We’re don’t magically appear on stage: we’re humans with real stories
My name is Miss Chili and I am a drag queen. When I first started 11 years go in Singapore, there were only 6 others who were doing it full-time. I joined competitions to gain recognition in the scene and built up my brand and image. It was tough because doing drag takes money and commitment. A lot of people get enchanted by our state of glam that they almost forget the humans behind the big personalities. We’re not magical – everything you see is painstakingly put together, from the materials to the make-up and the countless rehearsals to nail our few minutes on stage.
Every Drag Queen has her own struggles but there are not many Indian drag queens besides Kumar. So starting out was not easy because people would confuse me with her. I remember I was at Pink Dot one time and people were cheering me on because they mixed us up. It was challenging for me to make a name for myself since I had to do extra to stand out from my own community and others too.
I became a drag queen to rebel against the Church
It is heartwarming to see that ever since Ru Paul’s Drag Race became a big thing, there’s been so many drag queens getting into the game. But I think some people do it because they want to be in showbiz and popularity is something important to them. For me, it started off as a form of rebellion: I came from a conservative Christian family. Back then I was still in Church and was sent for conversion therapy because I was gay or ‘different’.
That got me into drag because it was my way of showing the church and everyone else that I could do whatever I wanted and that being my true self is something they could never take away from me. It became a sort of affirmative therapy for me to just get into my alter ego and unapologetically have fun.
When you put the makeup and wig on, you’re able to transform yourself into a wholly different character – someone that is not bound by your own limiting beliefs or people’s daily judgments about you. You can literally do anything you want as long as it was legal.Miss Chili
Everybody has a story to tell and I find that they open up to me more when I am in drag.
For me, the best thing I’ve been able to do is to change people’s lives by listening to their stories. When I’m in drag, I’d walk up to people I see crying and lonely in bars just to interact with them. I mean you never know what someone is going through and it’s so much easier to listen to someone without judgment when I’m this character. Besides, if I were to walk up to someone in a bar, off-makeup they would probably ask me why I’m hitting on them.
So it’s very pure and beautiful how something that looks so superficially outlandish can actually break the barriers of intimacy and trust. I always feel at ease in drag and I’m able to connect on a much more deeper and honest level with people. So this is what I do now mostly, I rarely perform or compete at all and I think that’s okay. Being a drag queen is not homogenous – it’s an identity you can slip into to do whatever fulfils you in life. Everybody has a story to tell and I find meaning in uncovering their stories.
I remember this one time I was talking about my coming out struggle and this young boy opened up to share that he was currently facing the same issues with his family. So I was able to just be present, empathize with him, and gave him the very real assurance that he was not alone. I remember how much more relaxed he looked when I promised him that life could still be happy if he focused on accepting himself fully.
I may not be a certified therapist or counsellor but at the end of the day, if I am able to help someone love themselves a little bit more, I think my job is done. I started drag as a way of expressing myself so it is meaningful that as a drag queen, I help others love themselves more. Everyone just wants to be accepted for who they are essentially, whether they’re straight, gay, or whatever.
I am lucky to be alive. So I want to help others in our community love themselves and keep living.
It’s especially important that other youths are able to see me and others, to know that life is bigger than their current state of struggle. Now that I’m older I’ve accepted that some of the things my parents did to me was to protect me. But at that point in time I did not understand that and even attempted to take my life once. Many people in our vulnerable community have succumbed to the pain and I’m one of the lucky ones who was saved by my mum just in time – I was one foot out the window.
I was also blessed to have had an ally in my late grandmother. She was a firm supporter of the LGBTQ+ Community and she financed all my makeup and costumes when I first got into drag. Though she did ask me to stop a couple of times, she eventually realised that I was genuinely enjoying it and not harming anyone, so she let me be. That support from her, was enough to go a long way when I felt like no one else was accepting me.
My second chance at life is the core reason that keeps me going, just to make a difference in someone’s life. Mental health is very important and not everyone has access or privilege to conventional forms of therapy. So why not do what we can to show love in all that we do?
Have you ever saved the life of a stranger?