Hive Life sits down with Gabor Zsoka, also known as Zsa Zsa Who?, the multitalented drag queen and Co-founder of DragJam, one of Hong Kong’s rising all-inclusive drag movements. Gabor speaks to us about everything drag, diversity, inclusion, love, Hong Kong’s LGBTQIA+ scene, the story behind DragJam, and more.
Founded in 2019, DragJam is an all-inclusive event that uses drag as an empowering art to share words, emotions, and talents. DragJam hosts a variety of different workshops, events, and shows that are open to all to perform or attend.
Berlin-born Gabor Zsoka is a professional dancer, choreographer, fashion designer, tailor, the Co-founder of DragJam, Founder of sustainable loungewear brand Good Charmer, and an influencer not only in the city’s drag scene, but also the art and fashion community. Gabor’s drag name is Zsa Zsa Who?, an inspiring queen with dazzlingly iridescent costumes- all lovingly made by Gabor- glamorous makeup styling, and her signature moustache.
How did you start Drag Jam?
Growing up in Berlin, which is so open minded, you take certain things for granted- wherever I went, there was always a drag scene, really alternative, artistic, political, comical, modern, or interpretive arts.
When I arrived in a Hong Kong, I joined Pink Season, which is a LGBTQ+ group that prepares this month of activities for queer people. I wanted to do something to help, so I hosted a drag workshop because I’m a dance teacher and choreographer myself, I was teaching for 10 years. I’m a studied fashion designer and tailor, so I had all the tools and I had never put them all together. I definitely needed to catch up on the makeup, but that followed a natural passion because I was already doing makeup for my mom for a year.
I did these different workshops for dance, costume, and makeup where we invited people that have more knowledge, like local queens from Hong Kong like Mocha Diva and Violette Blanche. It was so nice and I still appreciate that they supported us right from the beginning, when it was a new thing in Hong Kong.
I started with explaining the history of drag, where it comes from, who fought for us, and where we are right now. That for me, is always very important and sometimes forgotten, where certain things come from, like voguing, what it’s built on like the black queer community, and trans people. We need to always include them and pay homage.
We had 30 – 40 people joining, and as a final for the workshop, we did this show because I saw all the passion in the people- they were so committed to it and it was beautiful, so I said I’m going to give you a platform afterwards.
My partner Wilson Li also participated, and he understood why drag is an important thing to do, especially as a man, and as a local man. Wilson, Muschi, is very inspiring to work with, he’s so creative. He creates visions, everybody wants to take a picture with him. He’s made me go bigger and bigger- his drag is bigger than life.
Our show is focused on good group performances too, so I really teach them in dance classes, and we choose a diverse group- we have a drag mime, a bio queen, a bio king, local queens, everything. It’s a wild mix and they are good performers.
We also do workshops and have worked with Soho House for two years. We are on the second year of our contract where we are really creative with them. One of the last workshops was about queer art in sculpture and portrait.
Zsa Zsa Who? and Muschi by @sunsunsunleung
How was Zsa Zsa Who? born?
The name Zsa Zsa Who? is Hungarian, like Zsa Zsa Gábor. She was an actress, and was more famous for marrying rich men over and over and then divorcing them. And I love to carry on my Hungarian heritage, because I think it made me from being a child, to become a more open-minded person. My grandma was quite homophobic and I loved to rub it in her face that I am proud to be a Hungarian. With carrying on the name I feel like I’m being a bit more rebellious to not accept these paths- I can be Hungarian and can be queer and express and fight for rights.
Doing drag started out as a responsibility because I grew up with the privilege of having all these things accessible, like sex and gender education, so I wanted to give the people here the opportunity to also get the same knowledge.
Educating is one of my favourite things about these topics- I started with the nickname “Educational Queen.” I think being heard because of drag is a great opportunity to teach sex education and queer history.
How would you describe your drag style?
