Thursday, May 23, 2024

How Drag Queens Are Taking Over This Southeast Asian Country

Vietnamese American Diana Truong sheds light on Vietnam’s expanding drag scene and chats with fabulous Drag Artists Sunny Lee and Winnie Wakanda Washington.

In a dimly lit, packed space, the raucous crowd is buzzing with infectious excitement as they anticipate the drag beauties primed, poised, and ready to take the stage. Lights. Music. Action. It’s showtime! 

While this scene might be the norm for Thailand, it’s a rarity in neighboring Vietnam…until recently. The more conservative Southeast Asian country has seen a dazzling rise in the drag scene in recent years, with local talents captivating audiences, breaking barriers, and pushing the boundaries of expression. 

The timing coincides with the traditional country’s shift towards greater inclusivity and acceptance. As society becomes more enlightened, people are increasingly open to understanding the world of drag. The struggle for recognition has shed light on the art form, fostering a growing appreciation for the multifaceted skills and entertainment that drag queens bring to the glittering stage. 

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the world of drag with Sunny Lee and Winnie Wakanda Washington, prominent figures in the thriving Vietnamese drag community.

Meet Sunny Lee & Haus of Venus

Sunny Lee hails from Tien Giang, a southern province in Vietnam, but has called Saigon home for the past nine years. During this time, she has not only embraced the vibrant energy of the city but has also become a trailblazer in the art of drag, with 11 years of captivating performances under her glistening belt.

Sunny’s drag persona is a fusion of various influences. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Hyuna, the Korean sensation, and iconic drag artists such as Violet Chachki, Sasha Velour, and Naomi Smalls, Sunny weaves together elements of sexiness, classic aesthetics, and dynamic choreography. “My performances blend storytelling with immersive staging, drawing inspiration from the canvas of life that surrounds me,” said Sunny.

Haus of Venus, a force to be reckoned with in the Vietnamese drag scene, traces its origins back to 2012. Initially named after Sunny’s dance group in her hometown, Venus became synonymous with her artistic endeavors. 

The year 2018 marked a significant turning point when the team began actively recruiting members who shared the same passion and vision for taking drag art to new heights. Currently boasting around 20 performers in the eclectic crew, Haus of Venus has evolved into a formidable collective, showcasing the immense potential of drag culture in Vietnam.

Sunny’s Travel Tip: Saigon, known for its open-mindedness, boasts an array of LGBTQ+-friendly venues. Among Sunny’s favorites are Frolic BarZ9 Bar & LoungeAzure Pool Bar & LoungeChinChin Bar, and Rainbow Cafe & Lounge.

Meet Winnie Wakanda Washington & Wet Dynasty

Originally from South Africa, Winnie Wakanda Washington has called Vietnam home for the last six years. She’s not just a drag artist; she’s an icon, a visionary, and a fierce advocate for the art of drag. Known for her electrifying performances and unapologetic attitude, Winnie is a force to be reckoned with in the world of drag.

Winnie exuberantly describes her drag persona as, “a worldwide woman, a skinny legend (shoutout to the big girls), and mother of the nation.” Winnie draws inspiration from a rich tapestry of cultures, including South African, American, Vietnamese, and Korean queer and pop influences. Her persona, as she explains it, is a captivating blend of woman (33%), C.U.N.T. (51%), and just a dash of delusion (16%). It’s this concoction that sets her apart as a unique and dynamic performer.

Winnie’s journey through the world of drag has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. She is the founding mother of Wet Market Hanoi, a drag collective that started as her brainchild in 2019. What began as a desire to create more opportunities for budding performers has since evolved into a thriving hub for drag culture in the capital city. In a few weeks, Wet Market will transition into Wet Dynasty. According to Winnie, it’s a move to become a drag haus and create more concept shows like its Rocky Horror screening coming up this month (October 2023). It all signals a new era for the performance group.

Expert Travel Tip: For those seeking LGBTQ+-friendly places in Hanoi, Winnie recommends Kali RestaurantFoxy Cocktail BarO2 Space, and Savage

Sunny Lee, Winnie Wakanda Washington, and the drag artists of Vietnam are not just entertainers, they are change-makers, pushing boundaries and redefining what drag means in this vibrant Southeast Asian country. As Vietnam continues to embrace diversity and inclusivity, the drag culture here is poised for even more remarkable growth. In the words of Winnie herself, “Drag queens are here to change the mindset of at least one generation.” And with each captivating performance, they’re doing just that.

Want to know more about drag culture around the world? Check out our articles exploring the drag scene in Mexico and Bali, too!

Diana Truong

Diana Truong is a Vietnamese-American travel writer who has lived in Vietnam for the past eight years. Her passion for exploring the world led her into the arms of freelance work. Diana’s writing has appeared in Lonely Planet (print) and several local publications.

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