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Singapore drag queens discuss drag performance, fashion inspirations, and dish out advice to aspiring stars

Singapore drag queens discuss drag performance, fashion inspirations, and dish out advice to aspiring stars

Be yourself

Text: Ho Guo Xiong


Image: Instagram | @missyvirgindoll | @riotdragshow | @winterdva

If you're a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you're probably already familiar with names like Trixie Mattel, Sharon Needles, and Bianca Del Rio. After all, these drag queens are known for their "charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent", which is RuPaul-speak for being a fabulous performer while looking darn good as well. And if you’ve ever wondered how these entertainers create their gobsmacking ensembles, we sat down with three Singaporean drag queens — Nina Shaleigh, Mika Vogue, and Winter D’Va — to dig a little deeper. Here, they share with us their thoughts on drag culture, inspirations and the art of dressing up.

Christopher Germanotta, who goes by the drag name, Nina Shaleigh (@missyvirgindoll)

Do you remember your first drag performance?
Nina Shaleigh (NS): It was at a company dinner and dance competition and the group of us (all guys) dressed up as women and performed. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you get into drag performance?
NS: Since young, I have always loved dressing up. I would secretly buy cheap synthetic wigs, cut my jeans into a skirt, and put on heels while playing dress-up at my friend’s house. But what got me into performing was when I watched my first drag performance with my boss, who really encouraged me to pursue it. That lit a fire and I joined a Singaporean drag competition called Drag Wars last June.

What does drag mean to you?
NS: Drag is an art form. It is a platform to express my creativity and passion. There are different styles and not everyone is going to appreciate yours. You don’t need everyone to love it, you just need one person to – yourself.

Do you consider your drag persona your alter ego, or the true you? 
NS: Nina Shaleigh is a part of me so I wouldn’t differentiate between the two. I am her and she is me, and we complete each other. When I'm in drag, I don’t necessarily feel like a different person, but I do feel more confident being Nina.

Who is Nina Shaleigh, really?
NS: Nina is the sweetest being with a kind and humble soul. She may be quiet and shy, but she gives shady and deadly reads.

How would you describe her style?
NS: Nina is a true DIY queen. I don’t buy my stuff, because I rather use a glue gun or sew what I need. In terms of style, it depends on the inspiration and mood that hit. Some days I want to look evil, or sexy, but I usually go for the cute-burlesque-showgirl look.

Who inspires you?
NS: My biggest inspiration is Lady Gaga. I love the unconventional, statement-making haute couture she wears. Movies, pop culture, and royalty are other inspirations too.

If you could collaborate with a fashion designer (living or dead), who would it be?
NS: I would love to work with Alexander McQueen as I live for the show-stopping couture pieces he created. I would create a jaw-dropping Met Gala-worthy gown inspired by Indian queens from the 16th and 17th century with a 17 metre-long train, while dripping in jewels. I’m half-Indian and Filipino and I would like to embrace my roots and show the world that I’m proudly biracial.

What is the biggest misconception about drag?
NS: Being called (or depicted as) a crossdresser. They are different things to me — one is a fetish and the other is a form of entertainment.

Has the media portrayal of drag been accurate?
NS: I think it's been half accurate, in that the media only seems to portray the beautiful side of drag.

Do you think drag should be normalised in popular culture? 
NS: Of course, we are worthy too. While I personally feel we might never enjoy the same level of equality in society, creating awareness is always a positive thing.

Any advice for aspiring drag performers?
NS: Be yourself. It’s okay to be different. Drag, after all, is about being free to express yourself. You are born this way so follow your dreams.

 

Andy Winter, who goes by the drag name, Winter D'va (@winterdva)

How did you get into drag performance?
Winter D’Va (WD): I participated in a local drag competition known as Drag Wars. It was hosted by Peaches Club and it gave me with my first break on stage. From then on, I learned more about the local industry and community, and worked towards developing my craft.

What does drag mean to you?
WD: Drag is the art form of the body, where the artist becomes the canvas. The artist becomes the art and the art is the artist. As a result, drag becomes a kaleidoscope for different art forms such as makeup, fashion, dance, theatre, and more to meet and intersect. Every time you peer through the lens, there is always something new, something has changed. Nothing is truly fixed. The only rule of drag is that there are no rules.

