Menagerie Menagerie Feature

The category is: Untucking the art of Philippine drag

Glue the lashes, pucker the lips, and bring home the tips. The moment their heels step out of their cramped dressing rooms and into the stage, drag queens give such sickening performances that leave audiences all over the metro gasping for air. 

To simply call them entertainers is to do injustice to drag’s long history of defiance and liberation. Today, the art form has become an avenue for all kinds of self-expression as queens tell their stories through glamorous costumes, catchy music, and culture-defining spectacle.

Main character attitude

“Five years ago, when I turned [to] drag, I wanted to channel villains like Maleficent, Elphaba, [the] Wicked Witch, [and the] Evil Queen,” Eva Le Queen recounts how her legendary name was born. Her drag aesthetic has gone through a metamorphosis over the years—jumping from gothic to campy to glamourous. Professionally, Eva engages in what she calls “transactional drag,” describing it as “being paid or being commissioned to do a service in drag, [so] you have to follow the clients.”

For Eva, drag is a symbol of her rebirth. She was an Overseas Filipino Worker for eight years who fell in love with the art of drag in Singapore. After deciding to come home to the Philippines in 2019, she was approached by the nightclub Nectar to be part of their prestigious drag lineup.

On the other hand, Turing Quinto has had their pet name since high school. “My drag is just an extension of who I am,” they tell, “Na ka ‘pag nag make up ako, when I perform, with or without heels or wigs, it’s still the same.”

(If I wear make-up, when I perform, with or without heels or wigs,  it’s still the same.)

One night, Turing was lounging with their friends at a bar in Metrowalk. Seeing how their friends were all doing well in their careers, Turing wanted the same kind of fulfillment in their own.  “Gusto ko mag-perform, gusto ko mag-make up, gusto ko manahi,” they said in a fit of frustration. 

Seeing as how all these talents can be mixed together, a friend suggested that they can be a drag queen. After an open audition in O Bar, Turing knew their life was going to change forever.

(I want to perform, I want to put on make-up, I want to sew clothes.) 

Eleganza extravaganza

When it comes to stepping into drag, Eva is very particular about how her sets would go. While other drag queens may be dancers or singers or celebrity impersonators, hosting and audience engagement is Eva’s forte. “Most of my performances are always conceptual. Pinag-iisipan siya so hindi mo siya puwedeng gawin nang madalas na madalas,” she says. 

(They are well thought out so you can’t just keep doing it often.)

For Turing’s performances, particularly their rendition of Satisfied from Hamilton, they say, “if you would see me perform live, I’m always in the zone.” Their aim is to embody the spirit of the character or performer they’re portraying. They reminisce about the crowd gagging at the intense rap that ensued, saying, “Meron akong fourth wall [habang nagpeperform]. Pero girl, nabasag ‘yung fourth wall ko.” Apart from knowing the performance by heart, they want to make sure that the audience feels it too. 

(I have a fourth wall while performing. But girl, my fourth wall shattered.)

Although some believe that drag queens live a life of glamor, Turing puts it bluntly that “it’s not, it’s f*****g not.” Preparation for a single performance is like putting up a whole production, from the costumes to the heart-pounding rehearsals. Eva testifies, “I have a lookbook. I have to prepare my script, and get into the character of what was commissioned for me to do.” 

Diva detour

Drag queens also have to weather the occasional insult and prejudice. On one occasion, Eva performed for a straight audience who was unsure of her performance. “Parang [ang iniisip nila] ‘why are you dressed like that, why are you lipsyncing? You’re just lipsyncing, ano ‘yung ginagawa mo?’“ she shares.

(It’s like [they were thinking] why are you dressed like that, why are you lipsyncing? You’re just lipsyncing, what are you doing?)

As for Turing, there was one event that involved bangbang—slang for collecting tips—that they would never forget. “So there’s this one time na may nagbigay sa’kin ng barya. I think it was seven pesos,” they began, ”And then that seven pesos was [thrust]  in front of my face. And then [told me] […] ‘Oh, ito lang naman ang halaga mo eh, laglag ng barya.’’’ After reflecting on this moment, Turing decided to never let anyone define their worth. 

(So there’s this one time that somebody gave me change. I think it was seven pesos. And then that seven pesos was [thrust] in front of my face. And then [told me] with the statement of ‘Oh, this is just what you’re worth, these leftover coins.’)

Loud and proud

Ultimately, lobbying for LGBTQ+ rights is what unites drag artists together, as they aim to provide queer individuals with safe spaces for self-expression. 

Eva couldn’t agree more as she believes that drag is and has always been political. “Dressing up in this gender-bending art form is already a testament of you challenging the norms that shouldn’t be there in the first place,” she imparts.

Meanwhile, Turing posits that drag visibility in the Philippines is still blurry. They call for more avenues where queens can perform and earn a living. “Media is very, very powerful. ‘Yung makita ka sa TV, isa ‘yun sa malaking tulong.” 

(Being seen on TV is already a big help.)

Sissy that walk

Unfortunately, the pandemic shut down bars across the country, leaving drag queens no choice but to ply their trade on other platforms. Eva, for one, has resorted toward investing in Drag Playhouse, which has since collaborated with various other artists and major music brands all across the world. Turing, on the other hand, has stuck with using Facebook Live to interact with their audience.

As drag finds its digital footing, more and more baby drag queens from within the spectrum have stepped into the spotlight. Both Eva and Turing express their excitement at the knowledge that the community is growing. Turing goes on to explain, “Before noong walang pandemic, ang mga baby drag queens ay matatagpuan sa Nectar. Pero ngayon, lahat makikita mo na.”

(Before when there was no pandemic, the baby drag queens would only be seen at Nectar. But now, they’re everywhere.)

With this newfound reach, drag is poised to inspire whole new generations once again. After all, who better to teach us about celebrating our colorful individuality than those who flamboyantly and proudly live their truth every day? 

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