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Full-Time Drag Queen: The Price I Paid To Be In The Spotlight For 24 Years.

Full-Time Drag Queen: The Price I Paid To Be In The Spotlight For 24 Years.

As Pride Month envelopes us, I find myself reflecting on the highs and lows of my journey as a drag queen

My name is Sammi Zhen and I am a full-time Drag Queen. Through my experiences and conversations with fellow performers, I aim to expose the raw realities that often remain hidden beneath the layers of sequins and stage lights. 

For me and many others, being a drag queen is an exhilarating yet unpredictable ride. As I connect with my fellow queens, I hear their tales of struggle and triumph, and it becomes evident that having the right connections can make or break our careers. Networking and industry contacts are the lifeblood of our profession, enabling us to secure gigs and performances that bring our artistry to life.

I quit Arts School after discovering the world of drag

My drag journey began unexpectedly when a club owner recognized my natural stage presence and asked me to make announcements for them. In exchange, they provided complimentary drinks and a monetary allowance. It was during these moments that I realised the power of drag and its impact on both myself and the audience.

While studying at the NAFA School of Performing Arts (an establisehd arts school in Singapore), I realized that the traditional  curriculum didn’t align with my artistic vision. This led me to make the brave decision to seek a different path. The allure of the stage never faded for me. As I searched for my artistic calling, I discovered the world of drag—an extension of my natural flair for performance. It offered the thrill of captivating an audience while adding a layer of transformative artistry. The financial opportunities presented by clubs further enticed me to embrace drag wholeheartedly.

Amidst Covid-19, our sacred stages have disappeared, leaving us scrambling for alternatives

Clubs and entertainment spaces have closed, depriving us of the rooms where we commanded attention and captivated audiences. Now, we search for opportunities in smaller spaces, such as bars, offering an intimate connection with the audience.

Within the drag community, we face a phase of scarce gigs known as the “down period.” We adapt to survive, prioritising financial stability over artistic satisfaction. Private events like dinner and dance parties become appealing, providing significant earnings in a short time. Yet, deep down, we yearn for the return of regular club gigs to express ourselves fully and engage larger audiences.

Source: Sammi Zhen’s Photo Gallery

When I told my Mum about my drag queen journey, she was worried that I was involved in sex work

When I finally mustered the courage to share my drag queen journey with my mother, her initial reaction was filled with concern and misunderstanding. She is currently 84 years old. She comes from a different era where certain professions were stigmatised. She had misconceptions that drag queens were often associated with sex work. In her time, she recalled stories of transgender sex workers on Bugis Street. Naturally, she worried that I might be involved in such activities, offering myself to men for money.

Curiosity piqued, she asked me if I had ever engaged in such encounters. I reassured her that while I had experimented and explored my identity, it was purely for personal enjoyment and not for financial gain. It was essential for me to emphasise that my drag performances were separate from any sexual encounters.

As I explained the financial opportunities that came with my gigs, particularly the lucrative earnings from dinner and dance events, her apprehension started to dissipate. She began to understand that drag performance was not only a creative outlet but also a source of income. Sharing my comedic talents and hosting skills further demonstrated the versatility of my drag persona and the unique abilities I had acquired from my time at NAFA School of Performing Arts.

“Give him three months, and he’ll be a woman.”

In the past, acceptance from the LGBTQ+ community towards drag queens was not always guaranteed. Even within the gay community, there were instances of scepticism and ridicule. Some individuals would question the validity of drag as a form of expression, making jokes or snide remarks. Although not directly confrontational, these subtle forms of discrimination still had an impact.

I have encountered instances where people would taunt me with derogatory terms like “ah gua,” which means sissy in local dialect. They would make comments about my appearance, saying things like, “Give him three months, and he’ll be a woman.” These remarks were hurtful and created an atmosphere of mockery.

However, I must say that most of the discrimination I faced was not direct. It often manifested in whispers and gossip behind my back, making it difficult to gauge the extent of the criticism. This type of discrimination was more unsettling because I couldn’t defend myself or address the misconceptions directly.

The fear lies in not knowing what people are saying when you’re not present. It’s unsettling to imagine the negativity and potentially malicious comments being made without the chance to confront them. While these remarks may not necessarily offend me, they do leave me feeling upset. It’s disheartening to know that people are spreading false information and making judgments based on misconceptions.

You have no right to criticise me

I’ve heard people questioning the validity of my talent and skills, claiming that lip-syncing is an effortless job or that there is no room for improvement. While I don’t mind constructive criticism, it becomes frustrating when it comes from individuals who are not even part of the drag community. How can someone compare themselves to me when they don’t even know how to do their own makeup or possess the skills required?

Moreover, it’s important to note that those who attend free shows or events without contributing financially should not feel entitled to offer unsolicited feedback. If someone hasn’t invested in the performance or the artist, they don’t have the right to pass judgement.

The gay community, in particular, has a reputation for being bitchy and toxic. While there may be elements of truth to this stereotype, it doesn’t justify undermining or belittling fellow community members. It’s crucial for us to strive for a more positive and supportive environment, even when faced with the pressures of maintaining a wholesome image.

My greatest sacrifice – Love Life

It can be challenging to find acceptance within certain communities, and this can pose difficulties when having a drag queen as a partner. There may be instances where you develop a close connection with someone, but they ultimately reject you or choose to move on. Personally, I’ve experienced situations where I haven’t openly expressed my feelings towards someone I liked, fearing that they may not accept me due to societal norms or their personal preferences.

For instance, some individuals may have specific expectations, such as wanting a partner with certain physical attributes like masculine body. Additionally, as a drag queen, I sometimes feel self-conscious about aspects like my eyebrows, which might be more dramatic or feminine than what is traditionally expected.

As I step back from the spotlight for a moment, I invite you to reflect on the hidden struggles that drag queens face

Behind the flamboyant personas and extravagant performances, there are moments of uncertainty and sacrifice. Let us celebrate Pride Month by standing alongside the drag community, amplifying their voices and advocating for their visibility. Together, we can create a world that embraces and uplifts drag queens, ensuring that their talents and contributions to the performing arts are cherished and celebrated for generations to come.

Join us for a transformative workshop designed exclusively for queer and queer-friendly professionals during the vibrant celebration of Pride!

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