The breast cancer oncology specialist talks with the drag queen about how the art of drag rethinks the possibilities of gender

How Drag Helped Sasha Velour Cope With the Loss of Her Mother

The drag queen talks with breast cancer specialist Laura Esserman about gender identity, expression and celebration

smithsonian.com

For Sasha Velour, dressing and performing in drag is an art form through which she can express creativity, explore identity, evoke joy, and even examine feelings of sadness. Velour will perform bald on occasion to honor her mother—her “best friend” and a “feminine inspiration in [her] life”—who died of cancer.

“[Drag] should be an art form where people like me can express any aspect of our life, especially the most painful. Being able to stylize that and share that with people is how healing can happen,” says Velour, adding later, “And for her, I’ll do it bald. Because it’s possible to do it all without hair, still looking gorgeous.”

Velour spoke with Laura Esserman, a medical doctor who specializes in breast cancer treatment at University of California, San Francisco’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, at “The Long Conversation”—an annual event that brings together more than two dozen thinkers for an eight-hour relay of two-person dialogues at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, which was held on December 7, 2018.

Following the loss of her mother, Velour turned to the drag community for support.

“The community, my friends and this art form uplifted me and helped me find healing and rest and closure,” she explains. “All kinds of processing can be done through makeup, lip sync and fashion, darling.”

Before performing, the drag queen talks with the award-winning filmmaker about breaking down barriers between people
About Rachael Lallensack

Rachael Lallensack is the assistant web editor for science and innovation at Smithsonian.

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