Jolene Queen Sloan (a.k.a Prianshu Grover) is a drag queen and early childhood educator who is cultivating a niche for the queer community within Punjabi culture.
This week, she sat down with 5X Press to tell her story.
“I realized that I am doing something that has never been done before,” she said in an interview with 5X Press.
As she shares her story, it becomes amply clear how much of an understatement that is.
Jolene is somewhat of a pioneer for the queer Punjabi community. She effortlessly marries traditional Punjabi culture with drag, reminding us that these identities are not mutually exclusive, and can be celebrated together.
Having amassed a following of nearly 24k on TikTok, Jolene has been introducing drag to the Punjabi community for a while now.
“While people were furious, they were also curious. Over time, that curiosity has turned to positivity,” she said.
She added that she didn’t realize the change she was making, until she witnessed people’s discomfort turn into overwhelming support.
With the TikTok ban in India, Jolene was pushed to move her content to Instagram, where she’s gathered over 11k followers. With her social media presence, she has even managed to grab the attention of Neeru Bajwa, Afsana Khan and Canada’s Drag Race winner, Priyanka.
However, it has been a long, difficult journey for her.
From winning Gidda competitions as a little boy in Goniana, (which was erstwhile unheard of), to performing Punjabi drag in the Yukon, Prianshu’s path to become Jolene has been both healing and painful.
Prianshu was doing drag before he even knew what it was, he said. Growing up, he would perform in dance competitions dominated by women, incorporating elements of cross-dressing. Although he was being supported by his family, he was also at the receiving end of negativity, which he speaks of with grace and understanding.
“Back in India, people would mock me, but they also wanted to see me and the things I did. I’d call them curious minds. They didn’t hate me, they just never understood me.”
However, moving to Canada was a difficult transition for Prianshu. He moved first from Toronto, to Vancouver, and then to the Yukon, where Jolene was born.
It was in Vancouver where he first witnessed drag.
“I was at a point where I was discovering myself, and I went to a drag show for the first time. That was when I realized, [that] this is basically what I have been doing all along, but this is how I need to do it.”
Jolene was the product of a particularly difficult period in Prianshu’s life. While in the midst of a difficult breakup, he found himself listening to the iconic Dolly Parton song, when he came up with Jolene, his drag persona.
Jolene’s first performance was at the Hunt for the Headliner in the Yukon. As she danced to Jashn-e-Bahara, she said the audience was amazed, they had never seen anything like it.
After this, she sought help from Mary Sloan, who became her drag mother, and Jolene became Jolene Queen Sloan.
She also combined her skillset as an early childhood educator to perform in drag for preschool-aged children in a program called Drag Queen Story Hours, which she plans on bringing to Vancouver.
“I believe that if we teach the LGBTQ+ with the ABC, we can create more acceptance and inclusivity,” she said.
One of Jolene’s biggest lessons from drag has been that of self-love and acceptance.
“Drag saved me,” said Jolene. “It helped me with self-love, it taught me that I am so much more than my relationship. It rejuvenates me.”
As she plans to relocate to Surrey, Jolene plans on bringing drag to more traditional Punjabi spaces in the community. One of her goals is to address the alienation of the queer community in Punjabi pop culture.
“If we talk about the Punjabi film and music industry, how many queer artists do we see? Even the most ‘modern’ music and art is still far behind in terms of inclusivity. I want to reach heights where they are forced to invite me to work with them. The LGBTQ+ community doesn’t want to beg anymore. We deserve it.”
With her grace and fierce confidence, we’re certain that Jolene is going to make waves in Surrey, and we can’t wait to see what she does next. Follow her on TikTok (@jolenesloan) and Instagram (@jolenequeensloan) to keep up with her performances and catch an interview with her on 5X Fest’s Instagram this Friday, September 10.
About the author: Anuja is an international student at the University of British Columbia, with a concentration in mental health and interpersonal development. When she isn’t having an existential crisis, you may find her dancing, taking pictures of her cat or yelling at unclejis. When she is having an existential crisis, you’ll probably find her in a window seat on the 99, listening to Mohammed Rafi and pretending she’s in a movie.