Feeling the Femasculine Fantasy in Hawaii

Feeling the Femasculine Fantasy in Hawaii

Most fail to realize that Hawai’i is much more than just a tourist trap and weekend get away.

Our islands are inhabited by a diverse, cultural melting pot of people who are often portrayed poorly in the media and entertainment industry. The true voices of locals and the stories of our people are rarely heard of. Many know nothing about our stolen kingdom, our history and our rich, beautiful culture that goes beyond the stereotypes we’re associated with.

Within this beautiful culture is a lost history of our drag queen community.

In the 60’s and 70’s, many drag performers worked for the formerly world-renowned Chinatown club, The Glades, which was notorious for their elaborate showgirl-esque drag performances. During this era, performers were required to wear “I’m a Boy” buttons on the streets by law. The buttons originally served as a way to prevent arrests but resulted in rampant violence and death. Around 30 girls were said to be murdered at this time. Things were much different during the days of the Ancient Hawaiians.

When one was māhū– an individual who embodied both feminine and masculine spirits– they were looked up to. Embodying both of these traits were thought to empower them as caregivers, teachers, and healers. All of these things heavily influenced Hawai’i’s drag culture and the style of drag in Hawai’i for generations. Recently, these norms of drag have shifted as the younger millennial generation has come about.

During my research and time spent with O’ahu’s current drag queen community, I’ve learned that there is little to no trace– both visual and written– of this beautiful subculture.

Many of their stories have gone unheard and many queens of the past have become only memories. I decided to document the different aspects of O’ahu’s current drag queen community in hopes of changing that. I aim to inspire others with their boldness, bravery, artistry and unapologetic individuality.

Since then, I’ve been working on several different projects with them, with one of them being Femasculine. The main goal of Femasculine is to unveil what lies beneath the painted faces and how they embody the Ancient Hawaiian concept of māhū.

This project both explores the depth of their onstage persona, as well as who they are as Hawai’i locals. I interviewed and photographed 14 different queens for this portrait series to help provide a range of insight.

Sarina Sena Daniels

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

Sarina is different than my real identity. Sarina is the hero I always knew when I was young.

Nobody stood up for me when I was getting the shit kicked out of me, so I created Sarina. She’svastly different than me. She’s a protector.

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

I feel like Hawai’i has a lot more history as far as showgirl­ism and stuff. I feel like it can be alittle more picky and the art itself is more refined and detailed, whereas on the mainland I feellike it’s more open and just purely a celebration. Over here, it’s a little bit more critical, but also
welcoming.

Janna Del Rey

What does drag mean to you and how has it shaped you as a person?

Drag, to me, means that you can be who you want and never have to ask for forgiveness.

How would you describe the type of drag that you do?

I look like the girl you’ve seen leaving the club at 5am [laughs]. I would say crazy, fun anddefinitely in your face.

Does the drag community here reflect the values of Hawai’i’s local culture?

I think the drag community here does reflect local culture because we’re all about accepting youfor who you are, doing what you want and eating that good food, honey. It’s not Hawai’i’slocal culture without food.

Candi Shell

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

In most every way. I’m like a hairy dude who’s kind of quiet and draws in my man life. As CandiShell, I’m super bubbly, and if I wasn’t so sweet, I would just be kind of obnoxious. I’m also not singing a whole lot these days in my man life, but Candi’s constantly singing. I literally feel like when Candi takes hold­you know, once I’ve got the wig on and her voice starts coming outI feel like I’m riding in the backseat and someone else is driving the car. I feel like doingdrag is probably an ancient impulse. Especially in this patriarchal society that we find ourselvesin that’s sort of gone so far in one direction that it’s shutting down and breaking apart. We’re missing all ofthisgoddessenergy. We have the god energy, but we don’t have the goddessenergy and that’s what drag queens do: we summon the goddess.

Marina Del Rey

What does drag mean to you and how has it shaped you as a person?

Everybody will say drag is their alter ego, their super hero, their inner strength, their dreamprincess form. And yeah, that’s true. But for the most part, drag remains fantasy. I think for people in general, drag is the avatar of the millennium. You don’t have to commit to it because you can put it away when you want to and it’s ever-evolving. I like the chameleon bit about it, but it’s nurtured by how people kind of respond or don’t respond. I mean, drag isn’t drag if you don’t have someone looking at you. Because that’s not fun. The whole reason you put the shit on is because you want people to be like “Oh.” That’s the whole point. You are nothing without a crowd.

Witch of Waikiki (Victoria Li)

What does drag mean to you and how has it shaped you as a person?

Drag is artistic expression and it’s fucking with gender because it’s bullshit and made up. It’sshaped my life because I can wear pieces like this either as a boy or as a girl. And I like theattention. It’s a creative outlet.

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

Oh my god, so awesome. My family’s from here and I started drag in DC. I could never get anybookings anywhere in DC, and not for lack of trying. The community is so open and welcominghere. Mind you, the audience knows what they like, but they’ll still watch you if you do somethingdifferent. There’s more respect here for what we do.

G Dolce & Jason Victorino (Married)

How do you think Hawai’i’s drag scene has evolved over the years?

