Meet Sasha Colby: The first Native Hawaiian to win 'RuPaul's Drag Race'
In her first appearance on the Emmy-winning TV show "RuPaul's Drag Race," Sasha Colby stepped out in a nude bodysuit with Polynesian patterned tattoos and poi balls hanging from her waist.
"I had the Hawaiian Islands on my right leg — and then I just put a little rhinestone on where Waimānalo is on my leg just for me to remember where I came from," Colby said.
Throughout the series, Colby not only competed against some of the nation's top drag performers, but was eventually crowned the champion of Season 15 last month.
Sasha Kekauoha, better known under her stage name Sasha Colby, was the show's first Native Hawaiian competitor and winner.
"RuPaul’s Drag Race" has been on the air since 2009 and was the first major network show to give drag queens a mainstream platform. Competitors participate in fashion, lip-sync, makeover and dance challenges to be named "America's Next Drag Superstar."
A total of 16 drag queens started the season and competed to win the cash prize of $200,000.
While drag culture has been recognized in Hawaiʻi for decades with the presence of māhū, a term to describe Native Hawaiians who identify with a third gender, "RuPaul’s Drag Race" had never featured a queen from the islands until this season.
Colby was not only the first Native Hawaiian winner, but also made headlines for being the second transgender competitor to finish the show.
"I’m not sure why it took 15 seasons. I genuinely don’t know because I’m just enamored with the queens from Hawaiʻi," Colby said.
She said she saw her first drag shows at Venus Nite Club — now called Bar Seven — in Honolulu.
Dean Hamer is a local filmmaker with a focus on LGBTQ+ topics. He recalls another popular drag venue, Glade Show Lounge, which was a Chinatown venue that showcased māhū performers from the 1960s to 1980s.
He described the lounge as "this really fun part of Hawaiian history where you had these fantastic performers who were being discriminated against at the same time."
Native Hawaiians may have been missing during the show’s first 14 seasons, but validation came when Colby let out an unabashed "chee-hoo" after winning a lip sync challenge.
Colby said her drag performances always tell a story, and it’s a way she feels connected to her Native Hawaiian heritage.
"We pass our knowledge and all of our stories through language, then became mele, then became hula," Colby said.
She also educated the other contestants and viewers about māhū culture and The Glades Show Lounge on the show.
"I think that's just innately what I like to do is I like to pass these stories along using my body, using my performance ability. I think that's just in my way of being very in-tune with my 'kanaka-ness.'”
Colby said she plans to return to Hawaiʻi in October as the grand marshal of the Honolulu Pride parade and festival.