When Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 sat down to title her first album, one word came to mind: anus.
“It was the only thing I could call it. There’s nothing else. There’s simply no other title,” says the drag performer, who rose to fame on season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and has gone on to create a popular YouTube channel of music and commentary videos.
“People are going to think … I’m going to need to go to a proctologist after I drop this album,” the 30-year-old performer adds with a laugh, after considering headlines like “Alaska Thunderfuck Drops Anus.”
It’s a provocative name, but Alaska (née Justin Andrew Honard), is a provocative drag queen. In music videos for several of the Anus tracks, including “Hieeee” and “Your Makeup Is Terrible,” Alaska is unafraid to show drag “untucked.”
Scenes from these videos include a wigless and maquillaged Bianca Del Rio, the winner of season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, laughing and playing poker. In the latter video, Alaska herself is naked, her eyes are bleeding, and she’s being cradled by "wig whisperer" Mathu Andersen, RuPaul’s creative producer and makeup artist.
It’s not for everyone, Alaska admits. But then again, that’s the point.
“At the end of the day and at the beginning of the day, I am a man who dresses up like a lady who is from outer space. Not everyone is going to get that. Not everyone is going to be on board with that. And not everyone is going to be able to swallow that,” says Alaska, who, to clarify, claims her drag persona “beamed herself into my brain from outer space or from another dimension.”
Ultimately, Alaska knows her fan base: “really cute boys and really cute girls” who are unafraid of taking a comedic look at a clinical term used to describe the nether regions of anatomy.
“If I tried to make [Anus] something for everybody, than I feel like I would alienate the people that it’s actually for,” the drag star says. “It’s for the people who get it. It’s for people who aren’t afraid of swear words and who aren’t afraid of poop and dicks. Because these are a part of who we are, you know?”
There is a long history in drag and the broader LGBT movement of taking terms that are offensive and repurposing them as words of empowerment. Anus is perhaps the latest product of that movement. Here, Alaska has given an oft-maligned body part — one that is, after all, central to queer culture — its time in the sun.
Moreover, Alaska has taken a lot of the ugliness thrown at drag performers and herself and refashioned it into song material. The track “Hieeee”— a modification of the salutation “Hi” that has become ubiquitous with Alaska and a common term of greeting among Drag Race fans — is a relevant manifesto for any performer.
“If you see a flaw, squint. … The more you drink, the prettier we look,” are just a few of the rules Alaska lays down in the spoken-word track. Alaska calls it “Drag 101,” a list of rules of engagement for her critics in the crowd as well as Anus itself.
“It’s like the table of contents to the album,” Alaska says. “These are all lines that drag queens have been using in their speaking to audiences since the beginning of drag.”
The video of “Hieeee” also serves as a who’s who of the drag scene. In addition to Del Rio, Sharon Needles, Jinkx Monsoon, Ivy Winters, Detox, and Adore Delano all make appearances in what is in essence a mini-documentary of Battle of the Seasons, an international tour of popular Drag Race alumni.
Alaska calls BOTS “a life-changing experience,” in which the queens had the opportunity to perform in world-class venues across the globe. She says one of the goals of video is to “take a snapshot of that time period in my life, because it’s really special to me.”
What else did she take away from the tour? “Michelle Visage is vegan and gluten-free. And Ivy Winters loves smoking American Spirit cigarettes. And Adore Delano loves hot Cheetos,” she says.
Another of Anus’s tentpole tracks is inspired by judgment. “Your Makeup Is Terrible” can trace its origins to RuPaul’s Drag Race pit crew member Jason Carter, who said those words to Alaska during one of the show's challenges. The phrase caught fire on Twitter among Drag Race fans, which inspired Alaska to make a T-shirt and eventually a dance track. It’s a commodification of criticism that would make RuPaul proud.
The process is now par for the course for Alaska, who often faces negativity online in response to her creativity.
“I usually get upset at first,” Alaska says, describing her process of dealing with Internet attacks. “And then I … take it, and turn it into something ... that’s a trademark.”
“I used to get called a horse face. And so I decided to embrace the horse and make it my spirit animal,” she cites as an example. “And now … the horse is a huge part of my symbolism. I gain a lot of power and strength from the horse.”
Alaska has also seen the fallout of criticism from both sides of the fence. In May 2014 the drag performer came under fire for releasing a YouTube video that depicted a futuristic RuPaul shooting a “word-policing” transgender blogger in the head.
The video dropped in the midst of a public debate involving the use of transphobic language on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which was spearheaded in part by a transgender contributor to The Advocate, Parker Marie Molloy.
Alaska later apologized for the video after taking to heart the critiques she heard from those who said they were hurt by the attempt to "parody" the all-too-real and systemic violence against transgender women. Shortly afterward, she discussed the incident with Molloy in a podcast.
"I realized that it was hurting people's feelings," she said. "I feel like I want to be in a world and in a community where we can be kinder to one another… And that should start with myself."
Today, Alaska reflects on how the experience was a wake-up call to the power of media to create change that can be both positive and negative, as well as a lesson in responding to issues that may be upsetting.
“It’s best to not respond to things from a place of anger, because then you end up perpetuating the cycle of violence, and the cycle of anger,” she said. “That video that I posted — I was pissed off when I made it — it came from a place of anger. And I feel like that’s why it wasn’t good, and that’s why I took it down. It hurt people’s feelings. And that’s never my intention.”
It has been a long journey of self-discovery since Alaska appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2013. Initially, she was swept up in “the party,” a whirlwind of drugs and alcohol that did not include a plan of success.
“Now my work is my drug of choice,” she says. “I like to take whatever work opportunities I can. I like to work with as many people as I can. I like to show up on time, and I like to have a good time.”
And she hopes Anus and the music therein will have the kind of positive impact that she has worked so hard to create.
“Music was always something really personal to me,” says Alaska, referencing albums she loved when she was younger like No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom and Jewel’s Pieces of You that “became a part of me.”
“I hope that people have a personal relationship with this album,” she says of Anus. “Because I’ve made it with a lot of love, and I hope that everybody likes it.”
Anus is now available on iTunes. Watch the new music video for "This Is My Hair" below.