Laganja Estranja is a triple threat, just not in the traditional sense—then again, there’s not very much that’s traditional about her—working as a choreographer/cannabis activist/drag queen. She’s currently breaking boundaries as the first professional drag queen on So You Think You Can Dance and, in doing so, is barreling into the mainstream with a hefty load of taboo on her shoulders. Yet she’s still able to handle it with grace, intelligence, and strength. living by the credo that “drag chose me, I did not choose drag.” We chatted about weed, drag, dance, and being your true self.
First off, Happy Pride.
What’s your origin story? How did Laganja Estranja come to be?
I definitely knew that I wanted my name to rhyme, and I knew I wanted to involve marijuana ‘cause marijuana was such a huge part of my college upbringing when I created the character first. I grew up in Texas where it was very illegal and very hush-hush, so it wasn’t until I moved to California—and, unfortunately, hurt my back—that I got fully exposed to marijuana and it changed my life. So I wanted it to be what I would have behind me as a drag queen because I believe every good drag queen should have a platform in which they represent and stand upon.
It’s not just about representing the LGBT community, it’s about bringing an important issue to the forefront and I think specifically here in California with the Compassionate [Use] Act, people often forget about the LGBT people that fought for Prop 215. So it’s been really cool to come full circle with that and bring some recognition to what I believe is the original community of at least why California has marijuana.
We met you on RuPaul’s Drag Race a couple years ago, and you’re currently back in the spotlight with So You Think You Can Dance, which is amazing, congratulations, you’re a vision on the show.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
You’re the first drag queen on the show, right?
As far as I know. I think there have been some other queer figures on the show, but I definitely am the first professional drag queen that’s been on the show.
I saw you mentioned in 2015 on Hey Qween that you weren’t going to do reality TV again. What do you think changed?
Well, I live in Los Angeles and bills are very expensive. I think what I meant by that statement on Hey Qween was that I probably most likely would never do RuPaul’s Drag Race again, meaning All-Stars. In that moment, that’s probably what I meant because So You Think You Can Dance has always been a dream of mine; I grew up watching Season 1, you know? This was more about me making a statement than me being on a reality competition show.
When I did Drag Race, that was a very specific goal of mine: to win. Whereas with this show, it’s always been about representing the community, and as a queer person who’s watched So You Think You Can Dance for many seasons and seen the queer people get negative comments and Nigel has been very public about when—he doesn’t like it when men dance effeminate. So this was more about making a statement and showing people that you can be your true self and you can still shine.
I couldn’t help but notice you’re going by Miss Estranja on the show.
Yes, so everyone has been up in arms about that, #SayMyName, which is so funny…but you know, at the end of the day, I’ll be very transparent: I chose that, as an artist. I didn’t want to give them any reason to not show me.
Yeah, I get that.
To me, it’s not that big a deal. It’s so funny to me that so many people feel that they censored me, but at the end of the day, I censored myself. And not because I don’t love the cannabis community or because I don’t want to support it, but because for the last five years, I’ve been known as a drug addict, a pothead, and I’m trying to change that image. And so that’s part of my rebranding: dropping that initial part of myself that makes people sometimes turn away from me.
Because I believe the more mainstream I make myself, allow myself to become, then I can really educate people on marijuana and it won’t be this shock value that I went for before. So that’s my hope at least because cannabis is never going to leave me, that’s always going to be my platform and what I believe in and fight for, but we have to give it a different image. It’s part of my whole stance on recreational versus medical.
Like I really wish we went medical first across the board federally before we started doing all this recreational. Because I believe that until we change the stigma, it’s never going to get better, we’re never going to get the proper research that we need on this plant to see what it can really cure and do, because now, unfortunately, dumb people are going out and getting too stoned and doing stupid things.
I’m all about education. So that’s why I didn’t want to go on a family-friendly show and hurt my chances. I don’t know if they would have censored me, I could have gone in there and said my name and who knows, but I just didn’t want to give them any little thing for them to be like “Oh, we can’t show her.”
Chris Desabota/ Instagram
What’s the hardest part of walking that line of being a cannabis activist – which obviously is still taboo in some places – while still remaining accessible?
I’d say what’s been most difficult for me is that I teach children, I teach children dance. So a lot of times I try to keep my personal life as separate as I can from my business life. Well, my business life involves cannabis. Even yesterday, I was filming my show on World of Wonder called Puff Puff Sessions where we basically have a special guest on, we medicate, and we play games.
It’s really silly, it’s fun, it’s great, but I posted yesterday for the first time since So You Think You Can Dance about cannabis, and I was nervous. And I did, of course, see a lot of negative reactions from new followers—“What is this? I don’t understand,” and that’s where the education is going to come in. Hopefully, because they will have fallen in love with me, I can educate them.
