There is more to drag than just queer folks wearing heels

While the inaugural season of ‘Drag Den Philippines’ is about to end, its mission to elevate the art of local drag continues

Drag definitely has taken the world by storm. What once a scene that only existed in nightclubs, drag has become one of the defining pop culture elements in the past decade, taking everyone on a dazzling journey filled with over-the-top wigs, stunning mugs, and lip-synching performances that birthed countless memes online. In the Philippines, gay pageants have been of the many pillars that helped the art of drag to survive. And with it becoming mainstream, thanks to reality-competition shows hitting our streaming time, drag is no longer a craft to be ridiculed, but becomes a different kind of performance art.

Among the series helping to cement drag as a form of art locally is “Drag Den Philippines.” The show, led by director Rod Singh with international drag superstar Manila Luzon, brought together eight Filipino drag artists vying to become its first-ever Drag Supreme. Throughout its short and sweet first season, the series introduced local and international audiences to the vibrant and unique queer culture of the Philippines. 

As shared during the show’s bonus episode, “Drag Den Philippines” is inspired by a local underground drag pageant. It is not new for Rod to direct a project that centers on LGBTQIA+ culture, but taking the drag pageant from the clubs to a global streaming platform, Prime Video, presented a lot of challenges.

“One of the things that exceeded my expectations was the struggle,” the director confesses. “There were no other drag shows when we pitched ‘Drag Den,’ even during the time when it was green-lit.” The challenges arrived a month after its casting call when another drag competition show, “Drag Race Philippines,” entered the scene and the two shows were pitted against each other. But looking back at the process and where “Drag Den Philippines” is now, Rod feels that she achieved many of her goals and plans to do more as she hopes for the show to get a second season. 

Ang tingin na nila sa amin ay game changer, when in fact, ang mindset noon ay wala lang, gawa lang tayo ng drag show (Many saw the show as a game changer, when in fact, our mindset then was just to create a drag show,” she tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “Now, kung ‘yun man ang purpose na sineserve ni ‘Drag Den,’ I am very much willing to play the game (Now, if that was the purpose ‘Drag Den’ has served, I am very much willing to play the game).”

'Drag Den Philippines' contestants Lady Gagita, Pura Luka Vega, Maria Cristina, Shewarma, Barbie-Q, Naia Black, Aries Night, and O-A

Compared to other drag-themed shows, “Drag Den Philippines” is not afraid to ditch the euphoric side of drag by taking its viewers to an underground world in Manila. It challenges norms and sheds light on some of the issues Pinoy queer folks experience and even beyond. The show made huge statements by putting its contestants in wedding dresses, creating its own rally on stage, and normalizing discussion about politics, even if it is hard. Sure, drag fans may have missed some “lip-synch for your life” moments. But what it gave to its audience is the gift of knowing that being a “baklang kanal” is something to be proud of, that having a “pusong mamon” equates to having a brave heart, and that the art of drag can be a form of protest.

A testament to the latter is the show’s finalists. While all forms of drag are valid, finalists Shewarma and Naia Black believe that drag has a greater purpose than just bringing fantasy and joy onto the stage. 

“Regardless of your political stance, if you do your makeup, you do drag, and you put on your wig, you’re a drag queen, technically, only by definition,” Naia muses. “For me, drag queens without their heart in the right place off-putting. A drag queen advocacy…hindi puro ganda lang, may pinaglalaban (it is not just about beauty, there is something you’re fighting for).” 

Pag nag-drag ka, matik ‘yun na political ka (When you do drag, automatically you’re political),” Shewarman adds. “Even if you’re not vocal about politics, your drag itself is political.”

Host Manila Luzon also elaborates that protesting through drag is beyond just queens voicing their concerns. As seen on the show, although some contestants are timid, their drag tells the story about their causes. 

“It can be a silent message as well, like what Aries is doing,” Manila states. “She’s soft-spoken but her drag is very loud without her saying anything. That is the power drag has, the power people have as they choose how to dress and present themselves to the world. What we do is inspiring in that way.”

The mission of “Drag Den Philippines” continues on the street, making drag accessible to anyone through its “Dragdagulan.” As the show is about to close its first season, the director hopes that it contributed to shaping how Filipinos view drag and making the local drag scene thrive. 

“I hope that each and every drag queen, regardless if they are part of our cast or working in clubs, get decent pay. Because even the drag queens working in the most expensive clubs are so underpaid,” Rod says. “I hope ‘Drag Den Philippines,’ as well as ‘Drag Race Philippines,’ could change this landscape.”

We're keeping our fingers crossed that the show will get a sophomore season. Salamat pose!

‘Drag Den with Manila Luzon’ season’s finale will be available on Jan. 26, 7 p.m., on Prime Video, where fans will see the top three contestants—Naia, Shewarma, and Maria Cristina—compete for the title of “Drag Supreme.” A live finale concert and grand coronation night will also take place on the same date, 6 p.m., at SM Aura Samsung Hall.

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