Beijing drag queens tell it how it is

We meet the city's hottest divas

Elizabeth Stride

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Age 33
Place of birth York, United Kingdom
Arrived in Beijing August 2008
Her lip-sync jams 'All That Jazz' from Chicago, or Taylor Swift's 'Shake it Off'
Her drag mothers 'Bianca del Rio for polish, BenDeLaCreme for heart'

'Elizabeth is an acid-tongued Chelsea native with a ferocious gin habit who wouldn’t be caught decomposing in a ditch wearing synthetic fabrics. In her spare time she writes romance novels for dogs and enjoys shooting, riding and discreet dalliances with groundskeepers, yoga teachers and minor heads of state.'

Describe your first time in drag.
Elizabeth Stride made her debut at the head of vocal trio The Fascinators back in 2013. It was exhilarating to walk out in heels for the first time and suddenly be the focus of an entire room, even if my makeup was busted and my wig was a cheap mop-top. That experience – and the response we got – also taught me that looking the part isn’t enough: you’ve got to be a performer.

Why is Western-style drag just now taking off in Beijing?
RuPaul’s Drag Race changed everything – not just because of its stellar entertainment value, but because it represents a diverse, empowered queer identity in a way most Chinese people have never experienced either on- or off-screen. China has opened up in an extraordinary way since I first visited in 2004 – I remember police raids on gay bars, for instance. But in terms of queer identity there’s often a commercial taint to it – the abs, the white tees, going to Songkran. RuPaul’s queens show a kaleidoscope of ways to be gay, particularly a gay man, and that message has really been a lifeline to thousands of queer Chinese people who didn’t fit into the mainstream.

Why does drag matter to you?
Beyond loving to play dress-up? Drag is a political act and I see it as a vitally important platform celebrating gender fluidity. Some branches of feminist and gender studies see drag as reinforcing negative gender stereotypes, but for me it’s something else – a sort of hyper-femininity that actually lampoons sexist notions of what a woman should be. Drag queens visibly challenge conventional notions of gender expression, adopting bulletproof characters that conceal our identities, and so we can act as ambassadors for queer people without fear. Drag queens are often at the forefront of LGBT acceptance movements precisely because our wigs, our makeup and our heels are both our weapons and our armour.

TigerLily

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Age 31
Place of birth Santa Maria, California
Arrived in Beijing August 2009
Her lip-sync jams Nicki Minaj's 'Anaconda' – 'because TigerLily's twerk game is on fire!'
Her drag mother 'Krystal de Canteur! She has already amplified TigerLily 100 percent and taught me what it really takes not just to look fierce but to be it. She shows incredible patience and hard work in working for our cause.'

'TigerLily has taken her sweet-ass time to figure out what she wants to be and can’t seem to make up her damn mind. She doesn’t limit herself: she’s all about laying it all out there for the crowd to see. Her personality is as big as her ass and she doesn’t apologise for either.'

Describe your first time in drag.
Since I could remember, I’ve always enjoyed putting on my mother’s heels and trying on her lipstick, but my first time in full drag was attending UCLA’s Gay Prom when I was 17. It was exhilarating and I’m sure I looked all kinds of jank. I borrowed my best friend’s mother’s royal-blue Vietnamese traditional dress called an áo dài. I slapped on blue convenience-store eye shadow, cheap pumps and a brown wig. All that mattered though was that I felt beautiful, empowered and sassy. I still get that same feeling every time TigerLily comes out to play.

Do you feel that Western-style drag is finally taking off in Beijing?
I still don’t think Western-style drag has really taken off in Beijing. There is still a lot of work that is needed to educate local [participants] about its conventions and history, so Western-style drag is still very much an expat community scene. Lord knows we are trying though!

Why does drag matter to you?
Drag is important because it makes other people happy. It allows people to see that it’s okay and fun to be different. My happiest moments are when TigerLily walks around the streets of Beijing and you see the smiles and the compliments from complete strangers. It’s a departure from the mundane for many.

Krystal de Canteur

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Age 38
Place of birth Gothenburg, Sweden
Arrived in Beijing First time in 1986, second time in 2008
Her lip-sync jams 'Big Spender' from Sweet Charity, or 'Nutbush City Limits' by Tina Turner
Her drag mothers 'Dame Edna for her wit, RuPaul for the looks and Raven for makeup tips'

'Krystal is a glamorous dame, living in her world of parties, champagne, and all things gorgeous. When she’s not busy socialising with the elite, she can be found relaxing at spas and getting plenty of beauty sleep. She’s not always prim and proper though – most of the time she’s tipsy after all the Bollies and voddies.'

Describe your first time in drag.
It was in 2016, for Disco Extravaganza at the now gone Migas Sanlitun. Honestly, looking back at the pictures, it was a mess. But people seemed to have a ball and enjoyed seeing guys dressed up to the nines with heels and a pound of makeup on. But seriously, the heels... I decided to get a pair of pointy pumps – they looked fierce and I thought I’d be able to prance around all night in them – but I ended up not being able to walk properly for several days afterwards.

Why is Western-style drag just now taking off in Beijing?
China has had a long history of drag performance, from Peking opera to professional funeral wailers. During the ’90s there were nightclubs that would showcase men singing live and performing as women, then it kind of went underground, with small hidden clubs in unknown hotels where only people in the know would go and watch performances. But RuPaul’s Drag Race has definitely opened up the doors for people to try drag. It’s now not only classical Chinese costumes and performances you see, but lip-sync performances and some really fishy queens. It’s all part of the evolution of drag in China. People get really excited to see drag queens strutting around.

Why does drag matter to you?
I think drag is a great way to escape your everyday life, forget about your worries for a little while and just be someone completely different. I seriously think every man, straight or gay, should try drag once in their life. You’ll understand what ladies have to go through to look good, as dictated by the fashion world. Also, heels, corsets, stockings, and wearing a lace-front wig, a sickening dress and flawless makeup – you’ll feel fabulous! My respect was already sky high for women before I tried drag, but now it has gone to a completely different level, gone to Pluto and back!

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