By Caroline Li
Northwest Asian Weekly
Shots! Shots! Shots!
That’s what the night called for at Purr, a local bar on Capitol Hill. Purr was one of the many bars that teamed up to help David Luc Nguyen and his friends raise funds for the annual Mr & Miss Gay Asian/Pacific Islander International Pageant.
All proceeds from the jello shot sales went toward the pageant, benefiting the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network of Washington.
Nguyen, also known as Teriyaki Temple when in drag, is a co-founder of the pageant. He’ll join three other Asian drag divas — Regina King, Shaka Kwan, and Gaysha Starr — on stage; they will serve as the four hosts of this year’s event.
The four drag performers are known as pioneers and mentors in Seattle’s Asian drag scene.
“This is our opportunity to put a face on a segment of the population that is often overlooked within the traditional Asian American community,” said Nguyen. “Once a year, we showcase the incredible beauty, talent, and diversity within the queer Asian community on a grand stage.”
“A drag pageant is the ultimate event for most drag queens, as it gives an opportunity for them to challenge and showcase themselves in a glamorous and large-scale event,” said Robert Matencio — Gaysha Starr — cofounder of the pageant.
Back in the 1990s, it would have been unheard of to be able to host an event like the API pageant, said Matencio. There weren’t active API drag queens in the Pacific Northwest except for Smokee (Miss Gay Seattle 1984).
In 1993, after turning 21, Matencio came onto the scene and went on to win the titles of Miss Neighbours, La Femme Magnifique International, Miss Gay Washington, and Empress 29 of Seattle. It took 10 years before any other Asian would achieve those accomplishments.
“After moving to Seattle, I found more people to identify with and I didn’t feel like such an outcast. I felt empowered and wanted to share that feeling with every LGBT youth and Asian possible,” said Nguyen, who moved to Seattle, from Camas, Wash. (a predominately white town), 12 years ago. “I founded the API pageant because I wanted to show everyone how beautiful our community is. Gaysha not only showed us the art of drag, she showed us the importance of community service.”
Now that there is a healthy community for future generations of Asian drag, newcomers are getting involved at a younger age and are more confident about themselves.
“Teriyaki Temple and Shaka Kwan inspired us to do drag. They make it look so effortless, fun, and glamorous,” said Mark Sagun — Kelly Temple — who is Teriyaki’s oldest protege. “It’s hard work getting into drag, but it’s very satisfying knowing that you are helping people and organizations in the community.”
Mentors like Teriyaki Temple and Gaysha Starr have had to break through additional barriers of cultural and gender issues because of the combination of their ethnic background and sexual orientation.
“Traditionally, both in the heterosexual and gay worlds, Asians and Pacific Islanders are considered
passive and objectified,” said Matencio. “For me, it was always hard to know if other gay men like me for me, or for the color of my skin and what they thought I represented to them. I think that is why I always threw myself into my drag and career, and rarely dated. Now, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt that I have done enough work on myself and in Seattle’s GLBT community to get passed the [usual] racial barriers and feel confident that they are looking at me for me and not just because I am Filipino,” said Matencio.
“I find it ironic that some people in the GBLTQ community demand respect and equality and to not be discriminated against, but these same people turn around and discriminate against members of their own community,” said Nguyen. “I wish people — straight, bi, gay, transgender, and of all colors — would stop and recognize the beauty in all people.”
Matencio says that there is a strong resurgence of drag in Seattle. “It’s almost as if our community is bubbling, and still waiting to boil and explode, I can feel it.” He believes that with the growth of the gay API community and successful pageants, gay APIs should be able to integrate themselves into Seattle’s broader LGBT community as positive and proud role models.
The pageant includes drag queens familiar to the runaway as well as newcomers like 21-year old Barry Caadan — Vanity — who moved to Seattle this year from Rochester, N.Y. “The drag community in Seattle is a lot more friendlier than in other parts of the United States. I was welcomed with open arms here and getting some real training so I can be a better performer,” he said.
“I believe with the right grooming, she could well be on her way to a successful and fulfilling drag career and more,” said Nguyen. “Drag taught me how to speak out and be heard. It’s hard to ignore a 6’1” Asian glammed-up drag-queen, wanna-be supermodel. What better platform to stand on for a cause I believe in than my 4-inch Jimmy Choo stiletto heels!”
This year’s competition includes a segment for national costumes, evening wear, and swimsuits. Eight contestants — three boys and five “girls” ranging from 21 to 30 years old — will compete for the crown. The show will open with a performance by Seattle break dancing crew, the Massive Monkees. Other nationally recognized performers slated to take the stage include burlesque dancer Shanghai Pearl and drag queen legends Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse and Smokee as Cher. ♦
The pageant takes place on Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at Neighbours Nightclub, 1509 Broadway, Seattle. Tickets are $12–$15. For more information, or to buy tickets, e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline Li can be reached at email@example.com.