On today’s episode of the Behind The Drag podcast, we talk to Wang Newton, The Vixen and Maebe A. Girl about how they use activism and social commentary to push the boundaries of drag artistry.
Drag king Wang Newton is a flashy performer that plays on gender and racial stereotypes to stretch the limits of how we perceive identity. For Newton, that means playing on society’s ideas of both masculine and Asian identities.
Newton uses drag to “redefine what masculinity is,” and describes his stage persona as a “cheesy, masculine, suited, Vegas-y guy.”
“Wang is a joker, but at the same time Wang is a superhero — the guy that saves the day because of that positive, joyously mad attitude,” Newton tells In The Know.
But audiences may be surprised to learn that the showy showman hasn’t always been so confident.
Born in Taiwan and immigrating to the U.S. at age 5, Newton initially struggled to find a queer community. “I didn’t see many people around me who were queer,” Newton shared. “Coming out of the closet was a slow process. There was a bit of shame. It felt taboo. At the same time, I remember Oprah said it was OK, so…”
Not long after coming out, Newton delved into the world of drag—at a Halloween party no less.
“I just started doing duets with everyone at the party,” Newton told In The Know. “Wang Newton was born.”
A huge part of Newton’s drag journey is exploring his identity as both queer and Asian, and finding power through stereotypes.
“You have gender plus ethnic stereotypes,” Newton says. “So I like to say I ‘culture f***.’ I will switch it up on you. I will do all those stereotypes so there’s nothing left for you to really say.”
But Newton does a lot of inner work and checks in so that he feels like he knows himself enough beneath the stereotypes to harness them.
“You must know who you truly are and from there you can express everything,” Newton said. “Drag gives you freedom. There is something that we don’t allow ourselves to fully be. I think drag allows you that.”
Anthony Taylor from Chicago, also known as The Vixen, uses drag to speak up for the Black community at large, and in the world of drag.
“I use my show ‘Black Girl Magic’ to uplift [Black women], celebrate them, and also give them space for them to be exactly who they are without pandering to anything else,” The Vixen told In The Know.
“I’ve always been a little bit afraid to speak out,” she shared. “In the beginning, I thought drag queens weren’t allowed to say this. I thought I, as a Black kid, wasn’t going to be able to speak out or make a difference in these ways.”
But “Black Girl Magic” provides an outlet to speak out on those issues that are close to The Vixen’s heart.
“‘Black Girl Magic’ is my show that is comprised completely of Black drag queens,” she told In The Know. “Male, female, transgender.”
The monthly show takes place at Roscoe’s in Chicago’s Boystown, which according to The Vixen, “was once a very segregated area. So to have a show that celebrates Black drag queens in the heart of an area that used to be very controversial and not very open-minded is progress,” she said.
Trailblazing in the face of hardship is what drag is all about for The Vixen.
“I think drag queens are a beacon of adversity,” she told In The Know. “Especially back in the day. You had to have the balls to go outside in a wig, heels. Not only be visible but be a target.”
She hopes that her performances bring awareness to the struggles that drag performers have faced historically, nd inspire confidence in others.
“Regular people can look at drag queens and get that confidence and say, ‘You know what? I just need to go out because there’s a good time being had without me,’” she said.
“I hope people leave my show feeling like ‘I can do anything,’ because to see some kid from the South Side of Chicago turn a whole community that was not very open-minded into a celebration of Black drag queens is impossible,” she admits. “So if I can do that, you can do anything.”
Maebe A. Girl is the first drag queen elected to public office in the U.S. and currently serves on the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, in Los Angeles, California.
Two of her big priorities on the council are LGBTQIA issues as well as homelessness in Los Angeles.
“I briefly volunteered for the Lincoln Park community shelter as one of their overnight supervisors and essentially I would go and stay overnight with the shelter,” she told In The Know. “And one of the things that struck me immediately is that a lot of these people are just like you and me.”
She explained that 40 percent of homeless youth in Los Angeles are LGBTQIA people.
“They’re kicked out of their homes. They’re less employable. They’re not given as many opportunities,” she explains. “I think that these are all some of the tragedies of the society that we live in, so that’s one of the reasons I want to advocate specifically for LGBTQIA issues and homelessness issues.”
When it comes to meshing politics and drag, Maebe views it as a natural pairing.
“Drag is inherently political, and that’s sort of interesting [because] even though I’m a political queen, every queen is technically a political queen,” she told In The Know. “Because just the act of going out dressed in a way that is gender non-conforming is making a political and social statement. It is you living your true colors, feeling free enough to express yourself in the way you want to express yourself without having society tell you that you can’t. That’s why drag has been so liberating for me because it allows me to embrace who I am and what I’m about.”
Maebe hopes her involvement in politics can inspire other people in the drag community to get involved, too.
“I’ve had people message me saying ‘I want to get into politics but I also want to do drag and I didn’t think that I could do both until you showed me that I can’ and that’s just so touching and inspiring to me that I want to keep doing that,” she told In The Know.
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