For the first time in the history of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a Taiwanese queen has entered the competition and she is a force to be reckoned with. 

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a reality TV show that features drag queens competing in various challenges to earn the coveted title of this year’s “Drag Race Superstar” and a grand prize of two hundred thousand dollars. Season 16 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” premiered on January 5th and will continue until the finale where one of the sixteen queens earns the title. 

Most people think of drag queens as queer men who wear clothing and makeup that exaggerate stereotypical feminine features, but drag is far more than that. A typical drag performance features lip-syncing and dancing to a well-known song while including comedic or ironic elements. 

But the underlying message of these hyper-feminized performances is both a parody and critique of society’s expectations of women’s bodies. Furthermore, drag queens are not limited to gay men, but include cis men, trans men, trans women, cis women, and nonbinary people of all sexualities. 

With the extremely diverse community that makes up drag queens, a reality show like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a highly relevant form of representation. While “Drag Race” does include competitors of all backgrounds, Asian representation on “Drag Race” has been lacking over the past sixteen seasons compared to other ethnicities. This means that the queer Asian community is missing out on a validating form of representation that the queens on this show have to offer.

Asian representation on a show featuring people of different genders and sexualities is especially important because of the widespread homophobia and transphobia that prevail in many Asian countries. 

The experiences of gay Asian Americans create a double marginalization: “firstly, in the mainstream Asian American community for being gay; and secondly, in the gay community for being Asian”. Despite the LGBTQ+ community being rooted in inclusivity, many minorities feel rejected from the overall community and Asians are no exception. A study done by FS Magazine reported that 79% of Asian men and 75% of South Asian men have experienced racism on the gay scene. This oppression within an already oppressed community makes it all the more essential for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to have adequate representation. 

In every prior season, there have never been more than three Asian queens in a single season. In the past, the Asian queens who have made it to the top or have made a name for themselves post-drag race have done so by leaning into Asian stereotypes with few exceptions. Asian men have a history of being feminized in the United States and this prevailing stereotype has led Asian queens to rely on their looks instead of the comedy or performance aspects of drag. 

Drag queens who rely on their makeup are called “look queens” and the most stereotypically feminine queens are referred to as “fishy.” The majority of Asian queens fall into these categories and often do better on the show if they lean into these roles. 

Gia Gunn, a Japanese American drag queen, is known to be a “fishy” queen and immediately made it known that this was the role she would be capitalizing on as she entered the set of “Drag Race” and proclaimed, “Just got off the boat. You know, a little trip from Asia. Just landed like fresh tilapia.” 

While she didn’t make it very far in the competition, she gained notoriety from being a self-proclaimed “fishy” queen. 

Another Asian queen who did make it to the top four is Kim Chi, a Korean drag queen who is an accomplished make-up artist. She wasn’t very adept at dancing, singing or comedy challenges, but her exquisite looks and artistry took her all the way to the finale. 

Along with being expected to exploit their natural features, Asian drag queens are also expected to represent their culture in a way that is not expected of their Caucasian competitors. It is difficult for Asian queens to make it to the top four competitors without depending on their looks or culture. 

Nymphia Wind, the sole Asian competitor of this season of “Drag Race,” is taking the Asian drag scene by storm with her comedy and obsession with the color yellow. 

While the majority of Asian drag queens that have participated in the show have relied on their looks, Nymphia is serving face along with funny. She entered the set of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” decked out in yellow and slipped on a banana peel. She made it clear right off the bat that she would be utilizing comedy in her drag, combatting generational stereotypes and feminization of Asian men. 

Along with her comedy, she made a strong statement with the yellow outfit which Nymphia has made clear is an ongoing theme in her drag. The color yellow is a derogatory way of describing East Asian people and their threat to Western society. This derives from the “Yellow Peril” in the mid-19th century, when Americans were feeling threatened by the surge of immigration, primarily from China to America. This fear was rooted in concerns that the influx of East Asian immigrants would lead to job shortages, as well as the general fear of foreigners. Nymphia Wind took this racially charged color and embraced it to represent her pride in Asian and Taiwanese culture. 

While Nymphia is continuously turning Asian stereotypes on their head, she is also providing beautiful insights into her culture. Her fashion often features traditional Taiwanese elements and she even performed a traditional Chinese sleeve dance with all the flare of a drag performance. She posted on her Instagram stating, “Of course I had to take this chance to really show what us Asians are made of.” 

She is definitely a contestant to watch out for this season as she has proven that she is multi-faceted and talented in multiple areas of drag. Most of her fashion looks are meticulously self-made and she incorporates Asian details into her designs, such as a Chinese knot to represent good fortune on one of her headpieces. 

Nymphia Wind is a sign of changing sentiment toward what Asian queens are capable of and their areas of expertise. Based purely on statistics of wins and losses, Nymphia is in the top five and a clear contender for the top four that will advance to the finale. Not only is she a statistically probable winner but fans of the show have taken to various online message boards to proclaim that their pick for this season is Nymphia Wind

This is not to disparage the Asian queens that have already been on the show and their accomplishments, but to say that the Asian drag scene is growing and changing as more queens like Nymphia take the stage and choose unique methods of representing their heritage and culture. The other competitors had better watch out, because Nymphia’s future is looking bright… or should I say yellow. 

Photo credit: Siora Photography


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