Feature

2019 Taiwan Pride: Queerness in Asia

Reshaping Queer Culture: Meet Taiwan’s First Drag Kings

2019/10/21 ,

Opinion

Darice D. Chang

Photo Credit: Cruisin’ With the Kings / Facebook

Darice D. Chang

Darice is a writer, artist, and educator-activist based in Taiwan. She speaks three languages and is usually getting paid to use one of them. In her spare time she enjoys the local music scene and promoting healthy ethical living.

What you need to know

As Taiwan’s drag queen scene flourishes, propelled by the global success of Drag Race, the king scene is growing as well, providing much needed space and platform for lesbians and AFAB-people.

Lezs Magazine, a Taiwan-based lesbian culture publication, brought the first professional drag king performer Wang Newton to Taipei for the 2018 Pride. Wang, who was born in Taiwan before emigrating to the United States at a young age, created the Newton character based on a caricature of Asian stereotypes.

“I don’t just gender fuck, I culture fuck,” Wang said. At its core, drag is a form of entertainment.

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Photo Source: Wang Newton
Wang Newton poses in front of the Liberty Plaza in Taipei, Taiwan during 2018 Pride.

In April 2019, Taipei’s first drag king crew was formed by a coalition of queer women and genderfluid artists who were united by the love of masculine impersonation and performance.

I first met Skye Grimm, a Canadian drag performer, alongside boundary-breaking Kiwi Taipei Popcorn at the 2018 Spectrum Formosus, an annual queer art festival held in the Wenshan Mountains. At the time both were in talks about creating space for drag kings in Taipei.

“Drag is for everyone who wants to try it,” said Grimm. “It's not just what you see on Drag Race or Dragula. It's an art form that can take any shape that feels good to the one doing it.”

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Photo Credit: MOWES Facebook 
Participants at a Drag King Salon held by MOWES women’s community space.

The Origin of Taipei’s Drag King Scene

Grimm kickstarted the Taipei King scene by holding the first Drag King Salon at their house. The casual gathering allowed people to “man up” with makeup, cut contours that would make a queen gag, and create the illusion of facial hair with paint. That’s where lawyer-by-day Katherine Chong started performing drag.

Performing as Top Poki, Chong would go on to place second in Taipei’s first Drag Ball, an all-genre drag competition. Chong’s name is a play on toppoki, a spicy chewy Korean rice snack. Like queens, king names are often puns such as Irish native Nicole Klewendżer performing as Roman Coke and U.S.-born Luca Distraction. Others have more nuances; Taiwanese native Man Baobao came into his quadruple entendre name entirely by accident while the more straightforward Dan Dan Demolition is a combination of onomatopoeia and manifesto.

Top Poki also masterminded the first Drag King Boat Party shortly after the debut at Blush, a queer-friendly art party held at B1 Taipei. The party was a success, attended by quite a few queens and provided an inclusive, femme-centric space.

“[The] common narrative around the world is for gay male culture to dominate social scenes. I wanted to have a first all-drag-king event and do it in style on a yacht for a majority AFAB crowd and we did it and it was an amazing special night”, Top Poki told The News Lens.

Although the Taipei drag scene is male-dominated, the community is primarily supportive and creative. “It's very artistic,” said Klewendżer. “These people like Popcorn and Nymphia Wind are really artists, and their dedication and talent would be really scary if they weren’t also lovely people. As a king, I've felt very accepted by the queens.”

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Photo Credit: Blush Facebook
Drag king Sawyer Darling poses with queens at Blush Party in Taipei, Taiwan. From left: Taipei Popcorn, Amily Givenchy, Sawyer Darling, Jo, Bian TaiTai, Yolanda Milan.

Gender-Cultural Diversity in Drag and the Lack Thereof in Taiwan

At a recent presentation at Taipei National University of Arts, M.A. candidate Liting Tan cited Vesta Tilly, an English actress who specialized in male impersonation. Tan, a writer and director with multiple plays under her belt in her native Singapore, defines drag as a performance of gender. Just as the art of drag queening is dominated by cisgender male, kings are primarily performed by cisgender female or femmes.

But this does not mean all drag performance is of the gender-bending variety. Female drag queen Lady Angelica McDeath, for example, gave a stunning final performance at Blush before returning to South Africa. There is even “guy drag” by the name of JC The Guy, a cis man performing male drag.

Modern drag is prominent in the West. Although the Taipei drag scene is on the rise with eager participation, a brief survey reveals a large proportion of foreign immigrant performers — of the current Kings 50 percent are Caucasians.

Jaeden Emery Soo, who performs as Man Baobao, told The News Lens, “In the king scene specifically, there are only two Taiwanese kings, me being the only one that grew up in Taiwan... I definitely hope that more folks like me will find themselves in this lovely community that centers and celebrates trans, gender-nonconforming, AFAB folks.”

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Photo Credit: Alejandro Wang
Jaeden Emery Soo performs as Man Baobao during Dog Days in Drag at Carnegie’s Taipei.

Language may be a reason for the lack of Taiwanese participation in drag. As a translator and interpreter in training at the National Taiwan University, Soo noted that much of the language used to talk about gender and queer culture is in English. Despite professional fluency in both English and Mandarin, Soo struggles to talk with their Taiwanese peers about queer issues since the Mandarin translation or terminology is often imprecise or nonexistent.

Tan, who is also bilingual, echoes this sentiment. “Oftentimes [in queer theater class] the professor has to include to English or French alongside the Chinese,” she said.

Soo hopes their work can eventually change this. “I really feel the need to make sure that drag no longer stays English-centric. I am a Taiwanese queer person, and I want my fellow queer people to be able to access this community and this camaraderie,” Soo said.

As for Tan, she is getting ready to debut her drag king character. “He’s going to be a singing king,” she said. “Taiwan is the one place I’ve been where I feel I don’t have to be anything else other than myself here. If drag kinging that then takes me on a journey to find myself, that’s something that I am willing to do.”


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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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