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- Enrique Limón
Shedding Her Skin
In a candid interview, Alaska Thunderfuck talks patriarchy, bullying and political ambition.
Story & photos by Enrique Limón
Greetings, Earthlings. Her name is Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 from the planet Glamtron, what's yours? Phone interviews can be awkward, impersonal and even in the days of high-quality digital audio recording, hard to decipher. So, when it came to profiling the RuPaul's Drag Race Season 5 breakout for our Pride/anniversary issue extravaganza, the answer was clear—it was time to take the show on the road. Specifically, Denver's Oriental Theater. There, in a strip mall office adjacent to the venue, Thunderfuck (née Justin Andrew Honard) is in repose in front of a vanity, meticulously applying her makeup. Next to her, a towering suitcase holds heaps of hair (whatever you do, do mention the W word—wig) and a Pepto-pink plastic tablecloth, which will later double as a tear-away outfit.
The All Stars Season 2 winner has been busy "spreading the gospel, the good word" of drag with her non-stop Poundcake Tour. The night's 90-minute-long performance is noteworthy in that it's the only one for which she'll be accompanied by a live band. Upping the ante, Thunderfuck recruited legendary L.A. drag bushwacker Jackie Beat, an early influencer who she calls "a hero of mine for a long time."
Back in the early days, Thunderfuck cemented her rising-star status thanks to an unforgettable, Super-Soaker-inspired stunt to Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" at notorious club night Trannyshack. Today, the drag maven opts for her own material. Her first album, Anus peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's dance chart. Videos for the first three singles of her latest, Poundcake, have collectively garnered close to 7 million views on YouTube. Alaska the persona also has three times the Facebook following that Alaska the state does. Thunderfuck's burgeoning empire also includes a "sickening" adventure book (Alaska Thunderfun and the Inner Space Odyssey), a limited-edition watch and a newly launched doll.
Still, as part of shtick, she projects an oblivious vibe. Asked if it the night's show holds a special significance, the pride of Erie, Pa., answers: "Sure. I don't know? Yeah?" in her trademark, drawn-out baritone.
Before taking the stage and delivering a raw, passionate and unapologetic experience, the brains behind such anthems as "Your Makeup Is Terrible" and "Come to Brazil" talked pot—"Mmm, I smell a skunk," she said while a bandmate partook in Colorado's recreational activity du jour—expressed shock at that week's episode of Drag Race (the one with the infamous Valentina mask incident), and gave a nod to homegrown talent Cartel Chameleon, calling her "insanely talented." Along with Chameleon, Thunderfuck will be sharing the Metro Music Hall stage on Saturday with Eden Flesh, Chelsea Siren, Devon Dixx and Kenneth Leon.
CW: Let's start with pronouns. What do you prefer?
AT: I'm going to give you the RuPaul answer: 'Call me he, call me she, call me Regis & Kathie Lee'. It doesn't matter.
At what time of the transformation does Justin become Alaska?
I actually think it's the people—whether it's the audience or whether it's the meet-and-greet—the people bring her alive.
Is it a good time to be a drag queen?
Yeah, definitely. It's insane.
It seems everyone is eating it up now, and drag has crossed over to the mainstream. What's your take on that?
Well, I don't know. Everyone keeps saying that, but it's, like, drag used to steal from the mainstream and copy it, and now the mainstream is stealing and copying from drag. I guess it's just, like, full circle.
Many have speculated drag is inherently misogynistic. How do you respond?
(laughs) Oh, it's this kind of article ...
I promise we'll have fun. I just want to touch on all the bases.
Well, Jackie Beat's answer to this query is, 'Are women born with false eyelashes and hair stacked to Jesus? No.' I mean, we're making fun of not women; we're sort of drawing attention to the artifice of beauty culture and how absurd it is. That's what I'm doing—that's the look of drag. The performance of drag, is celebrating femininity—that's the ritualistic magical performance element of it.
You've performed in Salt Lake City before. What are you bringing this time to the stage?
I don't know yet. Usually when I don't know, I say it's a surprise. So, let's just say it's a surprise.
In preparing for this, I read a bunch of interviews with drag queens, and they all seem to lead with the same question ...
Why do you do drag? When did you start doing drag?
Not even! It's who would you kai-kai with. It seems drag queens are the new sex symbol within the LGBTQ community.
Oh my! That's wacky. Because, when I first started, I was seeing a guy who was, like, 'Yeah, if you ever do drag, I'll never sleep with you again. And that'll be it.' And I was still compelled and drawn to do it, and I've never looked back. So it's crazy to think that drag queens are in some way a sex thing.
So you don't consider yourself a sex symbol?
I don't. I don't really think of sex at all when I'm in drag. There's too much going on—there's pulling and prodding and taping and gluing—there's more rigging going on than All Stars 2.
On that topic, talk to me about "race-chasers." A sub-culture that you immortalized in one of your songs.
(laughs) Well, it was something that we were all talking about anyway. 'Cause it was, like, we would go to a city, and you know, we all sort of follow each other. Like, I'll be there one week, and then, the next week, Detox or Jinkx will be there. And we've had stories where we're flipping through photos and we're, like, 'Oh, you hung out with that guy, too? Oh, how clever!' and literally, there are guys who I swear have punch cards and are trying to catch 'em all like Pokémon.
What Pokémon would you be?
