Boy, HK, Seeks Queens
In Part 2 of our series on drag, artist Scotty So shares how RuPaul’s Drag Race impacted his life as a young queer man coming of age in Hong Kong.
It all started with me occasionally hooking up with a New Yorker who was living in Hong Kong. He was latino, masculine…I forget his name, but it doesn’t matter. Our conversations were never deep. We talked little, and spent the rest of our time under the sheets.
It was March 2014. I had turned 19 a month before (I’m a Valentines baby). We both felt bored and lonely, so he suggested I stay longer than usual and we could watch something. And that’s how I was introduced to RuPaul’s Drag Race. Season 6, episode 3. Vivacious’ outfit was on point, but she failed to slay and sashayed away.
New words. It was the first time I had heard the term “drag”. I was a twink, a baby. The world was still new and exciting to me: Grindr, Fridae, free vodka every Wednesday at the gay bars on Hong Kong Island. Top, bottom, versatile. But I had never come across drag queens.
I was hypnotized by the show: the makeup, the drama, the fabulous outfits. The art of transforming men into these extraordinary creatures was just everything. It helped me realize that you can be different and have fun whilst doing it. RuPaul teaches that whilst being gay can be a lonely path, it can also be like a family if we call each other sisters and show love. Even Trinity K Bonei.
I started watching the show regularly with an Australian guy I was kind of dating and with my gay friend, who both loved the show. But when they both left Hong Kong, I suddenly found myself alone again, without a sisterhood.
But then came 2015, and a new season of RuPaul. I made new friends, and we would watch the show together after work in bed together. We would talk in drag language and throw shade at each other. The year ended with me hosting a drag race marathon with gay and straight friends, and a cute American couchsurfer. RuPaul had become the thing that bonded me and my friends together (outside of just having orgies).
Growing up gay in Hong Kong, you get told to be normal, that anything queer is unacceptable. I wasn’t even supposed to use face care products, because only women use them. My mother is Thai, and I would hear my parents talking about ladyboys checking me out when we traveled to Thailand. In Cantonese, there is a word for them, Yen Yiu, which literally means ‘human demon’.
Sometimes on local TV, you see a male actor dressed as a woman. They’re never fishy, instead presented as ‘obviously a man’; like Yu Fai, a character from Stephen Chow’s films. They’re meant to be a joke, something sick and funny for the audience. So even though I have always known that I am gay (and so did my family, it turns out) I had always told myself not to be a sissy or femme. I told myself not to be me.
When I first saw RuPaul’s Drag Race, I was disgusted in a way, because society had taught me that it is gross for a man to dress as a woman. But the more I watched, the more I appreciated the girls’ hard work, from creating their own outfits to styling the hair and beating their faces.
And not just their appearance, but the way they would support each other, like real sisters. Even after the show, you would hear stories of contestants raising money for one of the girls because she was sick or was losing her apartment. And through all this, they could still make fun of each other and throw shade.
Mama Ru says, “As gay people, we get to choose our own family. We are all family.” Drag Race taught me that; it taught me how to find my beautiful family, my friends, gay, straight or bi, local or foreigner, watching the show together.
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.