I think it’s gonna bring up a conversation, and even though like I said I chose to modify my name for the show, I’m still very much an activist, I’m just doing it in a new way.
You’ve been super candid about saying that cannabis is medicinal for you – have you found that people are responding to you differently with the rise of dispensary culture and legalization?
Of course. Everyone’s hoppin’ on the green train. Now everyone’s looking for someone who’s “gay weed.” Because now money’s involved, and people know that gay people have money.
I’ve always known this day would come, I’m super grateful this day has come, obviously it’s something I’ve waited for quite some time and worked for quite some time, so I’m hopeful that I’m going to be able to really get these awesome, cool jobs that I’ve always believed I should have in the first place, but because I was LGBT, and because I was in drag, and because I was cannabis, it made it very difficult.
I think we’re finally getting to that point of “Age of Aquarius” where we’re gonna accept everyone for who they are, and hopefully a lot more people will start medicating, and everyone will be a lot nicer and happier. At least that’s the world I dream of.
You tour a lot. Have you ever found yourself in places where you suddenly can’t smoke?
Unfortunately, I was caught by TSA for carrying cannabis back with me from Mexico, and since then, I have been placed on a list where I am searched every time I fly internationally. This has made it quite hard to travel because obviously I am not allowed to bring any medication.
I am fortunate enough that my name has created a support base of people who generally smoke, so usually, I am able to find adequate medication while I travel. That being said, you never really know and it’s always a gamble.
I have gotten so used to the freedom that California offers for cannabis smokers, so it makes it hard when I have to find dealers or do anything that isn’t 100% legal to get my medication. #WhiteGirlStonerProblems.
What’s your favorite strain?
Tangie. I’m a sativa girl.
Are you a CBD girl?
I do love CBD. I super believe in it. My facialist who goes by Nina Face, who I’ve been seeing for over a year now because obviously all the intense makeup that I wear, she has developed her own line of CBD facial cream and it is incredible. I swear by it. I think it’s gonna be the new La Mer.
And I also use a lot of CBD rubs, particularly the ones by Papa & Barkley. My favorite product of theirs has CBD and THC – it’s a bath salt. I think it’s incredible, and I’m a big believer in the entourage effect, so I like to have CBD and THC, because as someone with my tolerance, when you isolate CBD by itself, it’s not as effective to me as it is when it’s the whole plant experience.
What’s your favorite way to get high?
My favorite way to medicate would probably be dabbing. I’m a big dab girl, I’m always on the go, so I love that it’s so cost effective, time efficient, it’s clean. I definitely prefer a rosin over a BHO, although I think a BHO is much more tasty, but I love a rosin.
I used to live with someone who had a press. So we would press our own flower and that was probably my favorite way of smoking ever.
Do you have any crazy weed stories?
I mean, sure, don’t we all? I’ve gotten so high I thought my arm was gonna fall off. That was ages ago, that was back in high school. Crazy weed stories…no. I don’t think weed is crazy, that’s what I’m saying. To me, it is medicinal and it calms me down. I’m so hyperactive, I really need something to calm me down, to focus, to tune into my creativity, so any time I’ve used cannabis, it’s been great.
It’s only when I’ve crossfaded and mixed it with alcohol—I’m two years sober from everything but weed—those were crazy times. But now, pretty much it’s always a good time. Everyone I meet in the industry is great, the shows I’m involved with—I just went on Doug Benson’s show Getting Doug With High, that was super fun – but I would never describe it as crazy. The craziest thing is when I’m in drag at these clubs at midnight, that’s crazy, but marijuana isn’t crazy.
It’s an awesome plant. It’s hard to answer that one. People always want that, they’re like “what’s a funny weed story?” and I’m like “I don’t know, I’m not a douchebag. I don’t have a funny weed story, go ask the straight bros that, like, staple their butt when they’re high.” I don’t know. I don’t do stupid shit when I’m stoned; I’m a normal person…weed stories, I wish I had em, but I don’t!
Ha, incredible. How are you celebrating Pride?
Well, I’m celebrating pride by doing what I do best, and that is working. I’m headed to El Paso this weekend, I was just in Tulsa for their Pride, I’m doing Los Angeles tomorrow, headed to Hawaii the following week, Denver Pride, I’m doing San Francisco Pride, so I’m hitting them all up—that is how I celebrate Pride, by going, performing, thanking my community and letting them know that you can be yourself.
It’s definitely a special thing. I’ve been involved in Prides since I came out – I was about 16 years old – so to go from being an onlooker to being in the parades now, running events, and being the star that they bring in – it’s incredible.
I’m so thankful and I would not be where I am today without the LGBT community, so that’s why it’s such an honor to represent them not only in the cannabis community but now in the dance community with So You Think. It’s pretty spectacular.
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