Photo Essay

UrbanWire spends a night behind the scenes with a drag queen looking into the lives and showbiz practices of the cross-dressing community.


“It wasn’t gays or lesbians who fought for LGBT rights in the 1950s in New York, it was the drag queens and cross dressing community, they were the ones who protested, and when their friends got shot dead on the street, they still continued.” said Noris (who only wanted to identify by first name).


Noris is one of the most famous drag queens in Singapore, having been in the company and show business of drag queens since 1997. Everyone in the LGBT community knows her name. I sat and talked to her during her 2-hour long make up session.


I asked Noria how much did he spend on make up every month. “It can go up to hundreds, but it’s worth every single cent!” he replied. Noris does weekly performances at gay-friendly night clubs where he cakes his face with an abundant amount of concealer as a base coat for the make up.


Mention drag queens to ordinary folks and they would raise their eyebrows with scepticism. Generally, it’s hard for drags to be accepted or have affirmation from a somewhat conservative Asian society. I asked a few people their thoughts on the drag queen scene in Singapore.

“I respect drag queens because not only do they have to be accepted by the general community, but the gay community as well,” said Angus Ng, 23, an LGBT activist.


“Most of our generation of drag started out at an old gay club called Boom Boom Room, one of the first gay clubs in Singapore. I performed with Kumar last time, before he became famous.” said Noris.


Noris is also a judge at the annual Drag Academy at Play, a now defunct gay club. Drag Academy is a drag queen competition where drag queens from all over Singapore compete against each other to see who has the most “creativity”, “uniqueness”, “nerve”, and “talent”, according to Noris.


One of the final steps to Nora’s tedious make up process is putting on the eyelashes and mind you, it’s not your usual kawaii eyelashes. “Drag Queen eyelashes” are massive to emphasize the eyes and for the dramatic effect. Here’s a step-by-step process of how Noris puts on his fake eyelashes.


With full make up on, it’s time for Noris to change into his dress because it’s show time. According to Noris, the amount that he gets paid for 1 performance will cover his entire month’s expenses of make up.


The center of the dance floor in the club was cordoned off and the show began with a stand-up comedy routine. The audiences were screaming their lungs out and nearing the end of the segment, they sashayed to the stage to dance to Psy’s “Gangnam Style”.

And as the song draws to an end, Noris burst onto stage to do his own dance and lip-sync routine, which got the crowd going bonkers. Other drag queens were on stage as well to do a synchronized dance routine with Nora before closing the show.


IMG_9735 IMG_9778

In the end, the lights dimmed and the spotlight on Noris was gone, as he retreated backstage. That was the last I saw of Noris, but the vivid image of him on stage transformed into another person was a joy to behold. As Noris gyrated on stage, I saw something else — a person who was truly happy and free.