy]. A lot of these right-wing Republicans know trans people. It doesn’t mean, because there’s more trans visibility, there’s also an influx in transness! You just know what it looks like, and you realise it’s happening very close to your home. Now, they’re threatened and blaming us and the drag community for confusing people, which is exactly what they do.” The bill ignited discourse online as to whether people with platforms who belong to the communities that are being vilified are obligated to make an official statement. Despite what RuPaul has done for queer and drag representation in mainstream media, he was called out by so-called ‘fans’ for not denouncing the bills sooner. Sasha describes it as a “Catch 22”: “I’m protesting every time I get in drag. I’m protesting every time I’m in the airport and people recognise that I’m Sasha Colby and someone wants to tell security that I’m in the wrong bathroom. My transness is never not called into consideration. But, I’m in this weird Catch 22 place where I am now a public figure. I am someone people look to for guidance, so now it’s even more of a responsibility for me to post about this. If I don’t, the people who would never see another trans person on their feed won’t get that information.” Instead of the minorities being targeted, Sasha says that burden should now be with “allies” of the community and “major corporations” that annually reach out to queer people to collaborate for Pride Month. “It’s the people that want to book me and the girls that I want to see more reposts from, instead of asking the drag queens to hold up our end of the bargain by posting. I want to see them make a post and show some solidarity. I would love to see more action.”
As our 40 minutes comes to an end, Sasha exclusively reveals that Beyoncé has… not had the decency to send Sasha an Instagram DM confirming/denying her Sasha Fierce “conspiracy theory”. Sacrilege. “Of course she hasn’t,” she laughs. “That was definitely brave of me and I’m surprised the Hive hasn’t come for me? At least I’m doing them justice.” Now that she’s been catapulted to worldwide galore, I question Sasha on her post-Drag Race plans for domination. With queens such as Trixie Mattel, Bianca Del Rio and Shea Couleé slaying the mainstream with their respective motel television ventures, Wembley comedy tours and forthcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe debut, Sasha says: “Anything is possible. It’s like I rubbed a lamp, Ru’s popped out and said, ‘What’s your biggest dream? What do you want?’ Win, lose, draw – as pageant as this answer is! – I already won because all I needed was my foot in the door. I’m conquering a lot of things I didn’t think I could do through Drag Race. It’s allowed me to dream even bigger for myself now. I’m so excited that things will happen.” Whatever Sasha does next, it’s guaranteed that her legions of fans will follow. After all, she’s your “favourite drag queen’s favourite drag queen”…
This cover story features in the April 2023 edition of GAY TIMES Magazine. To read the full issue, click here.
Catch Sasha Colby in all new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15, along with Untucked, air weekly and exclusively on the streamer of all things drag, WOW Presents Plus, in the UK on Saturdays at 2:00am.