My drag style is avant-garde fashion, I make my own costumes, and it’s the perfect outlet for crazy fashion. I always keep a little moustache because I think a little bit of hair on a woman is nothing to be disgusted by. I really believe in portraying the highest beauty standard. I want to be a beautiful woman with makeup that puts every detail in, but I want to keep my moustache. I don’t want to put fake boobs in- a perfect woman doesn’t have to have humongous boobs.
At a certain level, women, with all the things that society puts on them are even more on top of it, multitasking more, with the heels, hair, nails, lashes, makeup. As a man, it’s the most complex thing you have ever done. This is why I think everybody should do drag at least once, to see how much effort it is and how managing all these obstacles makes you confident.
Do you have any drag inspirations?
A friend of mine who I was working with, Absinthia Absolut. She is a drag performer in Berlin and is also a bearded queen. She is beautiful, and I love her as a friend.
And then, all the idols I ever had: women like Ciara, Janet Jackson, and Shakira. And not to forget my mom. It’s really cool to evolve into that female character because you’re never more connected with your mom than ever.
We have had people who pay homage to their mothers, wearing their clothes on stage, and performing to a typical Cantonese pop song. Honouring your heritage is also a big thing. Muschi would do, for example, the mask change from Chinese theatre, to Blackpink or Lady Gaga. There is no stopping your creativity.
What does drag mean to you?
Drag is a liberation and a learning process. It’s a reconnection with your queer, creative self. It’s an art form which plays with gender identity. The persona has to change on some level for me, and makeup is an amazing tool to get into it.
Drag is a second chance at having an artistic life. It’s remembering where your talents are and combining them to make your unique character, and getting a chance to be a performer. It’s something that makes many people happy, and we have men or women that are nearly 40 that are just starting.
Inspiring women in Hong Kong to do drag is one of my favourite things, because they are so cool. They have everything together to the next level- to look gorgeous, be bosses, own the space, and it’s really nice to empower women on top of this. We did lots of workshops with the Women’s Festival, Women Boss, Pink Season, and so many women would show up. They want to feel different, behave differently, do the things that you normally don’t do.
When did you start performing in drag?
Three years ago I did it once before in Berlin at a contest, and I looked like Lady Gaga. I didn’t know how to do it. A friend helped me get into drag, Stella deStroy, and then I would use any Halloween or something as a reason to do it again. I love dressing up in general and being that other person.
But then I did it here for real with the name, performances, and it started really explosively in Hong Kong.
Was it challenging starting out as a drag artist?
The challenging part is allowing yourself to do it. I think this is more like a challenge because it’s the inner dialogue of being okay with you doing this, or how you face the judgment of people. It’s challenging for yourself, but Hong Kong is a very supportive and safe ground.
How about creating Drag Jam? Was it difficult filling your shows at the start?
The interest was crazy. But Hong Kong is still difficult because when you make something that is not based on making money, but it gets so much attention that people expect a good show, then that means you need to put money in it.
The first half year, we just invested and worked [hard]. We did every possible show without even getting paid. And also at the AIDS Gala and pride events, you didn’t get paid, and it’s an honour to be there already.
But when we did it for one year, we started to make money with it, and get booked for events, but then Covid-19 hit.
How did the pandemic affect DragJam?
Our last show [before the pandemic], Muschi and I were in Singapore. We were invited by L’Oreal. They flew us there, paid for our hotel, our flights, and we did a teambuilding event.
[The pandemic] was for us to work on our art, and really catch up to a quality that we want to deliver. But it was beyond nerve-wracking, cancelling shows so many times- putting in so much time, so many rehearsals, and without even making money. It was just a negative, for a show that you prepared six times that you could never perform.
When we started at [Lamda], the first one was a success and the second one we had to also delay three times until we could do it. Doing the first show after all of these things was such a liberation- and believing in yourself again.
Where do you usually work?
We sometimes rehearse at the location where we perform but we like to book a dance studio, and anywhere- we dance in the park, and on the docks is my favourite place. Now we rent a dance studio and it’s much more focused.