Do you consider your drag persona your alter ego, or the true you? 
WD: My drag persona is part of me, a facet if you will. It is neither an alter ego, nor is it the true me. There is a certain truth you can discover about me in my drag persona, but it is also very much artifice. Because it is a heightened and dramatised presentation of certain qualities within me, it is not exactly a complete conjuration. If I feel different in drag attire, it is a difference in the sense of certain qualities being expressed and showcased more explicitly than others — certain qualities that may have been repressed or policed and can only be liberated through drag.

Could you tell us more about your drag persona?
WD: Winter D’Va is an icy entity not from this realm. She is ethereal and she reflects a beauty that transcends human comprehension.

How would you describe your Winter D’Vas style?
WD: It is perhaps experimental. Her style constantly shifts and mutates on a whim. One moment, it could be dark glamour. The next, it could be cosplay. Who knows?

What are you inspirations?
WD: I am very inspired by anime, video games, K-Pop, J-Pop, and avant-garde fashion.

If you could collaborate with a fashion designer (living or dead) for a drag look, who would it be?
WD: Iris van Herpen. Her work drifts into the realm of fantasy couture and kinetic sculpting. I would love to create a piece that has the geometricity of ice but also the fluidity and motion of water.

What is the biggest misconception about drag?
WD: That drag is a radical and niche art form and that you have to be a certain kind of person to do it. I would argue that drag is an art form that has been made radical and politicised by a certain privileged majority (or a certain group of people who have the power to say what is radical and what is not). I would argue that since drag is essentially about gender performativity, everyone is doing drag without knowing it because everyone is constantly performing gender. I find it exhausting to hear people with seemingly nice intentions talk about drag like it is some special interest or hobby. It is not special. You know what it is? It is painful.

Has the media portrayal of drag been accurate?
WD: What is portrayed of drag in the media is very glamorised and commercialised, and therefore palatable. It still very much feels like fetishisation or exotification of a queer art form. What the media shows is simply the tip of a larger iceberg. Drag queens are always in the spotlight, but there are drag kings and other types of drag performers that are not as recognised.

Do you think drag should be normalised in popular culture?
WD: I do not think drag could ever be truly normalised. The history of drag has always been entrenched in challenging what is “normal” and destabilising that ideal. As long as popular culture continues trying to define and categorise drag for its commercial agenda, the art form is going to suffer when placed in such a box.

Any advice for aspiring drag performers?
WD: Be yourself. Be professional. Oh, and know your words.

 

Mikmik, who goes by the drag name, Mika Vogue (@mika_vogue)

Do you remember your first drag performance?
Mika Vogue (MV): I was asked by a close friend, who was a drag queen, to perform at a new club. I remember being so hesitant to say yes because of stage fright. After the performance, I received overwhelming support from the audience and that was the start of my drag journey.

What does drag mean to you? 
MV: There’s a physical and an emotional aspect to drag as an art form. It's physical in the sense that you transform yourself through makeup, and emotional when you have to express yourself through a happy or sad song.

Do you consider your drag persona your alter ego?
MV: My drag persona is my alter ego. Out of drag, I’m not loud. But in drag, I become a more confident person.

Could you tell us more about your drag persona?
MV: She's very womanly, or "fishy" as they say in drag world terminology. Mika Vogue is a simple yet sophisticated drag queen who knows herself and will not step on other queens.

How would you describe Mika Vogue’s style?
MV: She loves fashion and presenting herself in the most beautiful way possible.

What inspires you?
MV: My inspirations are my life experiences. Honestly, I don’t want to be compared to anyone else. I will look at my past photos and see what I haven’t done and where I can improve.

If you could collaborate with a fashion designer (living or dead) for a drag look, who would it be?
MV: I wouldn’t collaborate with a fashion designer but I would like to work with Leonardo Da Vinci. Why? On a painting, you can see the imperfections. And as Da Vinci said, “details make perfection, and perfection is not a detail.” I would love to create a body-hugging, deconstructed long gown with paintings as the print.

What is the biggest misconception about drag?
MV: That we are loud, disrespectful of others... that we take drugs and influence others to consume them, or that we don’t have spiritual beliefs. For me, being a drag queen is a way to escape from life's bad experiences.

Has the media portrayal of drag been accurate?
MV: In some countries, drag queens are of the most influential people on social media. They aren’t just performers, but they also activists in the fight for HIV/AIDS rights.

Do you think drag should be normalised in popular culture?
MV: Yes, it should be normalised. Drag queens are human too. We're entertainers and we want to be respected and appreciated the same way singers, dancers, and actors are.

Any advice for aspiring drag performers?
MK: Be whoever you want to be. Just do it! Be yourself and express who you are, but don’t ever forget where you came from, and be humble all the time.

 

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