Andre

How Two Trans Filipinx Drag Queens Are Changing The Face of ‘Drag Race’

Kimmy Couture and Jiggly Caliente are breaking curses and opening doors

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Words by Andre Lawes Menchavez

CW/TW: This piece includes mentions of sexual violence. 

For the first time in the history of the Drag Race franchise, we’ve had two trans Filipinx drag queens simultaneously receiving the spotlight this summer. Kimmy Couture, a final four contestant on Canada’s Drag Race, and Jiggly Caliente, a judge on Drag Race Philippines, are trailblazing a new era of trans Filipinx drag representation after decades of being left out of the spotlight. 

Notably, Asian trans drag representation is non-existent across all versions of Drag Race. And for Asian drag queens in general, some might say their representation is cursed: More than half of the Asian drag queens cast on Drag Race thus far have been eliminated before the halfway point, with a striking majority of these queens leaving within the first three weeks—including Jiggly herself when she was a contestant on All Stars, as well as every other Filipinx queen on Canada’s Drag Race before Kimmy was casted.  

“I’m here to break the Asian curse,” says Kimmy, who successfully did break the trend as she’ll be one of four queens in the finale tonight vying for the crown of Canada’s next drag superstar. 

As for Drag Race Philippines, Jiggly revealed that the judges had a running joke that, because the cast is all Filipinx, the franchise has no choice but to break this curse because “finally, a Filipino is gonna win Drag Race.”

But Kimmy and Jiggly’s work on Drag Race this year is more symbolic than just a disruption of a superstition. Their visibility on the show as trans Filipinx women who do drag is also a monumental step toward honoring the trans intersections and trailblazers of the community that the show has failed to represent in the past—especially after years of controversy regarding RuPaul’s former stance of not allowing trans people to compete on the show. “I hope in the future they do normalize casting [more] trans women cause, I mean, drag was started by the trans community,” Kimmy says. “Like, girl, let’s look at history.”

And Jiggly also believes this representation matters for the queer community in the Philippines. “In the Philippines, drag is run and curated by the trans community,” Jiggly says, who has judged alongside the Filipinx writer, KaladKaren, this season and are marking the franchise’s first ever judges table with two trans women. “That’s how it started in the Philippines. The trans and drag community were hand-in-hand.”

Jiggly was attracted to the idea of judging Drag Race Philippines because she was promised it wasn’t going to be simply just another spinoff franchise, but one that is “truly Filipino.” And as we’ve seen thus far, it undoubtedly has been. 

“Walking into Drag Race Philippines, seeing the Werkroom, the stage… It was heartwarming,” Jiggly says, her eyes beaming as she elaborates on the unapologetic Filipinx culture being featured on the Philippine series. She noted the beautiful sight of the dangling capiz shells—made of the inner lining of an oyster, commonly found in the Philippines and used by local artisans to create various products—chosen as the backdrop for the show’s runway. The show’s Werkroom, where queens get ready for the runway, was designed to emulate a Bahay Kubo, which are houses in the Philippines often made up of bamboo stilts, that are deeply tied to Indigenous Filipinx culture. And even the background behind the judges panel of the show emulates the Indigenous weaving patterns of Rattan in the archipelago. “It is a true love letter to the Filipino community and queer Filipino community,” Jiggly says. 

For Kimmy, her aspirations of being on Canada’s Drag Race were heavily motivated by the possibility of using this platform to combat how underrepresented our culture has been in the media. She hoped to show more about who we are as Philippine people and even bring up conversations the show, and our Filipinx community, have yet to give space for. 

“There are a lot of people that do not know about Philippine culture at all,” Kimmy says. “One thing that I find always is that Philippine representation is left behind and I think we deserve the mainstream spotlight.”

Last week, Kimmy powerfully shared her experiences being raped as a trans woman. Making space for this discussion on national television was monumental, especially for myself as a Filipinx survivor of sexual assault who knows firsthand how hard it is to have conversations around sexual violence within Filipinx communities—even despite high rates of it impacting our people.

Earlier in the season, she shared her story of surviving conversion therapy as well, using her platform on this interntaional show to ignite a conversation on the reality of these traumatic experiences that many queer and trans Asian folks have experienced across the world.

And because of Kimmy, the representation of our culture and our complex experiences we sure did get. She walked into the Werkroom on episode one in a trans flag-inspired outfit, stilettos clacking in, staring at the cameras while delivering a poignant line: “I’m here to represent the trans and Asians, correctly. And you? Could never.”

From that point on, Kimmy showcased her excellent Filipinx and trans identity and provided groundbreaking, brave and unapologetic showcases of representation. 

“I’m representing these two communities that are very powerful,” Kimmy says. “I’m here for the representation and I’m coming in strong and you can’t f-cking beat me.”

But this international representation is more than superficial—their visibility could aid the fight for trans justice in the archipelago.

“There’s no rights for the LGBT community in the Philippines at all,” Jiggly says, as we dove into the trans violence cases of Filipinx trans women abroad. We discussed the murder of a trans woman named Jennifer Laude in Olongopo, Philippines, and the President’s pardoning of the U.S. soldier that murdered her. We shared our grievances watching the news come in of the arrest of a trans woman named Gretchen Diez, who was handcuffed for trying to use the women’s restroom, leading to many Philippine netizens spreading transphobic remarks about her online. And finally we resonated in each other’s anger of the fight for the SOGIE Equality Bill, which would provide legal protections for LGBTQIA+ discrimination cases in the Philippines. However, it’s been blocked for decades heavily due to its “infringement upon religious rights.”