We sew at home, and have a little workshop. There are costumes, three sewing machines, mannequins, wigs, and makeup everywhere. We are very lucky to have a place here in Hong Kong where we have enough space for a work room. It’s small but it’s still very helpful.
Do you have a favourite look you’ve created?
I watched a documentary about circumcision of women in Muslim countries, about them overcoming the trauma and trying to do reconstructive surgery. I was just crying the whole time and I was inspired.
I made a dress with silk-made flowers I could unveil, representing in a very beautiful and abstract way, a vagina. There was a flower taken out of it- a natural flower- which I substituted with an artificial flower, just to say there is a way.
[The performance] was to FKA Twigs, who I really love and knowing that she’s been through hard times, it just made it more intense, symbolising overcoming all of these traumas and standing above it, loving yourself again, your vagina, and sex or intimacy again. That was a very personal piece.
Otherwise I like to upcycle. Denim is one of my favourite fabrics and I just love to reinvent it, like make feathers out of it, for example..
Can you tell us more about your clothing brand Good Charmer?
Good Charmer is very zen, calm, sustainable, unisex brand that has loungewear, pyjamas, morning coats, and shirts. In Hong Kong so far, I’ve sold more to women than men.
@lomohypnagodia from @goodcharmer
What is your advice for those looking to start drag or are curious about it?
Have more to say than you want to be pretty. You need to have a story to tell, you have to have a craft also that you can combine. You’re a performer at the end of the day, you are not just a doll to look at.
Drag queens are fierce performers, they do everything under pain. It’s much harder than anything- it’s pain, passion, messy at times, but also a joy. It’s liberating.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is a viral global phenomenon, what is your opinion on performing drag competitively?
With RuPaul’s Drag Race, you need to be thankful for what is there, what it is there for, and how it got into the mainstream, but now it’s our responsibility not to forget where drag came from- opposing society and gender norms
I think it’s very difficult when we have that one idea of a drag queen that has always been voted the best because of their makeup skills or death drop. That does not only define a drag queen. It’s when it inspires you, changes norms, and is out of the box thinking of creative ways to express yourself.
I really believe in other formats of drag which are more educating, and can include the whole family. With Woman Boss I did [an event where] children could come, and we have Coco Pop reading for kids here in Hong Kong, who has been doing it for a long time. That’s amazing, because the earlier you participate, you grow up with less prejudices.
What is the most satisfying part about creating Drag Jam?
The most satisfying part is that I’m definitely ready for two daughters into puberty, because this is going to be child’s play, in comparison to what it is to have a drag family.
We started [DragJam] with the idea of a drag family- Hong Kong is already difficult for making a good friend group because certain things are not that cherished. I think because we have a belief we’re not going to stay long, we can leave again, we don’t invest ourselves fully.
What work does Drag Jam do to support the LGBT+ community in HK?
I think Hong Kong has a long way to go, but every country has their own way. They do what they can and they put their heart in it. People also work on the side, so don’t forget that they are really on changing the structures and possibilities for us, to maybe one day get married, and adopt one day.
Don’t stop because I think Hong Kong has a responsibility in Asia, there are many Asian countries which look to it, so this is why we should never get more quiet or less visible.
What can we expect at a DragJam show?
You can expect people that let loose, that are cool, educated, and relaxed. You have a lot of fun, there’s always music to dance to, curated performances as a frame for the night, comedy, live singing, and dancing.
Who is invited to your shows?
Everyone. I would say it’s really three thirds: lesbian women, straight people, and gay men, but then everyone in between too! This night animates you to express, especially in costumes, so come dressed up!
What show are you currently working on?
Our next DragJam Presents: Drag Xmas Show will be held at the Lambda Lounge on Hollywood Road on Saturday, the 18th of December. It’s going to be so much fun. We will also be hosting a Self Love Ball at Soho House at the beginning of the new year!
Featured banner image credit: @sunsunsunleung