Sasha (he/she) found a welcoming home and appreciation for her talents when she moved to MSP and became a star of our vibrant drag scene.

Photo: Downtown Minneapolis, MN

Photo credit: Uzoma Obasi

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am originally from Tennessee, I am 40 years old as of last year – I crossed over but I’m happy! (Laughs) I’ve been here for 15 years now, I absolutely love living in Minneapolis! I love Star Wars. I named my cats after them and my living room is pretty much decked out in Star Wars. I’m a huge fan of anime and video games.

How was your initial adjustment to living in Minnesota?

I found it easy to navigate as far as work. I’m making a good living. The cold was quite the adjustment, being from Tennessee, our winters are usually in the 70s. So, it was hard for me for the first year, I could not do it. But then I was bored sitting at home, I needed to get up and do stuff, so I went to the Mall of America. I love shopping, so the shopping alone motivated me to get out of the house.

What industry do you work in?

Right now, I’m in the drag industry. When I started out, I was at Sam’s Club doing wireless tech, then I became a chef and now I’m a full time hostess for Flip Phone drag brunches. Doing something I absolutely love!

How were you able to find community when you moved here? 

That was pretty easy. I’m a social butterfly, so if I see someone having a conversation, I usually join in.

I also have a drag family. I’m the matriarch of my drag family here in Minneapolis. My kids are my drag community, I hang out with them a lot, we share projects together, they come to me like a kid who comes to a parent for advice, for motivation with work or whatever they are into.

The biggest thing that I’ve done is Living Positive event for HIV/AIDS day. Living positively is a huge one for me because it’s something that has kept me back. I was really depressed when I found out I was HIV positive in 2008. I was not well at all. It only took one time, that’s why I always tell people to wear protection, get tested and know your status. Because it does only take one time! I’m living proof. That put me back so far, I realized how it affects you, it takes a lot out of you when you’re told that you have something like that.

Now I’m showing people how to live with HIV/AIDS in a better way and to celebrate the fact that you can live and have a great life through this. I educate people that all it takes is one time. And it doesn’t have to be sex, you can get this in other ways, so you have to be safe.

Living Positive works with the Red Door Project.  I ended up on the news a little while back, talking about my experience. They do a lot of work here with underprivileged youth. It broke my heart when I saw young children who are HIV positive. It’s a big thing for me, to make sure that we are getting the message out.

Did you do drag in Tennessee?

Yes, horribly. (Laughs) That’s how I got started. After I found out I was HIV positive, I started making a bucket list, I was all gloom and doom, and my partner at the time said that I need to do something fun. He said, “Do it just one time and see how you like it!” I ended up winning the talent night. I wore this awful wig, it wasn’t even combed out. I wore lipstick and for eyeshadow I took one color and spread it on my eyelid with my finger…But I won three times in a row! From there, I just kept going.

How did you break into the drag scene in MSP?

I came to Minnesota because the drag scene in Memphis dried up overnight. The bar where I worked was shut down, so I sat home depressed, not knowing what to do with my life. In 2011, one of my friends invited me to visit and I thought, “What IS Minneapolis? I don’t want to go up there, I don’t see myself living there.”

I came up here after Thanksgiving and brought two costumes. At this point, I was pretty decent at drag. I ended up performing at the Town House Bar to “I Need a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler and got a standing ovation. And I was hooked! I found a job within that same week, so I didn’t even go back. My mom was not happy! (Laughs)

It was a good choice though! It was one of those dramatic, depressed choices that I’m actually very happy with. From there, it was really easy to break into the scene. I went from performing at the Town House to doing college shows. I even hosted Pride! In 2012, one of the entertainers got sick and I was asked if I wanted to host the grand stage. Oh, I was so nervous! But I did a good job and got to do it again a few times.

In this city, so many opportunities kept coming my way. I love living here.

How has the murder of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed impact you?

It was heartbreaking to watch. My grandma told me lots of stories from Memphis that would make you cry. When I grew up, I didn’t have to through a lot of that stuff, so it didn’t click until I saw someone like George Floyd being murdered in broad daylight. That hurt. And my neighborhood got turned upside down as stores were burned down. I don’t call that a protest, that was a complete disaster. They burned down the liquor store by my house, a few other shops were all burned down. I had to move away from the area because there were really no more resources over there. It was horrible, it was days and days of rioting and burning. I ended up staying at a hotel, which was exhausting.

A lot of these people have racial issues, but I’m in their living rooms, on their mantelpieces,  they take pictures with me, they come to our events every year. I have been told by lots of people, “You’ve opened my heart is so many ways.” So, I chose to use my platform to bring change with love, because there was so much anger, we’ve been angry for so long. It’s time to try some other way, because it’s been destructive, it’s not helping anything. It’s heartbreaking, but we’ve got to figure out how to do this without ripping each other apart. The problem with mankind is we don’t believe that we need each other, and we ALL need each other. The world would run so much smoother if we learned that we do need each other, no matter what color you are.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you?

It’s been rough. Last year, in July, my best friend passed away trying to save somebody in Lake Minnetonka. Otherwise, I was doing really, really well doing nothing but drag in MSP. So, the pandemic hurt big time! I have all of this nice stuff that I’ve been able to afford and now I have to give it up. I had to make good choices and moved to a more modest apartment, which is totally fine.

Luckily, I have really good friends in the community and my promoter is a rock star. He’s always coming up with stuff to help us stay ahead, especially during the pandemic. My promoter came up with virtual digital shows. I’m not tech savvy but he bought me a new laptop and I learned how to use green screen, so a lot of good that came out of the bad.  

I have more knowledge and trying to put on shows from my living room was so much fun!

As a member of the drag community, how has living in MSP been in terms of safety?  

I have felt really safe, so sometimes it’s hard for me to relate to some stories that I hear of others being racially profiled. Luckily, I haven’t felt that. Other groups of color assume that I’m in the limelight, so of course I won’t feel that. That does hurt. Talk to me, teach me! I don’t know, I haven’t had these encounters you had, but can I also teach YOU things to make these encounters better versus the way you handle them? So, that also causes division, because I’m a Person of Color who is being attacked by People of Color who don’t think I can relate, and that’s another awful story in itself.  That’s the only thing I’ve encountered here.

No one knows my journey before there was a Sasha Cassadine. Of course, I’ve had racial issues, I just don’t deal with them the same way. I was taught by my mom that there are ignorant people of all colors and you don’t have to give them your energy. You just don’t have to give them that. The names are just what they are – names.  You don’t have to put any amount of weight on them. So, I’m like, “Whatever. I hope you have a great day!” I’m not going to engage with you.

What advice would you give to somebody considering a move to this area?

Get to know people because it’s a great thing to do here – to network and know people. You will always have something if you know somebody. Wear warm clothes. (Laughs) Learn how to dress in the winter, because I had no clue and I was miserable for a long time. And get out to see the sites, I love living here, there are so many natural sites, you can hike trails.  It’s good here, it’s really good.

What would your call to action be to somebody reading this?

Get to know your community members. Especially in our LGBTQ community here, it can be a bit divided when it comes to different issues and my call to action would be to learn to sit and have conversations. Learn to talk through these issues and see that we all have a lot in common, we just have different methods of doing things. If we could learn to talk and break down those methods and come up with some things that we can be unified on, I think it would move a lot of things swiftly.

Click here for the full interview with Sasha. For more stories & resources, visit “MSP in Color” page.

This “MSP in Color” blog series aims to celebrate many dimensions of life and community across MSP by sharing real stories about life here from the people who tell it best – its residents.

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