Ever been curious about drag? Esta Ricardo, founder, host and Drag Mother of GenderFunk, has hit the Saigon stage, celebrating diversity of every sort with an all-inclusive creative space for local queer artists.
It’s not just about the seven-inch heels, the sassy attitude, the immaculate eyebrows, or even the explosion of glitter. When the sun goes down, British drag queen and host Esta Ricardo is bringing a whole new vibrancy to Saigon’s performance scene with GenderFunk. “GenderFunk is a community. It’s not just a show,” he explains. “We’re not a super clean, pristine drag show. It’s very personal. People come for the community, and it’s just as much about talking to everyone as it is about the show.”
Coming from a working-class background in England where being called gay was either derogatory or comedic, it wasn’t until Ricardo was 22 that he’d even considered dipping his toes into experimenting with expressions of gender. “When I was six years old, I used to put on my sister’s tutu and we would put on shows on my mum’s bed. And I remember, my mum walked in. She didn’t shout at me or anything, but she was like, ‘What are you doing?!’ And I never did it again.” Twenty-three years later, Ricardo is working flat out to make sure people are given a safe space where they can explore. “I wanted and needed a space like this when I was younger. I never got it, and then I waited seven fucking years,” he relates. “Now, I’m focused on my drag babies, making sure they don’t wait! Because when they’re my age, they will be so fierce. And I can’t wait for that.”
Combining freedom of expression alongside queer education, Ricardo is pushing the boundaries of what drag can symbolise. Saigon is Burning, GenderFunk’s newest drag show series, has featured bio-queens (biological women in drag), local Vietnamese drag performers (allowing drag to transcend culture), and even straight men in drag – all to demonstrate the versatility of expression and the inclusiveness of the art. “GenderFunk is a gender party. It’s not a gay party. Queer includes straight people and this is an all-inclusive safe space for people to express their gender,” Ricardo explains. Having broken the boundaries in each show to give it meaning, he now plans to open it up, allowing everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, to participate.
In addition to providing a space for creative expression, Ricardo also hopes to make the community a safer space and provide younger people with a reference point for LGBTQ lifestyles. “We’re all about building community and giving opportunities. And we’re very fierce on safety and consent.” It’s a corner worth fighting. Although Saigon’s drag scene is certainly enjoying new life thanks to Ricardo’s efforts, it still has a long way to go. Unlike places like Bangkok, New York or Taipei where drag has more or less made its way into the mainstream, “Saigon doesn’t really have a queer scene. There are two gay bars and no gay club,” he explains. “In terms of drag, it’s also really difficult to get makeup, wigs, good shoes – things you need – and drag isn’t really seen as profitable, although GenderFunk is changing the face of that.”
Slowly but steadily, however, the community is growing. “One of my drag babies just had her one year anniversary doing drag last week and she actually hosted the show! Going forward, I’m very excited about the local Vietnamese people getting introduced to drag more and getting a better understanding of it.”
Speaking directly to younger queer artists, he counsels them to cast aside their doubts and be proactive about seeking out possibilities. “Just do it now! No one’s going to come and make you a drag queen,” he laughs. “You want to do it, so hop on the Internet, find a local queer community, hang out with someone who’s doing drag, and just ask for opportunities. That’s how you start making it happen.”
Want to read more about what it’s like to be in the drag scene and lifestyle?
Just click here for our article on Popcorn, queen of Taipei.