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Laganja Estranja: Werk In Progress

How the pandemic has helped the performer explore her non-binary identity…

By Bobby Box

From the moment she death-dropped into the Werk Room, Laganja Estranja (a.k.a. Jay Jackson) secured herself as a standout queen oozing with charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. But as we witnessed on the runway week after week, the judges soon chipped away at Laganja’s self-assurance, denouncing her slang-heavy speech as an act, for which she felt “very attacked.”

At the time, Laganja’s character was still in development. Now, six years later, she is a fully realized queen who is informing Jay’s own evolution.

During our Tuesday morning phone call, Laganja, sitting back with a blunt in sunny Los Angeles, shared that she identifies as non-binary, preferring the pronouns she/her. While she has never officially come out as NB, it is a somewhat recent development that’s been happening “slowly but surely.”

“There’s a level of comfortability and acceptance that I’ve had with myself thanks to the art form of drag,” she told IN. “I would have never considered myself as non-binary before drag, so it’s really taught me a lot about myself.”

Recognizing one’s gender identity is not without its challenges, and Laganja is still learning how to express herself sexually.

“It’s weird that I put on the glam and feel super sexy, but take it off and not feel that way at all,” she explained, confessing she’s never had sex in drag. “It’s something that I want to do, but I’m sure once I do it I will realize that it is the worst idea ever,” she said. “Like, who the fuck wants to wear a hot wig when they have sex?”

Laganja won’t disclose her gender identity to sexual partners, either. While these are merely casual acquaintances on apps right now (she doesn’t have a boyfriend or a friend-with-benefits at the moment), it’s something she hopes to change: “I just lie to them. They don’t know about Laganja or even that I’m feminine.”

Before a hookup arrives, Laganja will go as far as to strip the house of any evidence of her drag persona. “It’s kind of sad, honestly,” she confessed. “I’m trying to not be that way. But at the end of the day, we all want to feel wanted, loved and touched, so I suppress that part of me – even though it’s the biggest and most important part – in order to fulfill a physical urge we need and/or want as humans.”

Dating as non-binary has proven more difficult to navigate, which she chalks up to education. “Even though it’s in the public domain, I don’t think people understand what non-binary is. That makes it hard to find a partner, because now you’re exploring something that’s not popular or clear to them.”

Since her identity fluctuates between male and female, Laganja’s found that she receives the most attention from bisexual and sexually fluid crowds. “I think there is a particular type of man who is attracted to transgender and/or non-binary individuals and I think those are the people who fetishize my drag persona,” she told me.

“I’m a very hypersexual character, so I invite people to view me in that way,” she continued. “Maybe because I come across so sexual and confident in drag, that is what’s deterring people from asking me out? I don’t know, I ask myself these questions all the time. All I know is that I’m not finding any men who want to date me. None of that’s happening over here.”

In an effort to explore her non-binary identity out of drag, Laganja has been growing her hair and wearing dresses, and is considering getting acrylics. She’s found the pandemic an opportune time to discover herself, coming a long way from her teen years in Texas, when she believed it was “too gay to shave your legs.”

Yet, despite the hardships and lessons that come with navigating her gender identity and expression, Laganja has never felt more complete. “I think being non-binary is really powerful. There is such a freedom that comes with not being tied down to the binary,” she said.

“I will always keep exploring, but for now I really want to know how I feel most sexy,” she said nearing the end of our call, “because I think everybody should be able to describe themselves as sexy.”

BOBBY BOX is a writer and certified sex educator who has been published in, among others, Greatist, Playboy, The Advocate, NewNowNext, Them. and Askmen. He is Grindr’s sex columnist, and is very active on Instagram and Twitter. Follow him at @bybobbybox.

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