by Melchi Anyinsah-Bondzie on March 19, 2016, in Virtuoso • No Comments
I flipping love Drag Race, honestly – ever since my mother confiscated my personal photo of RuPaul, I have been hungry for something dragtastic to come along and sweep me off my feet. That came in the form of RuPaul’s Drag Race. So, some of you might not be gay-savvy and that’s okay I forgive you. RPGR is literally America’s Next Top Model mixed with Project Runway with an extra helping of glitter. I’ve been watching RPDR ever since Nina Flowers was voguing down in the “Covergirl” video and every season is full of boisterous and talented queens who bring something different every time – and season five was certainly no exception. As the queens were coming through for their first meeting; a tall, modelesque queen with long blonde hair walked in with a horse mask, the whole room fell silent and as she removed the mask – she let out a roaring “hiiiiieeeeeeee!” Yes my dears, Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 was in the building.
For those who don’t know anything about this Queen, you really need to get in. Alaska was one of the few that really came with something different. Somewhat of a diamond in the rough, Alaska came to Drag Race fame fresh off the heels of her former partner’s (Sharon Needles) win the season before. It was literally all eyes on Alaska and in the words of Alyssa Edwards “she has some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Alaska as an entity crash-landed down in Earth many years ago and has been spreading her uber-amazingness ever since; in Alaska’s own words “the details are hazy, however she’s just trying to get enough twitter followers to get her spaceship back up and running.”
Alaska isn’t like most queens; during her season on RPDR, she’d always been called out for her makeup skills, her lack of not being able to create an outfit by stitching. All that aside, she used her resourcefulness and witty sense of humour which literally won the hearts of America and RuPual herself. For those who aren’t in the know – RuPaul is gay royalty, one of the only drag queens to surface from the underground and hit the jackpot in mainstream media. I remember being a young child and my parents owned a copy of Elton John’s “Duets” album and seeing a picture of RuPaul inside the insert – my mother had to make it obvious that RuPaul was in fact a man, Alaska laughed at this fact and shared a moment just like it; “my sister was laying out for me and she was like “RuPaul…who sings that song ‘Supermodel, well that’s a man” and it’s confusing but it also kind of unlocked this whole world in this little child brain of mine. He’s amazing and he’s a major figure in our culture.”
Through all the ups and downs, Alaska came through and found herself in the coveted top three; she came in second place but her season would be one of those that will go down in ‘HERstory’. A few months after appearing on the season, Alaska did what all good queens should do and released a song, this one was a quirky rap song called “RuGirl” in speaking about being one Alaska mentioned that “it’s great, it’s what I’ve always wanted you know from very early on when I first started doing drag.”
In ‘real life’ Alaksa is Justin Andre Honard a “nice” Theatre gradate born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. Alaska started life as well do – in complete modesty “we’re pretty nice, it’s really snowy and there’s tons of snow in the winter and everyone complains about it but no-one moves away!” It’s also clear that Alaska, although living the high-life touring the world and living in hilly LA, is very much a family man at heart. Some of Alaska’s many childhood memories include Christmas, “we had really good Christmases. We didn’t have a lot of money, but somehow Christmas was always bomb-ass and our parents really turned it out every year.”
The past few years have seen popular culture begin to diversify when gender comes into play. In a good way, gender isn’t being seen as something’s that simply black and white. In this day and age, people are identifying themselves in ways that defy labels. As well as having male and female, we’re opening up to a world that’s becoming a lot more accepting of those who identify as transgender, two spirit, intersex and the like.
It seems that even now, more than ever, the Trans community is finally getting recognition being allowed to be free and more importantly, be themselves. The Trans community has new Icons who has given the community a positive outlet, Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black), Janet Mock, Chaz Bono, Isis King, Carmen Carrera and Leiomy Maldonado are only the tip of the iceberg in activists. Whilst being of Trans identity is a whole different ball game to ‘getting up in’ drags, both sides of the fence can appreciate the struggles they’ve had to endure. We’ve all heard about the riots at Stonewall right? Well it was drag queens who started that chain, that road to social emancipation and it’s for that reason alone that makes drag queens a positive and pivotal force in gay society. “I think it’s very important and it’s been around a very long time, but I mean as the story goes it was the first bricks at Stonewall that were thrown by the queens. And so I think drag is vitally important to, not the only the gay community but I think also the straight the community. It’s a culture that’s now informing a lot of like, fashion choices that a lot of people in Hollywood are wearing.”
