I started cutting my hair short when I started college. It began as a short bob at first. I had really long hair, and when I chopped it all off, everyone thought the new look was cute and refreshing. I went on a trip to Vancouver that summer, and decided to get myself an even shorter haircut at an HK hair salon because I had found and watched a VCD of the Hong Kong film “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man”.
Except for a Chinese-American with a really short buzzcut I met on PlanetOut profiles, I had no one else to model after. I just felt so much lighter, but there was anxiety every time I had to go out to get a cut. Going to a Vietnamese or Chinese hair salon was cheap, but eventually I wanted something more than just a boy’s cut.
During my sophomore year, I posted a picture of myself with a short-cropped boyish cut on a lesbian forum after being active for some time. I got so much hate for it, I never went back. I was the only Asian face on the thread. Luckily, a friend was able to console my hurt ego and reminded me that the standards don’t apply to us, and that she thought I was cute and adorable in the picture.
Later, I discovered drag kings through the Disposable Boy Toys. Among them, a Filipino-American drag king. They were entertaining, attractive and plain fun to watch.
After graduating university, I moved to the East Bay. I didn’t know anyone, as some of my friends stayed in Sacramento, or were still working on graduating, so I was scouring through Craigslist for dates and activities. I found an ad for auditions with the Transformers, and recalled seeing them perform during Pride using an N’Sync song and a number that protested the war that Bush Jr. was advancing. Seeing the performance in this environment, drag kings was more than just looking good, it was pop, and it was political.
This time, there were two Asian faces. Part of me wanted to join the group just to meet these people, and I was excited to audition and somehow managed to pass the choreography.
Finally with androgynous Asian-American peers, I didn’t feel alone, and drag helped me explore gender in a playful way, but it was also impactful to be seen and for others to see this art exist. The message the group sent wasn’t toxic masculinity, but how it could be used to band people together for a cause. Instead of crooning or lamenting to a love interest, the drag boy band could get people thinking. We did numbers on sex education, the conflicted feelings of worshipping a pop idol, the media, etc.
I moved on after a year or so, but I was caught by the performance bug and was encouraged to start up a new boy band that I was imagining as only Asian-American. I wanted more Asian visibility, and more representation in the queer arts space of San Francisco.
(I really just wanted to recreate Hirai Ken’s “Pop Star”)
With some help, I found willing and able participants. We became the Rice Kings. We were adorkable.
The group stayed alive until all three of us had a chance to design and choreograph numbers about topics that were closest to us. Tito loved food, Dang loved Pop Star, and Big Daddy loved the country.
Drag kinging has a different meaning for everyone. On a personal level, I wanted to prove to my mother, who always wanted me to perform for others, that it was ok to entertain even as a masculine-appearing female. What I find to be entertaining is taking the seriousness away from what is seen as masculine and makes it sexy and playful. What I wanted to project into Dang Kinki was the melancholy of Tony Leung with the dorkiness of “Pop Star”. Masculinity doesn’t have to be dominating. It can be caring, friendly, and funny.
Some people might be suspicious of that.
Once, while in costume waiting to perform, a woman asked me if I had a Napolean complex. I’m still not sure if it was asked in jest, but her tone was not friendly, and I didn’t even engage her. That was when I realized that the world isn’t fair to men or women, and a bit more unfair to Asians.
And maybe that’s why I identify as androgynous, so I don’t lose perspective when people tell me their stories, and so I can be in people’s faces and silently declare with a smile, “Love me, or leave me alone”.
Amber mentions wanting to represent “her community” in the video after sharing how she’s being passed over in America. When I first saw f(x) with Amber, I could tell she was one of us. A little envy, maybe, that she was the outlier with the talent and circumstances that worked out, but it must be tough without peers around you, and I am proud she’s made it so far.
No pressure, Amber, but keep doing what you love, and bring joy!