IN PHOTOS: Becoming Venice
SHANGHAI, China — “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” – Pope Francis
It took Venice many years to articulate the questions she asked herself: “Can I do it? Or if I was younger, would I have done it?” Was she socially ready to undergo a makeover considering she has not opened up to her immediate family regarding her homosexuality?
This was her personal issue. This was her primary struggle.
It is in her own realization that she is of age and not getting any younger, in her recognition of not wanting to have any regrets later on in life and the importance of fulfilling her need to express herself, she delved into learning the art form of Drag.
For many years, she accumulated knowledge and materials but it was only in 2013 that she began to become Venice.
It’s so funny because my friends knew it, while I didn’t.
When I was younger, 9, 10, 11 years old, probably even when I was 7, I would hear people calling me gay.
And I did not understand why. I really did not understand why.
Probably, subconsciously it’s like, “Oh, Vinnie (not real name), they’re probably laughing at you because of the way you walk.”
But at that time, I was denying it. I even had a crush (on a girl)
People were saying, “You are gay, and you cannot be friends with guys.”
And so eventually, my friends were female... when I was in elementary.
I was in Grade 6 when I realized that I was also emulating or copying their (girl friends) emotions towards men. Just like the attraction.
I was in Grade 6, when they were saying, “Oh look, this guy, Charley (not real name) is so cute!” And they were talking about it.
And then I realize that, “Charley is so cute.” I got close to the guy…
Over time, it evolved, developed that feeling, that I am attracted to a guy.
And that was the time I accepted I was gay.
“Can I change that? How can I change that?” I could not
I couldn’t change the way I walk. I couldn’t change the way I talk. I couldn’t change the way I laugh.
I believe it’s more of the environment.
I was a Mama’s Boy.
Lets take it differently. Lets change some of the story.
What if I didn’t question my masculinity? What if people did not tease me?
Would I have questioned my masculinity, or think that I’m a boy versus a gay?
I’ve been saying to myself, I don’t want to be at an age where I would say, “Why didn’t I do it?” When I had the opportunity...”
I am actually not getting any younger.
If I see someone who looks like a woman but is actually a gay, I would tell myself “Why didn’t I get myself into it?”
So from then on, I have always been on a constant struggle of, “Can I do it? Or if I was younger, would I have done it?”
Considering also I am not open to my family.
That is also one of the struggles.
It has been bugging me
I need to be able to do that.
When can I become like that? What I’ve been seeing?
I didn’t know how to put on make-up. Everything was self-study.
I was really planning to do it. Even if I only executed it last year, but two years ago, I had it on my mind already.
Every night, after work, I would go and research in You Tube.
When I figured it out, I had to test it
I needed to have the confidence.
Number one, I needed to have that confidence that I will be thought of as a woman when I go outside.
I can only do this in Shanghai because the locals and the foreigners most probably will not be able to make the distinction.
If I do this in my home country, most would know that I’m different.
Before the challenges (on RuPaul*), you will see them in their real form, as men
And during the challenge, they would transform themselves into women.
It really is a transformation.
I realized that’s what I want!
*RuPaul Season 03, Episode 13
When my dad passed away...
It was the people during the wake who were telling me, “You know your dad already knew from a very… long time ago, (he) was already telling us.
Maybe, out of respect, he didn’t tell you, but he has been telling us.
He knew. He knows.”
And he would say, “Love” (Mom), you’re lucky because your son is not getting married.
Even if I pass away, he’s going to take care of you.”
Until now, I carry the sadness of... I wish we have been much closer.
Or that I have spent more time with him.
My father’s death was revealing
If my father did not die, I would not have found out how they really felt about me.
I’ve always been scared of telling them or talking about it…
They’ve always been accepting.
They said my father always knew (I was gay).
But he never spoke about it.
So it was revealing for me.
Not verbalized. Never in our home. We never talked about it
Up until now, we never talk about it. I wouldn’t really…
I will not deliberately show them Venice, not to my family. I wouldn’t.
Up until now, otherwise I would be posting it in Facebook.
Because probably I also want … I’m also thinking…
I don’t want it to be an embarrassing thing for them as well.
Maybe I’m just thinking that.
Intriguing. In the original, she (the painting, Rituel) only has half her face.
The other eye wasn’t actually showing. I wanted to complete her face.
Her expression, it’s intriguing.
The painter fashioned it from Scarlett Johansson. I didn’t expect her to turn out like this. I don’t like the curly hair. I don’t like the eye. She’s not that perfect.
Is it creepy? That’s why I keep it.
Some people might find it creepy.
Drag Queens do not want to be called transvestites, because they’re not.
It’s complex since they also don’t want to be referred to as cross-dressers, because for them cross-dressing is more of the psychological need. There is a personality disorder about it, wherein they cannot relate themselves from the physical man, which is why they have to cross-dress.
Drag is really more of entertainment for them.
The Drag, sometimes they would want to be referred to as Gender-Illusionists, a performer.
It’s a politically acceptable term for those who would be transforming and performing.
The performance part is something I am still trying to figure out.
My friends would laugh, because definitely at most times I refer to her as a third person.
“Venice is not going to come. Venice, I left her behind. Venice says this. I have to buy this for Venice…”
Venice really needs to find a character.
I am still trying to find my character.
Because I can still sometimes not separate her from me.
I don’t want to have a medical change physically. That was always out of the question.
What I want is like this—it’s like a dress that I put on and when I don’t want it anymore, when I need to keep it, I can keep it.
It’s like a costume.
So transplant or sexual re-assignment is out of the question.
Find your purpose in doing drag.
That will give you the drive to perfect the craft.
Study it. Really study it. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of practice.
It’s an art form.
And understand the difference—what drag is, what cross-dressing is and everything else.
You will not be able to call yourself a Drag Queen if you are not able to perform to the audience.
Performance. That’s one of the struggles I still am in.
You really need to study yourself and identify who you can be.
You could be a comic drag, a beauty drag, singer, dancer. There are varieties, as long as you entertain in drag. Which means you transform.
And after that show, you’ll change back to yourself, no one recognizes you.
I could do a cooking show. I need to plan it.
Maybe create a studio in my other room. So this will be a green… green backdrop.
I can come in in three characters. One is the formal Vinnie, who goes to the office; the other one is the gay who puts on gay make-up, and the other one is Venice, who really thinks that she is a girl.
I’ve been meaning to do that. Do a cooking show. Or do something.
But again, time.
There are just so many things that I really want to do. To be creative. Sometimes this is just a challenge. To research. To know what kind of camera. I don’t even know how to use those green backdrops. I don’t know how to edit them.
So I need to practice, to study.
I call it an art, because it really is an art
I want it to become an art instead of being laughed at in the streets.
I studied it, still studying it until now.
I may have perfected the transformation but I have not gone through the talent of it, which is the entertainment part.
Yes. I want to have fun. This is happiness to me.
Why not? Why should I deprive myself from being creative?
There are many possibilities. I just want to find out.
Give it time to… like in innovation, incubate.
There are so many things that I really want to do.
I really want to incubate to discover myself what I can do… this is my creative side.
It’s pursuing art, expressing myself.
As a perpetual student of photography, Owen has a deep appreciation for abstract, landscape and street photography. Becoming Venice, a work of 10 months, was presented on December 13, 2014, as the final requirement for the Diploma in Photojournalism at the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism, Ateneo de Manila University. Becoming Venice is his first serious documentary work. Owen is based outside the Philippines with his wife Lara and their son, Xavier.
All photographs by Owen C. Tiam –Rappler.com