Alyssa Edwards, Manila Luzon, Eva Le Queen, Ongina, Pangina Heals, and more evolve beyond the chrysalis where each backstage moment is a passage through Wonderland
“I love your pants, darling!” Alyssa Edwards told me, as she tried on a monarch butterfly gown by Ehrran Montoya. She was cinched, pinched, and locked, strapped to her chrysalis. Fabric layered on top of one another, embellished with crystals that sparkled and dripped, and gems that glittered and glinted under the light; some flashed her hair, too. Naturally, she looked like a scintillating butterfly. Who would have thought someone resembling a butterfly would tell me my pants looked good? It was like a scene from Alice in Wonderland—I was Alice, and the backstage of Drag Revolution Manila – The Revamp was Wonderland.
Behind the sequins and beneath the hair
As I wandered through and through, my senses were enveloped in the enchanting panorama of transformations. This Wonderland, with queens donned in extravagant attire, mirrors reflecting kaleidoscopic images, and the air buzzing fantastical moments fanning behind the scenes, became a delightful absurdity that is the nature of the drag universe.
The queens carry with them the spirit of uprising, challenging standards, and embracing the extraordinary. Through this event, it was a celebration of the fluidity of beauty and the resilience of authenticity. They sashay through these parallel dimensions, brought together by the community.
Queens unite in this display of high glam, higher hair, and the highest shoes. Lipstick was smudged and fixed, eyeshadow was removed and replaced, and a thousand pins were strategically placed on every strand of hair: structured, soft, and straight as ever. Or at least, as straight as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was like the multiverse of madness—sometimes, from other realities. These realities? The international Drag Race and our very own Drag Den.
From international juggernauts to local homage
In its 16-year run since 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race—created by none other than Queen of Drag RuPaul—has not only spanned the globe but has become a cultural powerhouse, catering initially to a niche demographic within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. The award-winning show’s longevity, marked by funny antics, expressive actions, creative displays, and campy production, has propelled it to new heights and promises continued expansion.
On the other hand, the local Drag Den, led by the incomparable Manila Luzon, derives its essence from various beauty pageants, shaping challenges rooted in the rich identity of the Philippines. In this uniquely curated space, queens take the stage bringing forth a fusion of Filipino drag excellence and a homage to the cultural diversity that makes the Prime Video show a personal spectacle.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not the flashy elements that make it massive; rather, it’s the compelling representative stories that have deeply reverberated with diverse audiences, enamoring countless viewers with the authentic experiences shared on its stage. Empathy, after all, is how we connect.
Manila Luzon beams with pride as she reflects on Drag Race and Drag Den in the Philippines. “We’re already having these huge turn-outs, these huge events, and I’m so proud this is actually happening,” she exclaims. “Before, a club could only afford one drag queen at a time, and now they can bring in some of the biggest names in drag, fly them across the ocean, put on a show, confide in all of the stars in the Philippines—It’s great, I love it.”
Her words resonate with a sense of accomplishment, emphasizing the rapid and impactful transformation of the drag scene in the country. From limited performances to extravagant events featuring renowned drag personalities, her sentiment captures the sheer excitement and positive shift in the Philippines’ drag culture. “I think the Philippines deserves a little camp, a little glamour.”
“It’s going to be brighter than ever,” declares Eva Le Queen with inexhaustible confidence. “Since Drag Race, drag queens are able to steer the wheel of their own careers.” It’s a newfound choice, one they didn’t have much of before. Now, the reins are entirely in their hands, and the possibilities are unfolding for each and every one of them.
“You want to produce a show, you want to go on television, you want to do YouTube, you want to own a club, you want to mentor younger queens—whatever you want to do with your career, you’re finally able to do it.”Eva Le Queen on the different careers available to Drag Queens today
Thai drag royalty and host of Drag Race Thailand, Pangina Heals says, “Drag is a creative energy. Every time I’m here, I’m so charged with such positivity.” She conveys an infectious excitement towards the globality of drag such as those who can travel outside their home country to experience the cultures of other drag queens.
In Pangina’s perspective, this shared experience cultivates a sisterhood within the drag community. She articulates the thrill when Asian queens travel across oceans, carrying with them cross-cultural appreciation and connection. “Every time I see an Asian representation, it’s not only important, but I’m immensely proud,” she shares. “When girls from Asia, when we go across the pond, it is so great because we’re representing our culture, our fashion, everything of who we are, and it’s so exciting for the world to learn more about us.”
Despite their formidable personas, adorned with resplendent gowns and impeccable makeup, the queens couldn’t conceal the undercurrent of vulnerability and nervousness that accompanied their on-stage performances. It begged the question: How could these seasoned queens, veterans of numerous global stages, still grapple with nerves even in the comfort of their home country?
“I can’t breathe,” admits Ongina with a hint of openness. “I always get nervous, but I get excited,” she exclaims. Each new crowd and experience brings a fresh set of expectations, creating a dynamic atmosphere. The nerves and excitement blend to shape their performance, a reflection of the unique energy that each new setting brings.
Typically, one expects a sense of ease when performing on home turf. However, this paradox revealed its wings a profound truth: drag art is a serious and revered profession. These queens, akin to professionals in medicine, law, or design, are committed to their craft. The juxtaposition of their fierce exterior with the palpable nervous energy beneath underscores the gravity and respect accorded to the world of drag as a legitimate and impactful profession.
A profound sense of awe enveloped me, not just due to the unquestionable legitimacy of drag as a career path, but because, within their vulnerability, these queens touched a chord deep within my being. It was an emotional connection that went beyond the boundaries of drag, forging a link that bound us through the universal language of art. As they bared themselves on stage, confronting exposure with courage, I experienced a resonance that left an impression on my soul.
While Wonderland may evoke images of a fantasy existing in a different reality, what develops in the backstage of Drag Revolution Manila – The Revamp is a reality that outperforms the confines of imagination. It is a reality that unfurls like a chrysalis, not birthing a monarch, but a radiant diamond, a living fantasy made tangible by the trailblazing queens who shape it. This Wonderland, far from being a figment of whimsy, is our peculiar reality—one that constantly evolves, bearing witness to the resilience, authenticity, and transformative power of the drag universe into our world.
Drag Revolution Manila – The Revamp 2024 was produced by Beyond Limits Events Production
Photography: TIMOTHY DUEÑAS