The art of drag predates recorded history. One can imagine primitive cave gays slipping on their finest lady animal pelts, sipping cave cosmos and lip-synching along to Madonna (who also predates recorded history) while their counterparts whooped and tossed them clamshells or beads or whatever passed for tips back then. Cross-dressing is no new phenomenon in China either, with men often donning womenswear for performances in Peking opera.
In Shanghai, however, the drag scene is a little newer and much more transient. From our former columnist, Gwen from Tempe, to the well-known Chinese, Baixue, there are and have been loads of drag performers in our fair city practicing the high arts of tucking and glamazon eye shadow. I caught up recently with one of the town’s newest drag divas, Jolene De Palma.
Jolene is a rarity in Shanghai: a foreign performer who got her start here. “I just started in January at Shanghai Studio after the DJ had seen me in drag for a Halloween night and thought I was too hot to be offstage.” Regardless of what others thought, it wasn’t a natural transition, according to Jolene. “The first show was funny, but when I see the pictures people took of me, I think eww … Well, there’s a start for everything right?”
One of the great things about Shanghai’s nascent drag scene is a notable lack of drama, says De Palma. “I don’t loathe any performer. You gotta be brave to go onstage, like I was brave when I first stepped on stage looking like such a dude-in-a-dress. I hope every drag queen, like I did, gets her chance to perform, change, develop and improve over time!”
Jolene just gushes about the other performers she sees regularly at Studio. “Currently there are three of us, at least the ones that I know! Ivana and Missy Tee are gorgeous! Ivana is born to be on stage; she’s charming and fabulous. Missy Tee is a flamboyant dancer, sexy as a tiger. I like them, and I’ve gotten precious advice from them.”
The development of the scene has been slow to take off. Jolene’s former mentor is no longer in town, and other foreign performers often arrive, only to leave. “Last year there was a French drag queen performing at Studio, Miss Venus—I consider her my drag mama. I wish there was a more stable drag queen scene here in Shanghai, as it is back home in Italy, so that we could get to perform together, but you know Shanghai, people come and go ...”
What issues, legal or otherwise, do you face as a member of Shanghai’s LGBT community? Tell us in the comments below.
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Oh man, this is really scraping the bottom of the Barrel of Desperation. Nothing against Jolene, is this really newsworthy?
Just me ruminating, :-) I would have imaged AdamF sharing some of the similarities/diffs between Mei LanFang and drag modern performers like Jolene, or scripts written for drag performers roles, schools that have courses to formalised such performing segment (e.g. of other segments may be Neo/Classic Burlesques, Cabaret, Vaudeville etc.) etc. :-) Oo la la, mdmselle?