by: Deborah Nelson (DragcentricDeb)
Close yourself off. Be protective.
— Jay Jackson in June 2014 on how to survive post Drag Race
I first got to know Laganja Estranja (Jay Jackson) by accident. I called him to confirm an in-person interview for another reporter and we ended up talking for an hour and a half. It’s hard for me to call Laganja “she” or even Laganja – I really know him as Jay and Jay and Laganja are two different people. Since then we’ve had many conversations and I finally got to see his full live show in Pittsburgh recently. Jay is funny, smart, silly, considerate and really fun to be around. The people who know him will read this and say, “Yup.” And the people who know him only from Drag Race will read this and say “this lady’s crazy.”
The Laganja that was shown on RuPauls Drag Race is also quite different from the Laganja whom I have worked with. Laganja at a photo shoot is focused, quiet and professional. Yes, quiet. I actually filmed footage of Laganja and Asia Persuasia at a New York photo shoot and uploaded it to my Instagram with the label “The Silent Photo Shoot.”
Working with Laganja is also fun and doesn’t feel like work at all.. At the photo shoot she restyled my outfit just to make me feel pretty, in the middle of changing hers. She also shot a video – in one take – for World of Wonder, yes in that same interval. And took selfies, including one that is still my Twitter profile pic and answered all of my questions, kikied down the house and painted for the gawds. I, personally threw a lot at her and she never cried, complained or pulled a diva. After our shoot my photographer, Garrett Matthew and I attended a performance by Laganja and Asia Persuasia at a local bar. Whatever their contract was we had to stay a really long time, long after most of the patrons had gone. By the end of the night there were about eight of us just hanging at a table and Laganja and I were the only sober ones. Yes, Laganja the partier, the weed advocate did not drink or smoke that night.
She hadn’t quite yet fully committed to sobriety but she was well on her way. Six weeks ago she did put down the bottle and she has never been happier! Laganja explained that over the past year, “There were times where I made bad decisions in order to deal with the stress and pain that I was feeling, but some of those choices got me where I am today and I couldn’t be more thankful..”
The “bad decisions” to which Laganja is referrring are the many bouts of excessive drinking which have been catalogued publicly. The “Drag Race Laganja” – that we were shown – was a crying annoying mess and she took a lot of hate for it months afterwards. She explained her behavior to me. “I would go to a bar to host a viewing party and people would be booing me on the TV. Then I was supposed to get up in front of them and talk on a microphone and perform. Woudn’t you want to get wasted?” (Actually I probably would have left the bar and stopped taking bookings. It shows how strong she is that she kept booking gigs and performing like the pro that she is!)
In person, “Performance Laganja” is as fierce as they come. She is a close second to her drag mother/sister Alyssa Edwards who is the best live drag performer I have ever seen. Laganja is a classically trained dancer with a BFA who, when not performing drag, choreographs and teaches at Alyssa’s – a.k.a. Justin Johnson’s – Texas dance studio “Beyond Belief Dance.” In theater there is are sometimes casting calls for “actors who can move” and a lot of queens are that. Performers who know how to move. But Laganja (and her Haus of Edwards family) can all really dance and they are just live electric currents on stage.
If you go back and rewatch early episodes of season 6 you will actually see a cheerful, fun competitor with fierce runway looks who somehow became a beaten person. Laganja explained how this happened. She said that she brought her (legal in California) prescription for marijuana to the RuPauls Drag Race production office and was not allowed to smoke. She explained, “The weed is prescribed originally because I hurt my back in college. But since then I’ve been using the medication for anxiety, depression, sleeping issues and eating issues.” Without her medication, not only was Laganja deprived of the ability to subdue her anxiety and other issues but she was actually going through withdrawal. “I wasn’t eating or sleeping. I was drinking Red Bull, which is the worst thing I could have done. One night (at the hotel) I was begging one of the production assistants to let me smoke. She said she wanted to but she wasn’t allowed. She just held me and I cried.”
Laganja said she was never given a proper reason why she was denied her medication other than she was told “there was no place to smoke” – even though cast members were permitted cigarette breaks.
Laganja went through many months of pain following the show and was often ridiculed online for her crying and quotable moments. Despite always laughing along with the joke publicly, the experience was actually quite painful and the impetus for her excessive alcoholism. Eventually, through therapy and the support of good friends, Laganja was able to move away from the negativity. At Thanksgiving she posted on her Instagram, “If I had to pick one thing I am most grateful for this past year, it would have to be my learned ability to laugh at myself!! As someone who took it very personally when people would quote my breakdowns or slander my character online, I can honestly say I’ve finally moved on.” What Laganja didn’t mention at the time was that one of the reasons she was finally able to find the strength to post those words is because she had gotten sober.
Laganja went public about her sobriety in an Instagram post a couple of weeks later. She chose Fred Ralda’s drawing of her at one of her saddest moments to reveal her growth and to celebrate one month of sobriety:
“Life is so beautiful when you allow it to be. There are signs of “GAWD” everywhere if you just open your eyes and accept life for what it is supposed to be and not for what you want it to be. In this drawing, Fred Ralda really captures the pain I was feeling when I was on RuPauls Drag Race.” For so long, even after months of the show airing, I held onto these negative emotions and consequently turned to alcohol to cope with my hurt and disappointment. But after some serious self evaluation and a lot of determination, I’m so proud to say I have officially been a month without a drink and I have fully let everything go. So thank you to all of my #buds and to Fred for reminding me today of how far I’ve come, how much more room there is to grow, and that the “GAWDS” really do exist!”
