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Can drag be too political? The queens of ‘Drag Den’ weigh in

Amanda T. Lago

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Can drag be too political? The queens of ‘Drag Den’ weigh in

QUEENS. The cast of 'Drag Den Philippines' share their thoughts on the political side of drag.

Amanda Lago/Rappler

As finalist Shewarma puts it: 'Pag naka-drag ako, kaya ko sabihin lahat'

MANILA, Philippines – The phrase “drag is political” has been thrown around so much in recent years, but never has it been more true than on recently concluded drag reality show Drag Den Philippines.

Arguably, no other drag show has leaned in to drag’s political roots as hard as Drag Den has. While other shows highlight the silliness, glamour, and entertainment value of drag, Drag Den did not hold back from pushing the art form’s ability to start conversations on important social issues.

Sociopolitical commentary is woven into the show’s DNA – from host Manila Luzon’s closing spiels that throw shade at oppressive systems, to challenges that push the competing drag queens to speak up, whether through their larger-than-life looks or their performances.

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In the first episode alone, we see Lady Gagita dissing the Pharmally scandal by wearing a giant face shield, which she dubbed “the national headband.” In the episode that followed, the queens were tasked to do a comedy sketch about Philippine politics, and they turned up as every politician stereotype imaginable. 

In episode six, not at all subtly titled “Drag is Political,” the contenders had to wear their best protest fashion. In the same episode, they had to speak up on their advocacies – from trans rights, to ending bullying.

Outspoken as the show and its queens are, it comes as no surprise that not everyone would agree with them. On Twitter, some viewers asked if the show was getting “too political.”

As far as the queens are concerned, there’s no such thing as “too political.” For contender Pura Luka Vega, being outspoken is par for the course when it comes to drag.

“It’s not something to be shocked about, when drag queens become political. the act of putting on makeup, being loud and proud and out there is already political,” she said at a Drag Den press conference on Tuesday, January 24.

Can drag be too political? The queens of ‘Drag Den’ weigh in

Meanwhile, NAIA Black, who was crowned the competition’s winner on Thursday, January 26, said that it’s about redirecting the attention that they get as performers to worthy causes.

Before the show aired, NAIA, then a student at the University of the Philippines, became known for her Tiktok videos where she debunked Martial Law myths dressed in full drag. Now with the title of “Drag Supreme” and a bigger platform, she shows no signs of stopping.

“ As drag queens we do command so much attention, and I feel like that attention can be used for the greater good and to further platforms and advocacies that we need in this society. As drag queens, maganda na nga kami, may advocacy pa (we’re not only beautiful, we also have an advocacy), like beauty queens as well,” she said.

She added that the community built around drag makes it easier to raise your voice.

“I think here in the Philippines, there is really a culture to silence dissent. So drag in itself as queer people doing this, it’s truly a protest and you know we learn to stand by each other. It’s easier to be together,” she said. “It’s like a rally almost, when all the Drag Den queens are together with the cast and crew, it’s really a rally.” 

“It’s hard to fight when you’re alone, but when we’re together as a family, it’s so much easier to…talk shit,” she laughed.

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That being said, as contender Lady Gagita pointed out, being outspoken also comes with its challenges. Facing criticisms and bashers online is inevitable when they speak up.

“Hindi naman talaga maiiwasan ‘yung pressure, lalo na kung ang country natin is nahahati sa dalawang sides. And of course there is always the good side, there is always an evil side. So nagkakaroon talaga kami ng bashers online, nagkakaroon talaga kami ng detractors online, so ang pinaka-ano ko na lang diyan is, we will just stick to the truth,” she explained.

(We can’t avoid pressure, especially if our country is divided into two sides. And of course there is always the good side, there is always an evil side. So we really face bashers online, we face detractors online. My take on that is, we will just stick to the truth.)

Beyond the signal boost that drag provides, the art form itself – blending fashion, visual art, comedy, and theater – lends itself well to all forms of dissent, allowing even the softest voices to be heard. 

“For someone like me who is soft spoken and an introvert, I love the way that drag for me serves as this sort of medium to not verbally necessarily but to somehow deliver messages through visuals,” said contender Aries Night.

Ultimately, drag also empowers the artists themselves. 

Besides sa pagiging political, naging vocal ako dahil sa drag (Aside from being political, I became vocal through drag),” said finalist Shewarma, who shared that it was in drag that she was able to come out to her family. 

So for me, super powerful ng drag kasi ‘pag naka-drag ako, kaya ko sabihin lahat (drag is super powerful, because when I’m in drag, I can say anything),” she said.

All eight episodes of Drag Den Philippines are streaming on Prime Video. – Rappler.com

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.