“RuPaul’s Drag Race” queen Aja credits her stage time in New York City with helping her overcome hardship: “Drag is powerful, let me tell you.”
A contestant on season 9 of the VH1/Logo competition series, Aja returned for redemption on the third season of “All Stars,” where she’s still vying for the crown. The Bushwick-based queen has nearly 700,000 fans backing her on social media, where she posts countless selfies in colorful voluminous wigs and vibrant ensembles.
It’s that fierce face that helped Aja defeat a battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety that stretched through her youth, she says.
“Drag is therapy. A lot of people who start drag, it helps them get over hard things they might be going through,” Aja says. The queen got her start in the drag scene at age 16, simply by chance when her cousin threw the wild idea her way.
“Honestly, I was watching the second season of ‘Drag Race’ with my cousin and she was like, ‘you could do this.’ I looked over at her like she was crazy,” she recalls.
Still, she threw on her cousin’s wig and heels and entered herself in Manhattan drag competitions at venues like Posh Bar, Stonewall Inn, Metropolitan bar and the now-shuttered Sugarland (a place where “weirdos and club kids” reigned supreme).
Aja found drag -- or drag found Aja -- at a time when she needed it most.
“I used to suffer from really terrible PTSD and when I started doing drag, I stopped having panic attacks very quickly. They went from being very significant to very minor and then they just stopped,” she recalls, adding that slipping into a stage persona can serve as a necessary distraction.
Aja says her struggles with anxiety stemmed from her Brooklyn upbringing. Spending her early years in a “broken family,” Aja, who was adopted, says being raised by her single mother forced her to grow up too fast.
“It was a lot of confusion growing up,” she explains. “In New York, you have to learn to cook, clean, and take care of yourself [at a young age]. My mom was always at work, so I took care of myself a lot. Because of that, you just create a sense of resilience and loneliness.”
Stepping out on stage in New York City and appearing on “Drag Race” still helps Aja push past hard times. “Putting on a smile every day with your drag character and with the makeup, you’re painting on this happy personality,” she says. “For me, personally, I always do have a great time.”
See Aja as she partakes in “RuPaul’s” continuous drag party on “All Stars” Thursdays at 8 p.m. on VH1.