On the second episode, Jiggly brought up the SOGIE Equality Bill, emphasizing that it was so important that the queens on the show were sharing their drag in the same country where a bill that would protect our community has yet to pass. 

“For the longest, I’ve always thought that the Philippines was very accepting of the gay community,” Jiggly says. “Come to realize, it’s not that they’re accepting, they [just] tolerate us. [They believe] we’re only good for the parlor and to be a glam team, but when it comes to our rights, we should just ‘take what we can get.’ That doesn’t sit well with me…. We are a part of the fold that makes our culture so rich. Before our colonizers came, we had Babaylans. So why, because of the religious beliefs of our colonizers that we took on, [are we] dismissing all of these people because of that? Yeah, no. Absolutely no.”

Babaylans, as she mentioned, are Indigenous healers and shamans made of women, men and non-binary people that indicated some of our earliest Philippine queer and gender non-conforming histories. 

Jiggly then shares a major component of what Kimmy, Jiggly, and this current cast of Drag Race Philippines are able to provide in this conflict—perspective of our community amid chaos that could lead to potential change.

“I feel like the stories of the girls [on the show] should hit home to a lot of Filipino people,” Jiggly says. “These are people that are supporting their families on top of trying to make a name for themselves. The hope that I have for the Filipino people is that, when they see Drag Race Philippines, that it at least hits close to home for them.”

Kimmy and Jiggly hope their representation this year inspires the Philippine people—especially government officials and those in positions of power—to learn something new about queer and trans folks who are, and have always been, a part of our community.

But despite a lack of queer and trans legal protections due to popularized beliefs in our culture that they would infringe upon religious rights, Kimmy and Jiggly are still greatly inspired by the Philippine community and history. So much so that they believe our culture served as a foundation for their drag personas and trans identities.

“The beauty of a Filipina, I feel, has definitely boosted my transness and me jumping into my womanhood,” Jiggly says. “Our hair is so pretty, our skin is beautiful. Mainly for me, like the morena and kayumanggi girls, our skin is just so pretty. It’s like that rich caramel color and it could go from light to really deep rich. I love that. We have cute button noses, full lips. I see so many of my friends getting pumped for life, and I’m like, ‘Boo, that’s natural for me.’” 

“Period,” Kimmy responds.

“Like, oh you want cheekbones,” Jiggly says as she caresses her beautiful Filipina face. “Oh, baby, these are real!” 

Interviewing these two excellent trans Filipinx drag queens who were so authentically themselves was a euphoric experience, the embodiment of a lifetime spent wistfully hoping for this kind of representation, brought to life by these two beautiful women before me. I could only imagine what the queer and trans Filipinx youth at home have felt this summer while watching them shine on Drag Race, all over the world. 

To those watching, Kimmy and Jiggly had advice to share: “Stay true to who you are, always be yourself and be kind,” Kimmy says. Like many queer and trans youth at home, Kimmy began finding her gender identity by playing with her mom’s makeup at a very young age. After growing up in a strict religious family, having a grandfather who was the mayor of her town and even being sent to a seminary school to become a priest to “convert” her—she persisted in being who she is authentically and evolved into the beautiful woman she is today. “That’s my story, and it was definitely not an easy one. But fight for what’s right and what you believe in, and stand up for yourself.”

As for Jiggly, whose family took a while to accept and grasp her trans identity and drag persona, she hopes queer and trans Filipinx youth at home understand an important message her family ultimately taught her. She shared that her mother’s love and her “soul protector” of a brother guided her to living her life authentically as the trans woman she is today, providing her valuable lessons in self love.

“Learn how to like yourself first,” Jiggly says. “Find [how] to like your brown skin, find to like your culture, fall in love with who you are even though everything around you is telling you that your culture is less than just because it's the western world and this is the ‘right way’ to do it.”

I look back in awe of the honor it was to live in a time like this summer, where we saw these two trans Filipinx drag queens shine like the Philippine sun on television, with their talents stacked high like the shoulders of a Filipiniana and their pride in our culture as evidently clear as the ocean waters of Palawan while they showcase their excellence with a smoothness that evokes the white sands of Boracay our people love so much.

Jiggly and Kimmy are queens ruling over this new era of our people’s representation—and we are in such good hands under their reign. 

Published on September 8, 2022

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Words by Andre Lawes Menchavez

Andre Lawes Menchavez (he/him) is a Filipinx, Indigenous and queer community organizer who uses journalism as a tool of activism, constantly seeking to lift up marginalized communities through his work. He received his BA in Law, Societies and Justice at the University of Washington and is about to graduate with his Master’s in Specialized Journalism—with a focus in Race and Social Justice Reporting—from the University of Southern California.

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Art by Robinick Fernandez

Robinick Fernandez is a prolific and visionary creative director whose work blends the worlds of art, architecture, design, and fashion. For two decades Robinick Fernandez connected art with design for global brands, and his work has left an impact having navigated across many countries and cultures including Europe, Asia, the United States and beyond. For his next venture, he celebrates his Filipino American roots as Creative Director for JoySauce, being committed to cultural storytelling, sustainability, forward-thinking design, and conscious content .