Jason: It has changed dramatically. I look at drag history in Hawai’i and it was more abouttranssexual dragthe women wanted to be passable. And now I think we’re celebrating all types of drag. The club kids are coming out again and I’m liking that. I just want to see more diverse things, and it is starting to change slowly. Hawai’i will always continue to evolve. There’s room for all, there really is.

G: That’s actually a hot topic right now on social media. People talk about how dragin Hawai’i is dying as an art form. They say you don’t see the queens that you saw before andthey criticize a lot of the Tropical Fish [Drag competition held at Scarlet] queens. It’s hardbecausewe’re in the middle generation and the older queens think the younger queens don’tput in enough work. They think they just try to get here without the steps because ofsocial media and try to jump from one thing all the way to the other.

Lolita

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

Hawai’is drag scene is very reflective of the culture here in Hawai’i. We have a very strongsense of family here, one that runs deeper than blood. I’m sure they have somethinglike that on the mainland as well, but I think the thing that really separates our drag from thedrag in the rest of the world is that here in Hawai’i, there truly is the spirit of Aloha. And Aloha isso many things. It’s not just hello and goodbye. It’s this concept of love and of­I don’twanna say givingbut Aloha is so unique that I almost can’t really put it in anEnglish waybecause there’s no English way for Aloha. That sounds really cheesy, but I feel like every dragqueen coming from Hawai’i embodies a little bit of Aloha in her.

Lala Benét

What does drag mean to you and how has it shaped you as a person?

To me drag means expression. It means going down a path that’s your very own path. I started drag late because I had other goals and things I wanted to accomplish. I also have aspirations of going to law school and making achange, making a difference. I loved drag performances, but I didn’t think the two worlds could meet. I just had a revelation that, you know, who cares? It doesn’t matter. It’s my life. It’s my path. Though it may not seem to be a clear path to do the two different things that I want, I can be that explorer that goes down that path and clears it for other people to do the same. So for me, drag is path clearing.

Water Melone

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

I’m really shy outside of drag, but in drag, I’m very outgoing and I’m a lot morefriendly. I’m more reserved outside of drag and I tend to keep to myself. In drag,I’m more in your face. I’ll be everyone’s best friend in drag, but outside of drag I’m like, “Whoare you?”

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

I think the drag community here is a lot closer than the mainland. Obviously, there arefriendships on the mainland like there are here, but here it’s an island so it’s so small. You builda connection­your connections, your networkand you make so many more friends. Everyonebecomes like your sister or your aunt or grandma or something. It’s more friendship and lessrivalry and who’s better than the other person.

Everyone’s growing together and learning together.

Aria Del Rey

How would you describe the type of drag that you do?

I’m an emotional queen. I don’t dance, I do more ballads. I’m very effeminate and I just wantemotion to be shown on stage. I want people to feel how I’m feeling in that moment.

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

Cunty. I’m a cunty drag queen. Outside of drag, I’m super friendly, and insideof drag, I’m friendly as well, but I’m definitely a bit more cunty.

Apple Aday

How does your drag persona differ from who you are outside of drag?

Tim is very different from Apple. Apple gets to do whatever she wants, be whatever she wants,and Tim is very just boring and likes to relax and watch whatever and play video games and be a dude. Apple definitely pushes the boundaries more and isn’t afraid of what people think as much. She’s just unapologetically herself.

Does the drag community here reflect the values of Hawai’i’s local culture?

Yes, the community definitely represents the local culture. That feeling of Ohana isreally strong in the drag community. We all help each other out, we’re all there for each other.There’s always that pettiness in the gay community and people being superficial overthis and over that, and the drag community is a little bit more together. We are those misfits andthose weirdos, those artists that didn’t fit in into any of those tribes.

VV Vixen

How does it feel to be a part of Hawai’i’s drag community in comparison to the mainland?

I was in the scene in California for a bit, and there’s just not a sense of Ohana and Alohabetween all the girls. It was all about competition and cattiness. I swear to God, my Hawai’i sisters­, it’s just love and being excited for each other and you know, supportive. That’s the kindof sisterhood that I always wanted to experience and I’m so happy to have it here in Hawai’i.

How do you think Hawai’i’s drag scene has evolved over the years?

I think we’ve just been seeing more queens come out of the woodworks. Before, it used to be asmaller group of queens and now, there’s a lot more to choose from and a lot more to seearound the island so that’s awesome.

Lilith Satana

How would you describe the type of drag that you do?

I’m that one girl where she looks great, but you know she’s a little problematic. I mean, straightto the point, I’m problematic. I’ve done things like fist people on stage and vomit blood, but I also do a lot of high energy numbers too. So I’m that girl with a little extra problems.

How do you think Hawai’i’s drag scene has evolved over the years?

I think the kids are getting wilder. Hawai’i has an image where if you’re getting into drag, you become transsexual. Because back then, it was a lot easier to pass as a real woman versus being in drag. So now that drag has become much more acceptable, you start to see the lines kind of blurred. We have our trans girls and trans is who they are, drag is what they do. And we have all the other butch queens/drag queens, and they’re starting to express themselves even more. I think it’s evolving even more so because ofRuPaul’s Drag Race now being a thing. Kids are starting to recognize drag characters from television, so it’s all aesthetics, creativity­. Drag in Hawai’i is getting louder and more colorful and I think it’s a great thing.

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Retouching: Jessica Gallagher

Check out more about the project here:https://marieerielhobro.com/femasculine/