Q&A With Laganja Estranja: The Trained Dancer and Multifaceted Artist Who Recently Came Out as Trans

Laganja Estranja

📸 source: Jon Sams

Many of us rooted for our fave LGBTQIA+ icon in the Emmy award-winning reality television series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”: Jay Jackson, AKA Laganja Estranja. In each season of the show, talented drag queens participate in competitions against each other in fashion and performance-related challenges.

The host and main judge, RuPaul, often chooses who gets to stay… and who doesn’t.

The panel of judges kicks one person to the curb at the end of every episode (at least in the regular seasons, not the “All Stars” ones). Unfortunately, Laganja didn’t make the cut – but none of her devoted fans cared. She did well for her first appearance on television. 

Last summer, she came out as a transgender woman. The word spread fast — after all, the breaking news about her public announcement came as a shock to some and went viral within days. There were articles about her on nearly every website, even mainstream outlets that don’t typically publish LGBTQIA+ content.

Recently, Laganja launched trans merch apparel for folks who are interested in purchasing. Her clothing for Pride Month features the pink and blue pastel colors of the trans flag and gender-neutral clothing pieces. Her name is printed in white letters across all items in this collection. 

You’ll find joggers, a dress, a crop top, tee shirts for kids, and more for sale on her online shop.

Laganja is mostly known for being a trained dancer and choreographer, vlogger and TV personality. 

But aside from that, there’s much more about Laganja that is intriguing and impressive. 

During this exclusive interview with Women AdvaNCe, you’ll learn about Laganja Estranja’s life, the homophobia she has faced, the complexities of balancing two separate lives, her thoughts on cannabis and so much more. 

Women AdvaNCe: Hey Laganja! Thanks for taking the time to chat. Can you tell us all more about yourself, in case a few folks aren’t familiar?

Laganja Estranja: For anyone who hasn’t heard of Laganja Estranja, 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.

📸 source: Robert Hayman

Women AdvaNCe: You really do it all! How do you manage being both Jay Jackson and Laganja Estranja separately?

Laganja Estranja: The act of balancing two separate lives between Laganja and Jay can become very overwhelming. And unfortunately, stress gets the better of me. I’m a Capricorn and we are known for being considered perfectionists

But that is why I use coping skills like practicing yoga and consuming cannabis in any form to balance myself and help myself remain motivated.

I think the first step in any kind of conflict you have in life is just recognizing it. And I recognize that stress does play a large role in my life, and that is why I take the steps I can to suppress that.

📸 source: Gabriel Gastelum

Women AdvaNCe: Is there an aspect of your career that you would change?

Laganja Estranja: Between dancing, choreography, modeling, and all the other things I do, I would probably actually change some of the aspects of modeling. Most modeling that I do is for Instagram and all organized on my own between other collaborators and myself. 

I’m really looking to get representation in this field and be taken seriously as a model, and also finally get compensation for all the work I’m doing as opposed to paying for it, producing it and being the model.

If I was partial to one artform, obviously it would be dance. That is truly my love language. I found throughout my travels of the world, it’s the only one that’s truly universal. No matter where I go when I perform my dip, people react. 

WA: You have chosen to embrace so many different forms of art. 

LE:. I attended the California Institute of Arts in 2007 to 2011 and got my degree in dance and choreography. So showcasing this side of myself as an artist has always been important. 

And drag is just one medium I use. But if I had to pick my favorite artform, I’d choose choreography — and of course dance. That’s really where I feel like I am most at home. This form of art ensures that my voice is unique and amplified at the same time.

WA: 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 because of this community. “The Compassionate Act” made weed available to us before we went recreational here in California. So yeah, I think it’s really important that we continue on that lineage and create spaces where both communities can come together and feel safe.

WA: Does cannabis consumption help inspire and influence your artistic abilities?

LA: 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, 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.

My favorite form of cannabis products is definitely dabs, wax — I love this concentrated form of THC, and my preferred strain is definitely anything with Tangie. If we wanted to get real specific, it’s “Orange Julius” by Maven. 

📸 source: Robert Hayman

WA: What was your experience like on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”?

LE: Hmmm… 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.

There were fun and joyous moments, but the whole experience seemed stressful. The other contestants and I spent 14 hours a day on set, sometimes in drag for up to eight hours — fully tucked and padded, with earrings glued to our ears and nails to our fingers. This felt uncomfortable, which caused anxiety, because I wanted to perform really well.

WA: Can you tell us more about your drag family?

LE: Hell yes!! My drag family is Alyssa Edwards and Shangela Laquifa Wadley, say what! We aren’t working together as a family anymore. But I’m so grateful for all the things they’ve done for me.

I was not the most loved person when I was kicked off season six. I was able to tour with the “Haus of Edwards,” though, with two loving and adored queens essentially promoting me alongside themselves. The support helped me to rebrand myself, showing people the real me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my drag family – that’s a fact. 

📸 source: Emily Eizen (Check out our writer’s interview with the photographer; she’s an exceptional LGBTQ+ icon, too.)

WA: Have you encountered homophobia at any point in your career?

LE: Of course, I absolutely have encountered homophobia in the industry. The most notable moment that comes to mind is when I had performed at Cannabis Cup towards the beginning of my career. When I took off my clothes and performed my normal act as Laganja, I did not get booed off stage — yet I still was greeted with unwanted responses.

Since then I have really made sure the groups I run with in the industry are supportive. I protect myself that way. Being a cannabis and LGBTQIA+ activist, I’m hoping to change the landscape and participate in more events that are much less probable to leave me feeling uncomfortable or unaccepted. Hopefully, this encourages my people to follow suit and feel more accepted in everyday life. I want to inspire my fellowship of people so they’re not afraid to partake in certain things that perhaps they’d normally be weary of.  

WA: We think you’re an inspiration, no doubt about it. But many of your fans know you were a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Will you share some details about this experience?

LE: Most of my fanbase does know 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 had done, Megan.

Some details I can share with you about that experience are that this show had not much in common with “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” This is due to the fact that my stress was much more manageable because the anxiety revolves around my talent. I am educated about dance and have professional training. 

I felt much more comfortable in an arena like this one. Out of all the productions I’ve worked with, this was the most incredible crew. I actually keep in touch with many of my fellow dancers till this day. 

One of the showrunners who I adore with all my heart comments on nearly all my posts on Instagram — even my current posts. 

So I feel like everyone I met on this journey is a part of my family. And I hope that the series will renew once we are clear from the pandemic because I’d love to be involved with “So You Think You Can Dance,” maybe this time as a choreographer.

WA: Do you have any final words you want to share with our audience?

LE: Absolutely! Please tune into my YouTube series, “Muse Me,” that launched roughly one year ago. You can watch the behind-the-scenes, collaborative efforts between the talented photographer, Robert Hayman and me.

We invite you to view our photography sessions — from creation to concept, and all the way to the final, realized image.

So yeah, I’d totally like to promote that. New episodes drop every Monday on my YouTube channel at 4:20 p.m. (Could there be a better time? Spark up a joint, plug into my weekly series and sit back & enjoy!)

Check out Laganja Estranja’s website and Instagram


Megan Lane is a freelance writer, photographer, yoga instructor, and mom of one. She has written for numerous outlets like HuffPost, Al Jazeera, Insider, High Times, and Parents.

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