The first drag show I ever attended was in a Houston club where a queen performing to a Britney Spear’s number had the crowd going wild. Honestly, I was mesmerized, but also a little uneasy. I just didn’t understand why a man would want to dress up as a woman. I was afraid of something I didn’t understand and angry from not knowing. After many years of processing my own internalized homophobia and transphobia, I’ve come to appreciate and love drag culture.
Drag is art. Drag is subversive. Drag is disruptive and healing and historical. It is a direct push back against what is deemed “natural” or “real.” Gender lines are blurred and creativity is nurtured. I learned all of this from a drag competition on television, Rupauls’ Drag Race, which is currently finishing up it’s 8th season. Over the years, over 100 drag queens have competed on the show hoping to carry on Rupaul’s fierce legacy. The show aims to promote the “tenacity of the human spirit” and has been a great platform for queer narratives. Since it’s inception, contestants have shared personal stories about abuse in the home, fears of coming out, being incarcerated, and struggles with their gender identity. I have found parts of myself in their stories, which in turn, made me feel less alone.
A fan favorite this season is a Korean-American contestant who goes by Kim Chi. She describes herself as a high fashion anime character with amazing looks. I find myself pulling out my phones to show off pictures of her, and always double tap her images on Instagram. As the first Korean drag queen to appear on TV, she takes pride in her Korean heritage. Throughout her time on the show, Kim talks about struggling with her weight throughout her life, talking with a lisp, and being an artsy and shy Asian kid growing up. She reveals to Rupaul that her own mother doesn’t know about her drag career. Kim discusses family pressure in Asian households, and how it dramatically impacts how immigrant children perceive their talents and success. She explains how controversial topics are rarely talked about in Asian families, and how children often bury parts of themselves in order to not disappoint their parents. Besides these struggles, Kim’s mother instilled a strong sense of pride in their cultural heritage. For one of the final runway challenges, Kim dedicated her performance to her mother, wearing a traditional Korean hanbok encapsulating her mother. She uses her identities and pride in her cultural background to truly excel in the competition.
In another challenge about making political campaign ads, Kim talks about “No Fats, No Femmes, and No Asians” in her video. A highly recognizable phrase from gay dating apps, she truly surprises judge Michelle Visage when talking about the racism within the gay community. Identifying herself as a fat, femme, Asian, she proudly represents an overlooked population. She struggles with her intersecting identities which can sometimes pull her in different directions.
Seeing Kim Chi on television owning her truth is empowering and inspiring to all the fat, femme Asians who never felt as though they fit in. As a kid, I was told only monsters don’t have reflections. Being able to see that kind of representation and our stories being reflected through the media is the kind of representation some of us really need in this world.