These days Laganja is doing the opposite of her strategy at the top of this article. She speaks openly about her issues and is the happiest she has been since Drag Race Season 6 started airing. Laganja discusses her alcoholism and her journey to sobriety:
“I feel so lucky and fortunate that I caught my problem in the nick of time. I could really look at this year and feel like I wasted a lot of time but I really just view it as a very important lesson. I really think that because of the show (Drag Race) and because of all of the negativity that I received I just lost it and I went down the rabbit hole into a very dark place. Unfortunately I was trying to deal with my depression and disappointment with a depressant. Obviously that made it ten times worse.”
“I think that I had gotten so lost and so bogged down by alcohol and drugs that I had lost my light and lost my hope and lost my passion for why I’m doing this. Getting sober has really helped me to feel alive again and forced me to wake up. There’s a reason I created Laganja and it’s not just so I can death drop and be pretty.”
She knows that putting down the bottle has been key in regaining pride, ambition and enabling her to use her talent to its fullest and to pursue all of her goals. “I’m finally growing up and it’s just amazing how quickly everything is changing. I’ve put my life and my artistry back in motion. One of the reasons I became an artist was because I wanted to create and cause change. For a while I just felt like all I’m doing is deathdropping to Britney Spears and repeating taglines from the show and that’s just not enough for me any more. Now that I’m not drunk I have enough strength and enough courage to be this person that I dreamed of.”
Laganja realizes there still will be naysayers, even in her sobriety. ‘I do know there are people out there who will view my sobriety as “not sobriety” because I do smoke weed. However, I feel that because it is legal where I live and it is prescribed to me, as I’m able to justify that – at least for now.
Laganja spent two weeks with Alyssa Edwards after Thanksgiving and those two weeks were instrumental in her recovery. “One night Alyssa and I had this amazing conversation where she really opened up about the loss of her mother and how much it made her grow up and become a man. I feel the same thing about my alcoholism. It really forced me to say either I’m going to grow up or I’m going to be a sad, sad Sally.
“Alyssa said ‘You not winning the show was a blessing in disguise. Can you imagine how much further you probably would have lost it had you had more fortune and fame? You didn’t need this right now. You needed exactly what happened. And that’s why I say that quote ‘Life happens the way it’s supposed to, not the way we want it to.’ It’s up to us to just look at our life and say ‘What can I do with what I’m given?’”
“It’s so cool to finally feel supported again by others but mainly by myself. I was tired of waking up and feeling like shit and not remembering. I felt like if I numbed myself one more day to my life then it would be over. I just felt like what is the point of waking up and breathing. What is the point if I’m just going to go out and get so fucked up that night that I don’t remember anything. I remember sitting in my therapist’s office and I couldn’t even speak. All I could do was just cry. She said to me, ‘It’s okay, you clearly care about yourself, because you’re here. So many people would have not even come today. But you’re here, you obviously want to do something about your life. You need to remind yourself it’s not over. You’re still here, you’re still breathing, and you care.
“I always thought it was funny that people made fun of me on the show for being a “Try Hard” because one of the most amazing things about myself is that I don’t give up no matter how bad things get. I just keep believing that there’s a reason we’re here and pushing forward.
“In that moment when I was sitting there with her and couldn’t speak I realized she was right. I do care about myself. I do care about my life. I do care about the choices I make that effect others. And it was time to grow up. It was just that simple. I either put down the bottle and grow up or I continue living a miserable, pointless life. And that’s not me. So it really hasn’t been hard for me to put it down.
“I really do believe that every morning when we wake up we have a choice to choose our future. We have a choice to be sad, to look at something and find the negative and we also have a choice to wake up and be positive. Alyssa said to me ‘You don’t think every morning I want to wake up and be sad that I don’t have the one person in my life?’ (Her mother, who passed away earlier this year.) But life doesn’t happen the way we want it to, it happens the way it is supposed to. I really feel like everything I’ve been through, as hard as it was, was supposed to happen. And it’s going to make me a stronger person. And hopefully I will be able to make someone else not go through what I went through. And at least if they do go through that they can know that there is an end and there is a light and you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Watch Hey Qween on Monday January 5 for Laganja’s appearance!
ENJOY AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT KIND OF SICKENING – JAY JACKSON PERFORMING CONTEMPORARY DANCE A FEW WEEKS AGO IN TEXAS.
If you only know Jay from Drag Race, viewing his talent here will truly be an experience “Beyond Belief.”
Article by Dragcentric Deb
Deborah Nelson is a drag writer who is on loan to Not Safe 4 Werk while her new site www.dragcentric.com is being built. Deborah loves theater, film and food and likes drag a lot but not as much as those other things, which keeps her from freaking out over queens during interviews. She specializes in features and fun articles. She writes because she enjoys it (sort of) and because people tell her that her writing helps them. Or makes them laugh. A lot of people call her “Deb” but her real name is Deborah, which both Alaska and Shangela know but nobody else. Her favorite queens are Alaska Thunderfuck and all the Haus of Edwards girls. Plus Ridge Gallagher, who is actually a fierce as f*ck makeup artist. Also Ginger Minj, who is always good for a conversation about a sammich, and who is going to kick ass on Season 7!