From Darien to RuPaul's Drag Race, Jax says they always had to hold themselves 'up a little bit higher'

NEW YORK — Less than a week after becoming a television star, Jax was back at Pieces Bar in New York City doing what they do best on a Thursday night: putting on a show.

“She literally throws her body like she has all the universal healthcare,” co-host Jasmine Rice LaBeija joked of her fellow queen.

LaBeija’s introduction could not be more accurate. Seconds into lip syncing Ariana Grande’s “Into You,” Jax hurled herself from the stage and into the audience with a somersault, shocking the crowd as some scrambled to adjust their chairs to make room — and grab some dollar bills — in the tight space.

The Astoria-based queen has already made a splash on televisions across the country on RuPaul’s Drag Race, jump-roping into the season 15 premiere with a performance that made Grande herself declare “something shifted in the universe.”

Not a lot of people would guess the back-flipping drag performer and quintessential New York City queen grew up an hour away in the white picket-fenced suburbs of Darien, Connecticut. 

Jax, who goes by she/they pronouns in drag, said that in and out of drag, they’re a bit of an “oxymoron,” a generally reserved person before they slip into their alter-ego.

“People look at me, they're like, ‘Oh, she's banjee, she's street fashion, she's gonna do this, she's gonna do that,'” Jax said. “Meanwhile, I'm just sitting on my couch eating my tomato soup watching 'Gilmore Girls' reruns.” 

Growing up in Darien, Jax — known then as Jackson McGoldrick — said they struggled finding a place to fit in, especially in a town where very few people looked like them. While they said there wasn’t a lot of outright discrimination, they always felt an “underlying inherent thing” in the assumptions some people would make about them.

“I'd have to kind of always hold myself up a little bit higher just to be like, ‘Okay, I'm just gonna prove you wrong,’” they said. “You might look at me this way, because this is what you're told, because you just don't have the experience yet of dealing with very few people of color in the area.”

As a young athlete, Jax earned medals as a Junior Olympic diver and later as a member of a competitive cheer team, even competing at the Cheerleading Worlds. 

“(Cheer) is the one sport that you have to be an individual, and you have to constantly strive to be the best you that you can be, but you also have to be cognizant and aware of your team,” they said. “It created a really strong work ethic in me that I find that people that haven't done cheer don't really get.”

Being a part of the team also offered them their first space to meet other queer people in Connecticut, a place where they felt safe. 

“It just helped me open up about a lot of things earlier than I probably would have if I hadn't found it,” they said.

In high school, Jax also found their way into the art realm through photography, channeling self-expression and a love of graphic design from their mother. While they had a small group of friends at school, Jax said they spent most afternoons in the Darien High School darkroom developing film.

“A lot of times I would just be eating lunch in the art room with the teachers,” they said. “I really kept to myself. I like to always work on my craft. I just don't like wasting time.”

While studying at the School of Visual Arts, Jax began experimenting with drag in self-portraiture, inspired by the ability to “become an entirely new person.” They had also found comfort in watching RuPaul’s Drag Race in the wake of their grandmother’s death during their first year. 

Jax’s friends in the drag space began encouraging them to pursue the art form, especially with such a strong athletic and visual background. It was those abilities that helped Jax boost their drag career during the pandemic when photography jobs dried up, building digital drag shows in their apartment.

For Jax, photography and cheer are an integral part of their profession, not just in the actual performance and art, but by driving their work ethic in the high-stakes world of New York City drag. 

“I've never canceled a show, unless I'm like, ‘I'm sorry, I'm literally dead or a shark bit off my leg,’ otherwise, I'm not missing a show,” they said. “And I'm always striving to do more. … If they know what I can do, I’m always going to try and impress them.”

Jax’s drive to always do more made jaws drop in the first episode of season 15 as they one-upped a past routine of theirs — jump roping to a double-dutch track — by revealing a detachable braided wig as the rope, topping it off with several back handsprings down the runway.

“That felt really cool to continue to heighten something that I've done previously,” they said.

Jax represented both their Connecticut roots and New York City reputation from the second they set foot in the Drag Race "werk room" in a cheerleading uniform to the moment they hit the runway snapping photos on a bedazzled camera.

“I’ve said it for years: 'Know who you are and deliver it at all times,'” RuPaul said in her praise of Jax. “It was something we did not expect at all.”

This season, Jax is one of four contestants from Connecticut vying for the crown and the $200,000 prize, the state's first representation on the show. In Jax's eyes, it was about time their home state's drag scene received some well-deserved recognition.

“We joke about Connecticut being the original Stepford Wife, but drag plays off of that so much in these over-the-top, hyper-feminine and campy stories that come from that,” they said. “I feel like Connecticut is honestly the root of drag in some ways.”

Even though they perform four or five nights a week in New York City, Jax still comes back sometimes to perform at Troupe429 in Norwalk, just ten minutes from where they grew up. While they have not performed in their hometown, Jax said that they would love to share their own experiences in Darien along with their art.

“It's cool that a lot of people I went to high school with will come out and support,” they said. “It's interesting to see how their experience and mine kind of coincide and how they're finally being comfortable (with) who they are.”

In a lot of ways, Jax's persona exists in both recognition and defiance of their life in Darien.

“(Jax) is someone that is trying to fight the barriers of being told what she can and cannot be,” they said. “Growing up in Connecticut, in Darien for the most part, there was a lot of boxes that I was put in and ways that people assumed that I was going to be, so I wanted to create somebody that fights back against all those boundaries.”

They said that if there was anything they wished they could tell their younger self, it would be to “just keep doing what you're doing.”

“If you're questioning it, but you love doing it, just keep doing it because it's all going to play out,” they said. “Everything's going to combine in the end and just make you a stronger person.”

RuPaul's Drag Race airs Friday nights at 8 p.m.on MTV.