Drag Culture’s Influence in Singapore and SAS

In casual conversations at SAS, it becomes apparent the extent to which many students and faculty don’t fully understand what drag is and how it relates to LGBTQIA+ rights.  This includes one particular male student, who chose to remain anonymous as we discussed the finer points of the emergence of Drag—something of particular interest to me (but clearly quite confusing to him.)  So, in an unexpected reversal of the usual approach we take for The Eye, I asked this student to interview (and hopefully be enlightened by)… me!  What follows is his series of questions and, to the best of my ability, corresponding responses.

Peaches is a gay dance and drag club located beside Hotel Supreme in Singapore.  It’s clientele consists of both gay and straight revelers and party-goers who come together to watch drag shows that feature amazing dancers and lip-sync artists dressed to the nines in glamorous drag.

What exactly is drag, and why do people do this?

When many people first hear about the concept or witness the culture of drag, most will be confused as to what exactly they are seeing.  For some, the primary question is if these are gay males, transgender individuals, or just… “weird.”   In fact, they may be none of the above.  Drag queens are most often defined as “people, usually male, who dress in women’s clothing and act with exaggerated femininity or in feminine gender roles for the purpose of entertainment. They exaggerate characteristics like makeup and eyelashes for dramatic, comedic or satirical effect.” (Source: Libraries of the College of Minnesota)

This is why we associate drag with exaggerated women’s bodies, heavy and caricaturish makeup, huge wigs, and more accessories than could possibly be comfortable on the most experienced high fashion women.   However, that person under the fabulous frock can be about anyone… including a straight male.  The important detail is that this makeup and the actor flaunting it is here to entertain—not to try to change who he (or she) truly is. This is also why so many drag queens take on amusing stage names, such as Shangela and Kimchi. This identify is a character, not necessarily the actor playing the part.

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Drag queens are most often defined as “people, usually male, who dress in women’s clothing and act with exaggerated femininity or in feminine gender roles for the purpose of entertainment. They exaggerate characteristics like makeup and eyelashes for dramatic, comedic or satirical effect.”

What’s the point of doing these things?

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RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 cover photo. (Credit: RuPaul.com)

Again, the point of drag is to have fun. And clearly it’s working.  Nowhere is this more apparent than by the incredible success of the the TV show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Through ten full seasons of public exploits and behind-the-scenes showing equal parts hard work and heartbreak, the show takes an up-close look at what drag queens do when not striking a pose for the camera.  And it’s clearly addictive.  Over one million people watched the premiere this last season alone, and considering how many people 1) don’t know what drag is, and 2) don’t particularly like men in heels, that’s a lot! Many individuals (and some entire nations) don’t accept or, much less, condone homosexuality.  On the other hand, fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race make up a wide diversity of male and female, straight and gay, and everything in between.  This includes well-known celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Halsey, and Kate Upton, who frequently make guest appearances and provide support to both the show and what it stands for.

Statistics say three-quarters of the population of Singapore doesn’t believe in LGBTQIA+ rights. So how is there a dance and drag club in Singapore?

Sadly, many people don’t truly understand what drag really represents.  Many of these same people might not understand the value in everyone’s right to be proud of who they are.  And THAT, my friends, is why we need a place like Peaches, where you can be educated (cultured, you might say) by a troop of people on a mission of acceptance and pride in being true to themselves. Peaches is a gay dance and drag club located beside Hotel Supreme in Singapore.  It’s clientele consists of both gay and straight revelers and party-goers who come together to watch drag shows that feature amazing dancers and lip-sync artists dressed to the nines in glamorous drag. While there has always been some controversy with the idea of men dressing up as women, Peaches “frequently engages Singapore’s best and support upcoming drag queens by providing a chance to shine and show the world who they really are.” (Gay Health SG)  Logically, there’s nothing immoral or illegal in that.

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Drag Queens posing for the perfect picture and getting ready to perform at Peaches. (Source: Peaches Facebook page)

Why should I care? There isn’t much drag culture that I see, especially at SAS.

Though there may not be a lot of talk about drag at SAS, there are plenty of faculty members and students who respect and enjoy this trend. In particular, the SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Acceptance) group at SAS strives to create a safe discussion forum for issues of sexuality and sexual orientation, as well as all of the complications and celebrations that surround these key issues.  And no, you don’t need to be gay to attend meetings.  Gay, Bi, Straight, Transgender, Curious, Questioning, and much-appreciated allies of anyone struggling with acceptance or self-awareness might find good company in SAGA’s weekly meetings (held every Tuesday during lunch.)

Still, I sadly have to agree with you that drag culture and drag queens are poorly understood and too often maligned in our school culture.  Recently, a straight junior male at SAS commented: “I feel like gay people are sometimes pushing it in straight people’s faces… the whole club and pride month thing.”  Believe me when I say that I understand how many people might this way and and even demand a “Straight Pride Month.”  But remember: the primary reason why we NEED a club like SAGA (or a Pride Month) comes down to a simple fact:  queer people all over the world face discrimination based on their sexual orientation on a daily basis.  It can be argued that the majority of straight people do not.  These endeavors are all in the name of education.  So if you want to educate yourself on drag and gayness in general,  1) watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, 2) go to Peaches *if you are 18* and, 3) attend SAGA meetings!

I promise you, members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community at SAS have no desire to overtake the straight world or attempt to make you gay.  We’re too busy for that.  We have drag shows to do.

Author: Will Staley

Will Staley is currently a junior and this is his first year working for the Eye. This is also his first year living in Singapore, having moved from St. Louis, Missouri USA. Will enjoys photography and has a photography website (willstaleyphotography.com). He hopes to pursue photography for his college and career, while being involved in his passion of politics and humanitarian work. He can be contacted at staley774011@sas.edu.sg.

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