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Becoming a Drag Queen in Vietnam: A Platform For Creative Freedom And Self-Expression Through Art

This post is also available in: Vietnamese

While there has been small progress on the acceptance of LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam, the country still generally remains rather conservative towards the drag queen community. For many people such as Prinz, being drag queen gives them artistic freedom and a platform to tell their story, to live their true self, and to continue their passion of performing on stage. Prinz stated, “Society sees me as a bizarre person but I suddenly become a jewel in people’s eyes.” 

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A drag queen is simply impersonating a person that is opposite of your gender. Photo provided by Prinz

“Being a drag queen brings more creative freedom…I can express my sexual orientation. I’m not restrained to the typical binary gender, and that is what I like about being a drag queen,” said Prinz, a drag queen in Ho Chi Minh City, in an interview with Vietcetera. We spoke with Prinz to dig deep about the nature of this job, the challenges, and how Prinz became a drag queen.

Can you define who a drag queen is?

A drag queen is simply impersonating a person that is opposite of your gender. Drag queen has been around for a long time, dating back to the imperial era where females weren’t allowed to perform. Male performers would act as the female character and wear female clothes.

A drag queen usually wears extravagant clothing, heavy makeup and there’s always an extra element in our performance. It develops from impersonation to its own art form. Not only do drag queens perform on stage, we lip sync or sing live, acting, etc. There’s no limitation.

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“I’ve been a drag queen for a year and a half. My background was actually a hip hop dancer for the LGBTQ+ community but hip hop wasn’t for me, so I quit.”

Lip syncing is becoming more common in our performance, which stems from impersonation. Initially, drag queens weren’t called drag queens but rather women impersonators. We would dress as women who have a big influence such as Marilyn Monroe and Britney Spears. 

How did you start becoming a drag queen?

I’ve been a drag queen for a year and a half. My background was actually a hip hop dancer for the LGBTQ+ community but hip hop wasn’t for me, so I quit. After that, I took a class in waacking and then drag. I became a professional waack dancer. I danced for about two to three years and I’m very passionate about dancing. However, it was very hard to be a dancer as a career because society requires female dancers to be tall, bustful, and male dance has to be taller than 180cm. As for me, I neither fit the standards of male or female. 

Last year, I met Ricardo, a drag queen performance organizer at Gender Funk. I was only a background dancer for Ricardo initially. When he found that I had the potential to be a drag queen, I was asked to try out this job. He put up a drag queen battle, and I signed up for the competition. That’s how I started my career.

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“My biggest inspiration is music.”

Please describe your style in 3 words.

Crazy, artistic, gothic.

Where do you get inspiration for your performance?

I get inspiration from a lot of things. On my Facebook profile I left a quote, which is “inspired by art, music, love and loss.” However, my biggest inspiration is music. I have loved listening to music since I was a child. Every song has its own unique melody and story, and that is my biggest inspiration. It’s also a way to express myself.

I also love storytelling. Love and loss are simply just my personal experiences and stories that I want to share with people. However, it’s rather difficult for me to open up about my emotions and experience in this society. Dancing is a way to express myself. Being a drag queen is a great way to incorporate all artistic elements way to tell my stories.

What are some of the common misconceptions for drag queens? How did you overcome those misconceptions?

A common misconception I see is people think that only gay people can become a drag queen. They would think that female transgender can’t become drag queens because they are a woman now, so it’s not really dressing as a women. However, anybody can become a drag queen, not just gay people; there are queers, lesbian, etc. It’s very diverse. As for myself, I’m a female to male transgender, and I’m attracted to men. I see myself as queer. It doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, what matters is your voice in art.

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“Being a drag queen is different from other jobs. We have to invest in a lot.” Photo provided by Prinz

In terms of how I overcome these misconceptions, it’s rather simple. I just keep improving myself as a drag queen to earn people’s recognition. I work hard on what I’m passionate about, and don’t care about people’s gossiping. I’m very happy when people give me recognition and respect.

What are the challenges in working as a drag queen? 

Being a drag queen is different from other jobs. We have to invest in a lot; we have to do everything ourselves, from coming up with ideas for the performance, practicing, making our costumes, makeup, performing, etc.

If we’re talking about how society views us, it was a large, huge issue back then because of discrimination. Right now the society is a little more open to drag queen. The challenges in this industry aren’t necessarily how society views us, it’s actually the people who are involved in this industry. I’m fortunate to work with expat drag queens so they are more open-minded to things. However, Vietnamese drag queens still have a lot of prejudice. I empathize with the Vietnamese drag queens because I understand their difficulties. In addition, artists and performers in Vietnam aren’t highly respected yet. People just think of us as entertainers so we don’t get treated very well. For me, it’s totally normal. However, I hope that we would still improve ourselves and become closer.

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“I empathize with the Vietnamese drag queens because I understand their difficulties.”

How does the LGBTQ+ community reclaim the word “be de,” which has a very negative connotation?

There is a great quote, I can’t exactly remember what it says but the general idea is turning those weapons that are used against you into your armor. It will then become a part of you instead of something that is negative. The same goes with the word “be de.” It is originally used to point fingers at the LGBTQ+ community. However, when we turn it into our armor, we have a fun term to call each other. I personally think of it as a fun word that truly describes who we are, that we are colorful, we are beautiful, and we are happy. It also makes us feel comfortable, proud and no one can use that word to make judgements about us.  

How can people create a safe space and a professional environment for drag queens to work in?

I think it all stems from each individual person. It wouldn’t work when people still have prejudice and discrimination even if the working environment is professional.

Like any other organization, the organizing team must be professional. I hope that people will be more open-minded and enjoy the artistic element with being a drag queen rather than making judgements.

Written by Annie Trieu

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This post is also available in: Vietnamese