Sasha Velour on drag history, discourse and response to new book ‘The Big Reveal: An Illustrated Manifesto of Drag’

Sasha Velour
Sasha Velour.
Photo: Tanner Abels and Nicholas Needham

From the stage to the screen, Sasha Velour has nearly done it all. The famed drag queen recently took a new step in her career by releasing her first book.

“The Big Reveal: An Illustrated Manifesto of Drag” was released to the public in April 2023. As the name suggests, the book dives into the history of drag while also weaving in some of Velour’s experiences throughout.

“I wanted to write the book that I needed as a resource to understand drag, that painted an international picture and a historic picture of as an art form, but also as a community practice that brings people together and engages with political discussions, especially on behalf of queer and trans people,” said Velour. “I really tried to focus on the history, not just 20th century America, which is the story I hear over and over about drag, but all around the world, specifically the way that these places of dressing up and moments of escapism and joy became rallying places for people’s rights in the day to day.”

Velour noted that though it is hard to pinpoint the exact beginning of drag, the art form has been around for quite some time. She was particularly struck by how drag culture aligned with the development of cities around the world.

“People’s understandings of gender and of sexuality have changed so much over time, but it’s clear that if you just look at the facts of drag — dressing up, transforming gender, performing heightened versions of gender for entertainment — that’s been around since the moment people had gendered clothing,” said Velour. “They were breaking the rules. I was really struck by how it coincided with the development of cities and when people gathered together in like the very earliest moments of cities like in New York City and in Victorian London, all these cases of queer culture popping up. Drag predates modern clubs and nightlife, maybe it even contributed to creating them.” 

When telling the story of drag itself, Velour had to weave in her own experiences coming into the queer and drag communities. From her very beginnings to taking drag to the next level, these tidbits from Velour’s life help paint a picture that helps illustrate the art’s rich history through the eyes of a drag queen.

Velour leaves no stone unturned, sharing (and possibly oversharing) her experiences to really drive these points brought up in the book home. 

“I felt like [the history and my stories] complimented each other well, because you can’t really tell the history without revealing your own personal experiences and your biases and how you came to discover the stories from the past. So I kind of felt like it was revealing the truth behind a historical account,” said Velour. “I think it’s essential to overshare, and I got used to doing that. I feel like when you go to a drag show and hear someone talking on the microphone, it is that exact combination of politics and oversharing from your personal life and talking about your childhood and your family.”

Velour says that since the book was released, it has been well-received by the public. In the drag community in particular, Velour was pleased to find out that some of her fellow drag artists were learning something new from the book.

“There’s no monolith in the community, we’re all really different. But I have found that a lot of people can recognize their own story in my stories, especially about myself as a young person,” said Velour. “I’ve been really delighted that people who are experts in drag still find things in the book that they didn’t know and figures. It’s all been researched and published. Of course, I’m reliant on other historians and the work that they’ve done. We tend to get the same stories again and again, but I tried to include other ones about like the kind of precolonial histories of drag.”

The release of “The Big Reveal: An Illustrated Manifesto of Drag” comes at a critical time when the drag and LGBTQ+ communities have come under fire from conservatives. In New York City alone, there have been several protests against events such as Drag Story Hour, where drag artists read stories to children.

“When drag is so under attack and when trans people and queer people are under attack, this book could be a resource that states facts. In a time when there are carefully researched facts when there’s so much misinformation and kind of hate propaganda going around, trying to paint queer culture and trans identities as a kind of sickness, or trying to pain drag as dangerous,” said Velour. “These are simple truthful stories from my own life and from history about what good drag has done. It’s not dangerous, but it saves people’s lives and rallies on behalf of the community and exchanges resources.”

Especially during Pride Month, Velour finds that this book is more important now than ever before.

“I do think that these stories are a really powerful antidote to the shame and the fear that is being spread by conservatives around the world to try to demonize queer people and trans people. I think our personal stories where we testify to the fact that queer culture has saved our lives and allowed us to create a life worth living on our own terms,” said Velour. “Then the history that this isn’t something new, some new development, the fact that this has been around forever and had the backlash, unfortunately, But I think there’s a kind of comfort in the fact that the hate is also nothing new and that we’ve found ways to push back against it. We’re not done yet. We’re gonna keep fighting until people do have the freedom to be themselves.”

For those who are looking to dip their toes into the drag community, Velour says to not worry so much about how you look, because the community is going to rally around for putting in an effort.

“I think there’s so much pressure on perfection and beauty. I think drag is a space to be free and joyful and not really worry about how you’re gonna look or how other people are gonna receive you, and the best thing is that it is such a supportive community,” said Velour.

To keep up with Velour, visit sashavelour.com or follow her on Instagram at @sashavelour. “The Big Reveal: An Illustrated Manifesto of Drag” is available on Velour’s website and where books are sold.