I was 22 when it started. I was new to the scene and was so excited because it was going to be the first time I’d get to experience being at a gay bar. Nowadays, I believe that is considered pretty late as many places hold events where people that are 18 years or older can enjoy a good drag show.
I grew up in a conversative Asian immigrant family, so as a child I lived a pretty sheltered life. I am the only gay child in my close family circle, so I felt like the black sheep. This was a recurring theme as I was the only one that didn’t aspire to medicine, law, or things considered money-making occupations according to my family’s standards. My goals, even at a young age, have always been more artistic and unpredictable. Having such a private upbringing, I’ve become an introvert as it’s what I was taught as a child.
When I told my parents I wanted to be an artist, I was met with words of concern for financial reasons, and these worsened when I came out as gay. With the news of my sexualiy, I was met with tears of concern for the structure of my life, as my parents didn’t have much of an understanding of what it was to be gay from an American perspective. The closest representation for my parents with queer culture were homeless crossdressers who did sex work just to survive and how they were rejected by society in Vietnam. So naturally when I saw drag and the way it drew people in the community, I was fearful because of what I had been taught; however it also inspired me, as I saw it as an opportunity to express what was being suppressed. Even with the fear of how my family would perceive me, I used it as a form of inspiration—to be able to succeed within this artform.
To me drag was the embodiment of so many forms of art, and the main medium consisted of making yourself into a star!
There was a feeling that anyone who acquired the skills needed could get on to stage and suddenly matter to a community of strangers. One of the inspiring factors for my drag was the most popular television series for me in my teens: America’s Next Top Model. I took Tyra Bank’s teachings to heart and engineered all of my schooling to gear me toward creating imagery that I simply defined as “modelesque.” I took all the art classes including photography, graphic design, and dance. I studied at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of Arts and found my way into a theater make-up class where I turned every assignment into a drag project. I entered a Wednesday night drag competition at La Cage and a Tumblr Drag Race that both had weekly challenges modeled after Rupaul’s Drag Race. All these small things collected into my drag process. They all framed my understanding of how and what people want to see from a Drag artist, entertainer, and stage presence. There is a balance of success, deserving the success, and how you treat others.
When I started getting booked without having to be in competition, it was mostly charities or benefit shows. A giant part of Drag culture in Milwaukee was to raise funding for local causes such as Pathfinders, Diverse & Resilient, and Courage MKE. My first big show was UW-Milwaukee’s Annual Drag Show, and all tips went to Pathfinders. I got to perform with local legends like Lady Gia and find my drag sisters Malaiya Marvel and Gluttoni Sinn. After being a secluded no one for 22 years, I had found my way to being surrounded by my queer icons and a gay chosen family.
A drag artist can have a vast compilation of talents. They can be beautiful, hilarious, conceptual, a great dancer, or the absolute opposite of all that with a great personality. They will gain a following as long as people are intrigued by them or their journey. For myself, I really wanted to show my ability to emulate beauty and the artist I am behind all that I present. Simply put, I like creating beautiful things. I like styling hair, making cool shiny outfits, taking photos, dancing, and doing it with other artists. Then in the process, I like changing the definition of beauty. I look to pop idols such as Blackpink, reference animations and cartoons, and draw from beauty standards in Asian culture. By showing off my interests, I have given others more opportunity to do the same.
Now after about eight or nine years of doing drag, I have many titles to my drag name. I am the first Asian-American to be the main host on the dance pavilion of Milwaukee Pridefest, first Asian-American drag artist to participate at a Bucks Pride Night show, and the first Cosmo Queen from Milwaukee that hasn’t been on Rupaul’s Drag Race. I host and perform at multiple local venues including This Is It, Hamburger Mary’s Milwaukee, D.I.X., Garage on Brady, Hi Hat, and Crafty Cow. With the responsibility of hosting, I’m now able to book other performers with the same level of passion. Malaiya Marvel and I host a monthly show at This Is It called Mania. It is meant to showcase a mix of cosplay and drag. It is highly conceptual because it challenges the entertainers to pick a character reference they want to portray from anime, cartoons, comics, or movies and match looks and performance to it so that the audience will understand.
I believe all the responsibility given to me can all be credited to my work ethic, aesthetic, and professionalism. I see success as putting on a good show, presenting a beautiful image, and connecting to others. You have to capture people’s attention. Drag Entertainers LOVE ATTENTION! And attention can be acquired in so many ways.
Some of my drag ideals for myself are classic in that I am born male, and I present as a woman for stage and imagery. However, when I first encountered drag I do remember thinking, “Anyone can become a Star!” I think a lot of people enter the path to drag with that mentality. It’s important to have that dreamy aspiration when starting, but there is a lot more to it that should be picked up along the way now. I believe that a drag artist should consider what they could mean to a community. I wouldn’t be anyone if my community didn’t allow me into the spaces to represent them. There is a built-up trust in doing the job right. Sometimes, it’s as big as being the first representation to achieve or be given opportunity, and sometimes it’s as small as just showing up on time or performing a good number. As much as doing drag gives me a chance to show off the artistry I learned, the base of the industry is to entertain and represent your community. The best way to represent for me moving forward is to work to ensure safe spaces that are inclusive for anyone that wants to work to better the community.