Who is Laganja Estranja?
Jay Jackson, aka Laganja Estranja, is a passionate individual who is never not busy as a choreographer, music artist, Cannabis advocate, LGBTQ+ icon and an overall queen! As a trans individual, she has truly learned more about herself through expression and her passions. After discovering her true self, she wants to help others by advocating trans rights and the expression of oneself. She was best known on television shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race on season 6 as well as seasons 15 and 16 of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
What inspired you to go into drag?
Always in touch with her feminine side, but growing up in Dallas, Texas, she was never really allowed to truly be herself as it was hard to be accepted in that environment. It was not until living in California and attending the California Institute of the Arts where she really was inspired to explore her gender. There was a performance at the end of her senior year known as “Cal Arts is burning” based on “Paris is burning,” an iconic, legendary documentary. There she premiered as “Laganja” for the first official time.
How did it feel to express that side of yourself you probably have never experienced before in the safe space you felt?
To her it was a lot of fun due to feeling a great sense of freedom especially near peers who have supported her. The experience of that performance during her senior year at the institute was a very collaborative art performance and it was a final hit, so it was a big deal and everybody had a great time. This performance set the path for her into wanting to perform in the long run.
In your perspective what does the art form of drag mean to you?
“Drag to me is a job, trans is who I am”
She states this quote by Monica Hills as it greatly defines drag for her. For her, drag is a way to express a hypersexualized version of a female. Drag stands for “dressings as a girl” so for her drag is all about female impersonation. She never wanted to look like a clown or overexaggerate. She wanted to go for the realness or like how she stated “ru-ru-ru-realness!”
She later goes on to say the beauty of drag is that drag can be different for everybody. What she loves now is that drag is truly an art form for everybody. It is not just for men dressing as females. It is for cis females, non-binary individuals, trans individuals and she thinks it’s great the definition of drag is changing.
What is it about drag that is changing right now then when you first started?
“I think now there is so much diversity, it makes the art form more exciting and accessible.”
When she started it really felt like a gay men’s sport.
When you first showcased Laganja to who you are now, what has been your most pivotal life changing moment?
It is a hard one to pick because she feels like she has been Laganja since the beginning. Some aspects have changed, but she has been true to herself and how she is. The most pivotal moment would be drag race because it got her character out there to the world and showcased who she was.
What would be your advice for someone struggling with their identity?
She believes gender is a construct and something we need to tear apart. Inspired by this, she came out as trans June 15, 2021 because she was tired of performing onstage night after night telling people to be themselves, but did not listen to her own advice.
“The hardest thing about accepting who you are is just that. Literally having to accept who you are.”
For so long she thought she was trans, but growing up in Texas, people like her were killed. Therefore, she doesn’t think there is any certain journey in accepting who you are. For example, some people do yoga and some people like herself smoke Cannabis. There are many different ways to figure it out. But ultimately, it is just about sitting down with yourself and really accepting your truth.
“Even if it is something you do not want or uncomfortable with yet, it is your truth and you need to do something about it.”
What sparked your coming out story?
“Definitely COVID sparked coming out especially since you are isolated by yourself, you really get to learn more about oneself.”
During COVID she was able to grow out of her hair. There was an undeniable femininity that came about during the pandemic that she did not allow herself to experience before. At that moment, she told her best friends and after several months being in the closet, she still kept true to her story during the pandemic. She then realized she needed to take bigger steps by telling her family and the public.
What has been the reaction of you coming out?
She feels very privileged in her life. She is a white girl who sings rap music and now has come out as trans. She has received nothing but love and support after coming out. She gives huge shoutouts to other trans individuals before, specifically trans people of color who’ve carved this pathway for her.
“They walked so I can fly.”
She has been dealing with so much support. In 48 hours she raised $25,000.00 for her transition surgery. She never believed people would have been as supportive as that, and feels extremely lucky she has that in her life.
“For lil ol’ me, queen of green.”
In recognizing her privilege, she is trying to use her platform to give back to her community and serve as a trans activist. She raised an additional $5,000.00, and donated it to the Trans Wellness Center in Los Angeles. She plans on continuing to raise more money for individuals who are financially struggling with their transitions. She is planning on opening her own organization with the mission of supporting trans women specifically throughout the year. As a trans woman, she feels she needs to give back to those women she works with daily in the drag scene who’ve really carved out the space of where she is in her life now.
Now that you have come out as trans, has it been hard for people to know the truth. You’re at this vulnerable stage, has it been hard?
She believes when it comes to vulnerability, it is one of her many strengths. She is never afraid to show her emotions, and tell others how she feels. She definitely thanks her parents for that since they were both high school counselors for many years. There have been many changeling moments being herself in public because some people do not recognize the female she is. But what helps her deal with those experiences is her confidence. She is happy and feels free to live her truth. Celebrating her truth feels alive for the very first time.
What got you into Cannabis and made you a Cannabis activist?
She injured her back as a college junior in 2010. She was dropped during her dance piece caused her back to be misaligned. She was assessed by a chiropractor who suggested she obtain a medical license for Cannabis to deal with the pain. She never used Cannabis medicinally, but for getting in a creative mindset. She did not view the plant as the medicine it truly is. She really discovered the healing properties and it turned her into an activist. Previously, she was told this plant was bad and would turn her into a lazy person. In reality, it was the complete opposite. It was a huge motivator for her life and that is why she chose her name “Laganja Estranja.” She believes any beauty queen should have a platform bigger than themselves to celebrate their success.
When did you start dancing?
“Been dancin’ since I was knee-high to a pig’s eye.”
She started when she was young and loves all forms of dance. She originally trained in musical theater, so she had to learn different types of dance to perform anything. It wasn’t until later she learned about Contemporary dance and learned it was her favorite form of dance. She plans to continue learning this type of dance. She was on season 15 and 16 of “So You Think You Can Dance” where she showed her Contemporary dance skills. She hopes to one day become a choreographer for that show and RuPaul’s Drag Race. She would love to be on “Dancing with the Stars,” and ultimately have her own dance company.
Are there other things you are working on?
“Well if you can’t tell, I am always playing twister with myself, I got one hand over here one leg over there.”
There’s a lot of exciting projects coming. She has been working very diligently on her merch line. She is also working on new music. She has a new single coming out called, “Daily Basis” which will be the title of her EP. It will be a collection of songs that have mostly been already released. She will then begin to work out her next EP “Highconic.” She also has a movie coming out with Alaska Thunderfuck called “God save the Queens” which should be dropping sometime soon. She is hoping to make it to the Sundance Film Festival. Lastly, she is working on a Cannabis line and collaborating with Cannabis companies.
What are your views on mental health and what do you think we can be doing to bring more awareness to that topic?
Mental health was integrated in her life due to her parents being high school counselors. She was very aware of mental health at a young age. She had a psychologist at 14. She never grew up in an environment that brought down the topic of mental health. For people who are struggling with it, she says you are not alone because everyone struggles with mental health whether they recognize it or not. Some of us just choose to do something about it, so whether it is spiritual, Cannabis, yoga, meditation, or seeing a psychiatrist. There really is no wrong way of taking care of yourself in a healthy way.
What is your final message for us?
“You are all beautiful and don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Learn more Laganja on her Instagram.
Written by Fatima Santoyo
Edited by Zane Landin
Watch the interview on YouTube