Thursday, May 23, 2024

How Tourism Influences the Drag Scene in Bali

Bali has quickly become the second most popular destination in the world for 2023, and it’s easy to understand why. In one trip, you can visit ancient Hindu temples, snorkel in a Japanese shipwreck, and watch the sunrise from the top of a volcano. 

One of the most surprising highlights of my trip was a drag show that I attended in Canggu at the Inklusiv Warung. The warung (the Indonesian word for restaurant) only hires local people, and many members of the waitstaff are deaf or hard of hearing. Throughout the drag show, the hosts taught Indonesian sign language, a tarot reader provided live readings, and local drag performers put on extravagant lip-syncing performances. 

I left the performance feeling warm and hopeful. 

Inklusiv Warung (Photo Credit: Inklusiv Warung)
Inklusiv Warung (Photo Credit: Inklusiv Warung)

For most of my trip, I wondered what influence I had on this beautiful culture as a Western tourist. Since Bali’s rise in popularity, locals have rightfully complained about how ‘bad tourism’ has negatively impacted everything from the traditional culture to the rising housing costs to the environment

However, when I attended the drag show, I didn’t feel like a ‘bad tourist’ – I felt like a part of something bigger. By supporting a place like the Inklusiv Warung, I was supporting a mission to create more opportunities for members of marginalized communities. 

Indonesia has a history of conservative attitudes, religion-based biases, and harsh anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation. As a result, the queer community in Indonesia has had a tougher time gaining representation, forming their own safe spaces, and living a normal life. 

For a long time, Bali has been more open-minded to the LGBTQIA+ community than other parts of Indonesia. This has become even more true in recent years. 

One of Bali’s top drag performers, Angelica Mabora, shares that the Bali drag scene largely exists because of visitors from overseas. She said, “In our country, there is still a lot of discrimination against gay people, but Bali is more open-minded because of tourism. We can do this in a way they can’t in other countries in the area.”

Drag performer Angelica Mabora (Photo Credit: Angelica Mabora)
Drag performer Angelica Mabora (Photo Credit: Angelica Mabora)

Angelica started her drag career at the Hulu Cafe, the first gay bar and first drag performance venue in Bali. She said that when she first started, “Sometimes people would scream and throw things at us on the street when they see that we are dressed up like this. But not as much anymore because it’s more modern.” 

In recent years, the LGBTQIA+ and drag scene in Bali has continued to grow and evolve largely due to tourism. This change leads one to examine the way that we, Western tourists, impact our travel destinations. It is our responsibility to consider the ways that our money, culture, and presence catalyze cultural shifts. Even though mass Western immigration and tourism negatively impact cultures worldwide; it also creates a ripple effect of positive benefits. 

There is still work to do when it comes to thoughtfully spreading a positive impact on the places we travel to, but supporting local, progressive institutions like the Inklusiv Warung feels like a good place to start. 

As a queer traveler, it can be really meaningful and heart-warming to support local queer, inclusive spaces like the Inklusiv Warung. However, more than that, it’s fun! While attending the Inklusiv Warung’s drag show made me feel really happy about my impact, it was also just a really great night. 

These local places give you a beautiful opportunity to connect with queer travelers and locals because you are likely to have so much in common. You can also expand your perceptions by exposing yourself to different interpretations of drag shows, gay bars, and/or other LGBTQIA+ spaces.

I can’t wait to see the way that drag culture continues to grow and evolve in Bali and other parts of Southeast Asia. While I will continue to support local queer establishments out of a place of thoughtfulness and altruism, it will also be because I love a good drag show and I can’t wait to attend more as I travel. 

Acacia Gabriel

Acacia Gabriel is a travel writer from Los Angeles, living in Melbourne, Australia. Since graduating cum laude from the University of Southern California, she has solo traveled around Europe, Asia, and Australia. She is passionate about empowering other young women to be brave and see the world. Acacia has been to 28 countries, but she’s always on the lookout for her next adventure. Follow her travels on Instagram @acacia_gabriel.

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