Hmm, well I can't be Jigglypuff, that's taken. Is there a snake Pokémon? Ekans, I'm that one.
You're also very active on all forms of social media. At what point do you tune out the negative stuff?
Well, I mean, some girls love the comments. Some girls love to talk about the comments, they love to talk about reddit and this and that. That's not my business. I don't go there, I don't live there, I don't visit there. So if you're trying to reach me, the comments is not the place to get to me, because I'm not gonna see it.
What is a good place?
Snail mail. Also, direct Twitter mentions. I'm very good at seeing those. So, if you have something really pressing to tell me—if you really hate something I'm doing—Twitter-mention me.
You just mentioned reddit, which seem to be a hotbed for all things Drag Race.
God bless them! I mean, if I was a fan ... well, I am a fan of Drag Race—but if I wasn't a RuGirl—I think I would love reddit. To me, it seems like it's for die-hard fans who look at
You and Season 7's Jasmine Masters are huge on reddit.
Am I? Am I actually huge on reddit? See, I don't want to know.
Even while on the road, I'm assuming you're following Season 9?
I am, and I'm like a fuckin' crackhead without a fuckin' light bulb when I'm on the road, and I have a show on a Friday night and I can't watch it. I can't go on social
Did you watch last night's episode?
I sure did.
For you, what's been the gag of Season 9?
Last night (laughs). I was so upset! I'm still holding out hope. I think she's gonna come back and she's gonna win the whole show. I can't say that, when is this coming out?
June 1, Pride weekend.
Whatever, put it in. I said it and I'll say it again.
How would you have reacted if you were in Valentina's shoes at that moment?
Well, I think it just one of those things that comes down to experience, and if she really has only been doing drag for 10 months, that's not a long time. It takes years to get your legs as a performer; to figure out what you would do in a situation where you didn't know the words. There are ways to get out of it, and to sell it, and to make it work to your advantage. It happens. Make a joke out of the fact that you don't know the words, but legitimately trying to hide it? That's not one of the ways that works. But, unfortunately, she was figuring out this lesson on TV, with eight cameras trained on her, and then broadcast across the world. That's too bad, but she's young. She's gonna be fine. She's lovely, I think she's amazing.
During another episode, one queen felt personally attacked when it came to 'reading'—which is such a part of drag. Is there a limit when poking fun of someone when you're in drag?
Well, I mean, drag, inherently, is saying outrageous, mean, horrible things. That's how we keep our claws sharp. It's how we keep our edge. I know I'm being complimented if somebody I respect tells me I'm the worst fucking drag queen they've ever seen and that they hope I die. I mean, that's amazing. That's honorable. ... But, like, with Alexis Michelle, she felt really touchy about people talking about her body or her weight. You have to pay attention to those things that make you feel self-conscious or edgy, and you need to go forward at them 100-miles per hour. So she needs to say, 'Yes, I'm a fuckin' fat bitch and I'll fuckin' sit on your face and fuckin' kill you.' That's what I would recommend as a way of dealing with it, 'cause you have to have thick skin.
A recent piece on The Atlantic states drag is the ultimate retort to Trump. What do you think of that?
Sure, I bet he hates it. All the more reason to do it. He sucks.
Do you consider yourself to be political?
Yeah, totally. I mean, drag is taking popular culture and identity and throwing it completely into a fuckin' wood-chipper and coming out the other side making fun of it, and making fun of all these things that society takes so seriously—taking the piss out of patriarchy—and I think that's great. Like, look what men have done to the fuckin' Earth so far—it's not really working out that great, so I think we should give the women a chance to take over.
On that note, what would be Trump's perfect drag name?
She doesn't get a drag name.
John Oliver has jokingly suggested that perhaps it's time for a drag queen to be in office. Would you ever be compelled to do that?
I mean, yeah, we might as well. I'm down, let's do it.
With RuPaul being named one of TIME's 100 most influential people ...
I wanna go back to the last one. Every politician is so scared of any scandal coming out where they're doing anything weird—'Oh no, I smoked pot in college. Oh, my career is over'—if you put a drag queen in political office, they'd be, like, 'Yes, I've done every drug. I've sucked every dick. I ate every pussy, and now let's fuckin' govern.' You know, it gets all that shit outta the way. So yes, I will be running in 2020. No ... just kidding. Maybe later though.
Sorry, what was the question?
With everything happening right now—RuPaul being named one of TIME's 100 most influential, young kids in grade school doing makeup tutorials on YouTube—it's such a moment for queer culture. Yet, in a state like Utah, suicide is the No. 1 killer of LGBTQ youth. What would you say to those kids that are alone right now in a world that hasn't fully accepted them?
Well, I'd say they're not alone. As much as people feel alienated and isolated, we also have a great many tools and resources that we never had before. You can go online, you can find a community that's going to accept you and support you, and find people who are like you. So, I guess I would say to them: You might feel alone, but you're not.
What was that moment for you when you were younger?
Well, it was definitely the art nerds and the theater nerds. That was my tribe, and they made me feel accepted, and I Ioved them.
I want to make sure I don't disappoint staunch RPDR fans. So what do you think I should ask you as a final question?
Oh my God, I don't know. I think you did a great job.
Anything you want to put out there. I promise it'll make it in the paper.
I would say the Lil' Poundcake doll is now available on alaskathunderfuck.com (laughs)
And to vote for you in 2028.