Clinically diagnosed with severe hearing loss in both ears, Panthera Arma found drag as a way to express herself. Let’s learn what enriches her art and dive into her unique perspective.
“Disability is not a hindrance in achieving your dreams and goals,” articulates Panthera Arma, and perfectly at that.
The profound effect of seeing people we deeply relate to on TV allows us to feel understood and can fuel dreams and ambitions. Panthera Arma, who is a deaf/hard-of-hearing drag artist, clinically diagnosed with severe hearing loss in both ears, says, “Queens with certain conditions who’ve joined RuPaul’s Drag Race inspired me to pursue being a drag artist regardless of one’s disability.” She’s referring to Colorado sisters (who won in their seasons) Yvie Oddly, who’s living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and Willow Pill, who’s been diagnosed with cystinosis.
“Little Armored One”
Her drag journey began just one month after the groundbreaking win of Precious Paula Nicole as the first crowned queen of Drag Race Philippines. “Panthera Arma is a drag tita who loves the 80s and the 90s,” she says about her drag persona. “The name Arma came from armadillos—animals which are nearly blind and deaf.” The armadillo is a Spanish word that means “little armored one” because of its hard outer shell. Drag has been described many times as an armor that an artist wears.
Just like many enthusiasts and eventual drag artists, Panthera learned and practiced doing her makeup with the guidance of the ever-reliable YouTube. She spent considerable time learning the ropes and saving for some wigs and dresses. “I buy from thrift stores and second-hand costumes from well-known drag queens,“ she furthers. “I’ve just started designing my own clothes and having limited makeup.” She’s self-aware enough to know that her skills still have a lot of room to grow, but she has improved dramatically since she started roughly six months ago.
Experiences As A Performer
Panthera Arma likes to take her time choosing songs and practicing them. She ensures that the songs will be relatable to a particular audience and that she can relay its message through her emotions and lip-sync abilities. “I give my whole heart to the song. I practice the songs very well, plan ahead of the performance, and put my heart into it. It’s magic when I actually do it,” she says.
“It’s very challenging, to be honest, because I don’t really hear the music well,” she reveals. Panthera uses a hearing aid device to help her hear music. “It has its limitations since it might malfunction during a performance. I just make sure that it’s in perfect condition before my performance begins.”
She reveals that she’s experienced bullying, but refuses to fight back and wants to work hard to prove them all wrong. “We are not that different. We just need more time to be understood,” she says.
Some people hesitate to communicate with her, thinking she won’t understand them. She relates, “It is an awful misconception that people with hearing loss are stupid and unsuccessful. We have a lot of amazing deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who have proven these wrong, and I would love to be part of this change.” She also wishes her audience would see past her condition and just enjoy the show. The dominant hearing culture views deaf people with pity, and most hard-of-hearing individuals don’t want it. They want our respect, and as such, it is but right we give them that.
To further underscore this sentiment, Panthera Arma dreams of performing for the Metro Manila Pride March. “The song will, This Is Me,” she says in full hope. “The song is all about standing up for yourself, being proud of who you are, accepting yourself regardless of your disability and insecurities, and loving yourself unconditionally.”