June 26, 2024

An adult poses in front of the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.
Patruni Chidananda Sastry (Sas) in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC.

Patruni Chidananda Sastry is a transgender activist from India who utilizes drag to advocate for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. Sastry, who prefers to go by Sas and uses they/them pronouns, participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on Human and Civil Rights for Marginalized Communities, implemented by World Learning in 2024. Sas shared their journey of passion, perseverance, and advocacy with Humans of Hyderabad. We are reprinting it with permission. 

My journey to becoming the first Indian drag queen selected for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) by the U.S. State Department has been a blend of passion, perseverance, and advocacy. I started performing drag many years ago, at a time when there was little awareness or acceptance of drag culture in India. My performances were designed to challenge societal norms and celebrate diversity. Over the years, I’ve worked tirelessly to create a space for drag within India’s broader cultural landscape, performing at numerous events and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. This dedication caught the attention of the U.S. Consulate in Hyderabad, leading to my selection to represent India in this prestigious program.

An adult poses on the stairs while wearing traditional Indian drag outfit.
Sas’s drag persona incorporates traditional Indian attire and elements of classical dance, fused with contemporary drag aesthetics.

Traveling across the U.S. as part of the IVLP program was both eye-opening and enriching. One highlight was visiting New York City, where I had the chance to meet and interact with local drag performers and LGBTQ+ activists. Their stories and experiences were incredibly inspiring and educational.

Another memorable moment was participating in a drag show in San Francisco, where I performed alongside some of the most talented drag artists in the country. This experience not only showcased the diversity and creativity of drag culture in the U.S. but also allowed me to share Indian drag with an international audience.

One interaction that left a lasting impact on me was meeting a young, aspiring drag artist in Los Angeles. He shared his struggles with acceptance and self-expression in a conservative community. Our conversation was deeply moving, as we discussed the challenges and triumphs of being a drag artist. I offered him words of encouragement and shared my own experiences of overcoming obstacles in India. This interaction reinforced the universal struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community and the importance of solidarity and support. Performing at various venues and engaging with local audiences also allowed me to witness firsthand the profound impact that drag can have in promoting inclusivity and self-expression.

Nine adults pose for a group shot inside of a night club.
Sas (top middle) alongside fellow LGBTQ+ performers and advocates.

Representing my style of drag on such an esteemed international platform was both an honor and a responsibility. I felt a deep sense of pride in showcasing Indian drag, which often incorporates traditional Indian attire and elements of classical dance, fused with contemporary drag aesthetics. It was a unique opportunity to highlight India’s rich cultural heritage while advocating for greater acceptance and understanding of drag as a legitimate form of artistic expression. The positive reception and appreciation from diverse audiences reaffirmed the importance of cultural exchange and the power of drag to transcend borders.

Through my work, I hope to spread messages of inclusivity, self-expression, and acceptance. For me, drag is not just about entertainment; it’s a powerful tool for challenging stereotypes and promoting social change. I strive to create a safe space for individuals to express themselves freely and embrace their true identities. By showcasing the beauty and diversity of drag, I aim to inspire others to celebrate their uniqueness and support the LGBTQ+ community. My performances often incorporate themes of love, acceptance, and resilience, encouraging audiences to reflect on the importance of these values in their own lives.

Two adults pose next to each other in front of a banner representing the Unites States Mission to the United Nations.
Sas (right) meeting with the United States Mission to the United Nations.

Looking to the future, I see a bright and promising path for drag culture in India. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness and acceptance of drag, with more platforms and opportunities emerging for drag artists. I believe that drag has the potential to become a mainstream cultural phenomenon in India, much like it has in other parts of the world. As a pioneer in the Indian drag scene, I hope to play a significant role in its development and global recognition. By continuing to perform, mentor emerging artists, and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, I aim to contribute to the growth and evolution of drag culture in India. My goal is to see Indian drag artists gain international recognition and to foster a vibrant, inclusive, and supportive drag community both within India and globally.

Through IVLP, World Learning implements professional exchanges for more than 685 current and emerging leaders from more than 140 countries each year. Participants explore topics ranging from women and entrepreneurship and combating human trafficking to global pandemic collaboration and wildlife conservation. In the process, they foster lasting relationships and help strengthen U.S. engagement with countries around the world.