Escape the life you have, just every once in a while. That's what Jason Cruz likes to do.
All it takes for the Countryside High sophomore is a few new clothes, a wig, some makeup, and Jason Cruz becomes Violeta Estrellas, teenage drag queen.
Cruz came out in seventh grade as bisexual, and gay in eighth grade. That's when he began cross-dressing. He didn't yet call the transformation "drag queen"; he says he didn't want the "big hair and everything." But eventually he realized that being a drag queen was actually a way of remaking himself, getting away for a little while. He says he was inspired by the popular TV show RuPaul's Drag Race, where 14 drag queens perform and compete in order to be the top drag queen, and also Sandra Bullock's movie Ms. Congeniality.
In the early months of Violeta, she took a chance and performed at a gay bar in Tampa (no one checked her age; you have to be 18 to perform). It was a preview to a future career, Violeta hopes. She lip-synced and danced to S&M by Rihanna, wearing 6-inch heels the whole time. "If I take them off, I am disappointed in myself."
Violeta is not yet ready to perform again. "My words lagged, because I was focusing on the dancing," she says. But after more dance practice, she says she'll get back on stage. She says she wants to be like drag queens Alisa Summers and Alexis Mateo, both of whom are from Tampa Bay and have performed on Drag Race. Misty Eyez is another drag queen Violeta looks up to. She has a YouTube channel that helps with makeup tips, and gives drag advice for the new queens just starting.
For Jason, there's still high school to finish. During seventh period, Jason's fashion design class, Violeta makes an occasional appearance.
Violeta is usually very confident, but not every setting feels as safe as fashion design class. On a recent shopping trip to the mall, Violeta was a little nervous at first about seeing kids from school, but that feeling went away after a while, when some of her friends showed up.
Some people at the mall looked at Violeta's 6-inch sparkly heels. She was looking for dresses that could be used in a pageant, or even for prom next year, when she's a junior.
Violeta likes sparkles and sequins, but nothing really flashy. She definitely likes short dresses. "Every queen has her own style," she says. "Go with what you want to be. Stay true to your style."
Jason says he stays true to Violeta's style by putting "some kind of makeup on everyday." It's a reminder to him that Violeta is always there.
After the mall trip, Violeta stopped at Crisper's restaurant in downtown Safety Harbor. Violeta went into the guy's bathroom, and Jason came out, placed his order and sat down at a table. When the server brought out the food, she apologized first for being forward, then asks, "Are you a transvestite?"
"I am a teenage drag queen," Jason says, without hesitation.
The server seems surprised, but compliments him on how gorgeous he looked when he first came in as Violeta.
Jason created a Facebook page for Violeta, including pictures and wall posts. He says he hasn't experienced any bullying on Facebook directly, but some kids printed out the pictures and showed them around school. It was a guy Jason had argued with over a forgotten reason in middle school. His friends don't feel weird about it, Jason says, but rather embrace him for who he is.
Jason and Violeta have their similarities, but they are two different people, and he does not want a sex change. Being a full-time woman would mean he would lose himself, he says. His parents know and accept that he is gay, and recently found out about Violeta. Jason says he hopes that in time, they will come to terms with that part of his life.
Jason plans to finish high school and then college as fast as he can in order to be able to focus on a career in radiology therapy, along with a drag career.
"I really think that performing will be good for me."