Gender politics is something of a bitch, whilst it’s important to recognise those who fall outside what society might consider to be ‘normal’ roles. After all, in this day and age it’s not all about who’s the breadwinner and the domestic, we’re truly lucky to live in a time where we can do what we please and people can be generally okay with that. Gender is something that is close to Alaska’s heart – not just because she’s a Drag Queen, but because Alaska is all about self-acceptance that scream “yes I’m a man in a dress, but I’m still a man all the same.” Alaska became involved in the GenderBender Project ran by Dusti Cunningham and Jacob Rostovsky, an initiative that wants to raise awareness of the ‘outer-gender’ community making advancements in social acceptance and overall wellbeing for the community – “These people are parents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters. Their professions range from students to porn stars to homemakers to comedians and executives…The one tie that binds together everyone in the series is the ability to evolve and adapt.” – Dusti Cunningham. Part of the project showcases the diverse and unique beauty of those who identify themselves as such. Alaska’s picture was probably one of the most memorable of the photos – simply because it was the only picture that was a fully frontal nude: “Well I’m happy to get naked anytime I can…I don’t see anything wrong with the human body, I think it’s lovely… as a culture we become more conservative, like it’s swinging back to a conservative direction which is just weird to me. So to counteract that I just try to get naked whenever I can.”
Drag itself is an amalgamation of styles, to break it down Drag is like any language, it can range depending on where you’re doing it. You have the pageant girls, the ‘real’ girls, the freakish girls and the genderbent girls. With the different styles of drag you’d expect a clash of ultra-glitter proportions – but with shows like RPDR in full swing, drag styles are mixing and becoming a lot more accepting and open; one would automatically put Alaska in the ‘freak’ type of drag, but it’s a lot more than that and Alaska can see a kind of drag that’s ‘all-inclusive’ – “I think it’s all just becoming more like those cultures are borrowing from each other and they’re learning from each other and informing each other and I think that’s a good thing. I think it is a very ‘anything goes’ art form but that’s what I love about it.” It may be all inclusive, but all Drag Queens must be wearing nails in Alaska’s books – “as long as she’s wearing nails – she’s fine by me.”
If there’s one queen that Alaska draws inspiration from, it’s Divine, “She definitely takes the night for me. I’m really into her music career and when she was touring”. Another legendary queen who found notoriety in the mainstream with an extensive career in the performing arts; Divine played the original Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray” as well as a pretty radial music career and some pretty crazy movies (seriously, you should watch “Pink Flamingos”). Divine and Alaska both have that shock factor that at first makes you want to look away, but it’s so interesting to the eye that you can’t stop looking. Perhaps maybe Alaska will become our generation’s ‘quasi-Divine’; a queen so in-tune with activism and pop-culture after all, Alaska is almost there – “I feel like her sometimes like she’s gone to all these places and all these different countries and touring and doing shows and I feel like her sometimes.”
Speaking of pop culture, Alaska recently joined forces with drag superstars Willam Belli and Courtney Act to create a music video to celebrate a collaboration between all three queens and American Apparel #anus. “It was really fun to work with Willam and Courtney. I love the clothes, they’re ethically made and the colours are really good. Plus I got to be a model which is pretty cool. It’s kinda cool for a thirty year old man to be a, you know, a young girl model…It’s weird but nice.”
I asked Alaska to put together the ultimate drag house to which she let out a hearty laugh and replied “Oh god that’s so hard! I don’t know but Vivacious would have to be in there. She’d be a really good Mother! Ornacia would be there as well – I mean that’s a pretty solid house right there. Plus I’ll put some Shangelas, some Alyssas and some LaGanjas – that’s the only house there needs to be.”
Essentially drag might be about putting on a wig, some heels and make-up; but drag is about acceptance, being and accepting yourself totally and it’s that sentiment that Alaska leaves us with. “Do what you do and do what you love and if that’s drag or it happens to look like drag – then that’s great. Even if it doesn’t look like the other drag that’s going on that’s still okay, just do your thing and do what you love.” Even if you’re not looking for a full-time career in drag, this works across the board. There is nothing more beautiful than doing what you love without judgment and persecution.