Thanks to the phenomenon of RuPaul’s Drag Race on TV the art of drag is more fashionable than ever, gaining prominent global attention despite its centuries-old history.
In the iconic film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, an Aboriginal man asks drag queen Tick: “So… you actually make money by dressing up like a woman?” Tick responds: “Oh, sure. You can make a fine living in a pair of heels.”
You can also be an Instagram sensation, a local legend, a gay nightlife guru, an international jetsetter, a reality TV star, and a nationally recognized entertainer when you perform in drag. Thanks to the phenomenon of RuPaul’s Drag Race on TV, hosted by drag legend and entrepreneur RuPaul, the art of drag is more fashionable than ever, gaining prominent global attention despite its centuries-old history. Drag queens have been worshipping sequins as early at the 18th century, when transvestites and cross-dressers were referred to as “drag,” arguably as an acronym (dressed resembling a girl).
There was only so much you could do dressed in big hair, make-up, and dresses, so these powerful personalities tended to take stage for live performances, mostly comedic. Drag has since inspired drag brunches, themed nights at gay bars, competitions, gay pride events, and even world cinema. Dozens of movies have captured the essence (and camp) of drag for decades, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Kinky Boots, My Life in Pink, Paris is Burning, The Birdcage, Pink Flamingos, and, of course, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Though drag culture is taken more seriously than ever, it will never reflect a serious take on life. In fact, RuPaul famously wrote in her book Workin’ It! Rupaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Style: “It’s a sort of piss-take on culture, because a drag queen is a clown, a parody of our society. It’s a sarcastic spoof on culture, which allows us to laugh at ourselves, but in a way that is inclusive of everyone.”
Many drag performers have made a name for themselves, like RuPaul and Lady Bunny, and emerging stars are on the rise like Ashley Edwards, Alaska, and Bianca del Rio, all of whom appeared on Drag Race. While winning the reality show has its perks, just getting booked on the show can boost your stock. Drag Race has ranked as one of the most-watched LGBT shows in history, and it’s also a lens into drag culture, which is fun, educational, and inspiring.
But a queen obviously doesn’t need a TV show to be a star, as proven by these amazing drag performers around the world. They have made prominent careers out of drag, and they are destined to become part of the Drag Hall of Fame.
PANGINA HEALS (Bangkok, Thailand)
Years as a drag queen: Six.
What inspired you to work as a drag queen?
It’s more whom. I started as a drag queen being super-inspired by supreme world leader Lady Gaga. There was a nationwide competition to whoever could lip-synch her song the best, and they would win an allpaid trip to see her in NYC. I won first place and experienced doing drag in the big city! I felt like a superhero. Strangers would applaud and say (work girl), and I felt that this was the beginning of something great.
Amazing! Congrats! I’m assuming you now get paid to do drag after that experience?
It’s a full-time career now. It didn’t start like that, but now I’m in drag every day. My father always said: If you love what you do and do not think about the money, one day the money will catch up with all the love you put into your work. It’s a Thai saying and doesn’t really slide smoothly in English!
Where are some places we can see you perform in Bangkok?
I’m performing every day, or almost, because I love cash. No, actually, I love to make people smile. We are doing some good in a world that doesn’t always understand or accept us.
Do you get to travel?
Yes, I travel at least three times a month overseas. I judge all over Asia as the only waacking drag queen judge in the world, I’m a judge at All Asia Waacking festivals and numerous dance events. I love traveling while I’m young and able to kneel. And I love performing in venues where there are many straight male dancers. When I first step onto the stage, they don’t necessary understand but when I finish the performance and make them laugh, I hope we all (come) together because, at the end of the day, it’s all just entertaining. We are men in dresses…clowns!
What trip was the most memorable to you and why?
Myanmar, where it is still illegal to be gay. I got people coming up to me and thanking me for being a drag queen and standing on the stage and living my life on the stage fearlessly. The thing is, I didn’t know I could have been put in jail until after the performance (laughing). Nevertheless, it was pretty bad ass.
What do you believe are the biggest impacts you made with your drag career?
When my grandmother saw me on TV. To get someone from that generation to smile and clap for me, especially being someone I love, was the most fulfilling experience of my life.
So, how did you pick your drag name?
My boy name is Pan. With a vagina, it makes Pangina and Heals comes from the fact that dance, drag, and drinking all heal people or bring them together.
What are your thoughts on Drag Race?
I’m addicted. I want to be on the show. I live for it. YES GAWD. I pray to Gaga and RuPaul every night before I go to sleep.
What should they see/not miss when our readers visit Bangkok?
Maggie Choo’s Sunday Gaynight!
Is there a growing drag scene in Bangkok?
I’m hoping that it is bigger with me leading the scene and getting more people to see that drag really is an art. People are coming around and no longer calling me a female raccoon hybrid.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
Pangina’s official stickers just came out! Check them out in the store!
GLORIA VIAGRA (Berlin, Germany)
Years as a drag queen: ‘As long as I can remember…’
How often do you perform?
About two to five times a week, but it’s becoming more and more. Honey, I need the coins to pay my rent. And my body needs to express Gloria.
I know you travel the world in drag.
Yes. The gay pride in Tel Aviv is very impressive. I hosted an MTV award and several parties. It’s so amazing and colorful and has nothing to do with the rest of the cruel reality of Israel! Also the gay pride in Madrid is very impressive, and I hosted a show for three years at the Sziget Festival in Budapest. And the Milkshake Festival in Amsterdam is mind-blowing.
Tell us about your biggest performance, and why it became such a hit.
I have a queer rock band called Squeezebox. Me and Sherry Vine from New York City are singing and our lesbian sisters are playing the instruments. We performed in 2009 as the main act at the Berlin gay pride and played in front of 150,000 people…! There are no words to describe this feeling. I’m also booked for a Mediterranean cruise, and the prides in Cologne, Leipzig, Zürich, and Berlin.
When you’re doing drag in your city, do people in the gay scene recognize you?
Honey, I am 50 years old. I’ve been on stage since before the Second World War…so how would people not recognize me. No. but seriously I worked for many years building up a career as a DJ, singer, and political activist.
What do you believe are the biggest impacts you made with your drag career?
I think because I raised my voice up for things for people who might not have had the power. I animated a lot of people to think and to act as activists, which for me is the most important thing I ever could do.
What are your thoughts on Drag Race in America?
Well that’s a two-sided sword: on one side, I love it because it makes drag more visible. On the other side, it’s very mainstream and all the girls in the world are just looking at this now. But as long as we can’t travel without fear, we shouldn’t compete with each other. No competition if sisterhood is not the new black. Sisters have to respect each other.
What is the one thing you always pack and why?
My perfume from Schwarzlose…And the waist panties. A girl needs curves…