The date is July 8th, 2017. The place is The Pearl theater in Shanghai. An audience of 350 people awaits behind the red velvet curtain. Shanghai’s fiercest drag queens and kings await their cue to give a brilliant performance as the show begins.
This drag show entitled “Extravaganza” was a milestone for the LGBTQ+ community.
During the show, Matthew Baren documented the full process on film and made it into his documentary, “Extravaganza.”
But how did we get here?
The emergence of drag first occurred in the West. However, from that point forward it became a global phenomenon.
Franchises such as “RuPaul’s Drag Race” have spread all across the world including Spain, the Netherlands and the Philippines!
On February 15, 2018, the first East Asian drag TV series premiered separately from RuPaul’s franchise.
“Drag Race Thailand” shook its home country. After a year since its cancellation, it is rumored to premiere a third season in 2022.
These phenomena found their way to China and produced a colorful drag scene in bigger cities such as Shanghai.
One of the city's most popular queens, Chyna, said, “The first time I saw drag was on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I think that’s probably true for most queens in this country.”
However, simply seeing a TV show is not enough to push for a drag movement in a country that strictly adheres to a gender binary.
Kudos is a drag queen who was not content to wait in the wings any longer. She led the way for her brothers and sisters to give fierce performances.
Chyna quotes her as “a leader — one of the first to stand out doing drag in China.”
In the past, most of the queens would only perform through livestream, as drag is not socially acceptable.
But drag queens such as Kudos took advantage of the softening of social values that China is undergoing in modern times and took to the stage.
However, conditions are still not optimal.
Performers such as Miss Cream travel 1,000 kilometers to feel safe in a city to perform. Having the confidence to perform is one thing, but doing it in a safe area is a whole other problem in China.
This is also due to the classification of homosexuality in China. Only decriminalized in 1997, it is still classified as a mental illness.
In 2021, Hong Kong even upheld the classification in a court case, citing that homosexuality's classification as a mental illness was “not an incorrect” viewpoint.
This leaves the LGBTQ+ community feeling ostracized and places them on the outside.
I believe that as the interchange of culture continues internationally, stigmas such as these will disappear over time through human rights advocacy.
However, it does not excuse it whatsoever.
To aid and stay educated, here are some organizations you can follow about LGBTQ+ rights in China:
The Beijing LGBT Center
Taiwan Association of Human Rights
OutRight Action International
Awareness is only the first step.