Many of us know Pangina Heals as a co-host of Drag Race Thailand, the only sister show of RuPaul’s Drag Race in Asia, that premiered in 2018. Together with Art Arya, Pangina Heals has led the show through two successful seasons, and there are whispers of a third to be filmed later in 2020. Over the weekend, we talked about the diversity on the show, and how Drag Race Thailand is the first in the franchise to have a trans woman win (Angele Anang in season 2. Pan Pan — the person behind Pangina— shows how his own experiences have shaped his perspective on the matter, saying:“I never thought of my trans sisters as being separate from us [gay men doing drag]. When I was coming up doing drag, people who were teaching me were my trans sisters. So why would I isolate this art, this practice, this passion I have from the people who taught it to me? I feel it’s so ungrateful. So I don’t see it as a political statement, I see it as a humane thing.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me at all to be like you can’t do this, or you can’t do that… because of your body?!”, he continues.
“It doesn’t make sense to me at all to be like you can’t do this, or you can’t do that… because of your body?!”
This take is perhaps influenced by Pan Pan’s Taiwanese and Thai heritage; two of the most queer-friendly countries in Southeast Asia. So much so, that he has been invited to represent both in their tourism campaigns.
“It’s amazing that these two places I’m a part of wanted me to be the face of their city [Taipei], or their country [Thailand], as a drag queen.” The Go Thai, Be Free campaign is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, and a stark difference to some of its neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Myanmar, where being gay is illegal.
Pan Pan has worked across the world, saying: “I do really believe in being who you are, but you also have to respect the space [you’re in] in order to respect yourself. I would only do drag in the vicinity of competitions in certain countries. I know it’s not safe to go just anywhere. I don’t travel alone, because it can be really scary… The easy thing for me is that I’m in drag. I can remove my makeup in 5 minutes and if I come out the bathroom a man, no-one can say anything, you know? But for my trans brothers and sisters… they can’t hide from who they are. It’s even harder to be them.”
As queer and trans people of colour (QTPOC), we embody all of these things simultaneously; being illegal and ancient, celebrated and rejected.
Though there are small pockets across Asia where trans people and drag queens and kings can be in public without fear, they are usually spaces the community has carved out for themselves (like Itaewon in South Korea). Though it’s also important to note that countries across the Asia Pacific region—such as Indonesia, India, Phillipines, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and Japan— have histories of three or more genders. As queer and trans people of colour (QTPOC), we embody all of these things simultaneously; being illegal and ancient, celebrated and rejected.
I have a theory that this is why QTPOC develop such vivacious dance styles. I think it is something about these tensions we embody making us feel acutely alive. Pan Pan came from a hip hop background, and when I asked him about his relationship to waacking, he explained “[Hip Hop] wasn’t allowing me to be all the facets of me, the diverse sides of me. With waacking, you are encouraged to be who you are. So that’s how I fell in love with it.”
Waacking (also knowns as punking) was born out of dancers watching drag performances, and learning to hit the beat the same way drag queens do. It first started in African-American and Latinx gay clubs in Los Angeles during disco’s peak in the 1970s, and today has been adopted by dancers of all genders and sexualities.
Pan Pan waacks in drag— as Pangina Heals— adding; “it means queer culture comes full circle. I was already a dancer, and I love doing drag. There are similarities between their musicality, performance, beauty, individuality, and pride.”
“I’ve learnt from some of the best original punkers, but what we’re doing [at Midsumma this year] is quite different—it’s punking dramatics."
“I’ve learnt from some of the best original punkers, but what we’re doing [at Midsumma this year] is quite different—it’s punking dramatics. At the competition, I won’t be judging as a punker, but as a drag queen. No-one can say anything about me not knowing about performances, because it’s what I do. I will be using my criteria as a drag performer to sense the emotion and soul connection to that song, as well as the performance,” explained Pan Pan.
If you watch any of Pangina Heals’ performances, you’ll know exactly what she means. Even through a screen, you can feel the energy from her and the crowd. The name Pangina Heals has a special meaning for Pan Pan too; “with drag and with dance, I think it heals people. So that’s why my drag name is Pangina Heals.”
Book tickets for the Lunar New Year disco on Saturday Feb 7th at Melbourne Museum.
Sumarlinah is a writer, editor, dancer and organiser currently living on Wurundjeri land. They curate boundless for Liminal Magazine, and co-hosted the podcast Condemned to the Labyrinth. twitter: @SMRW