Let's have a kiki
Let's have a kiki
- By Adam Kerr
- | Aug 08, 2018
“Since primary school, I’ve been bullied so much for being feminine.” While it may seem like a familiar anecdote for anyone in the LGBTQI community, Gina Gemini’s story is one that is rife with pain, passion, love and of course, glamor.
But just how much do you actually know about drag culture? Some may speak in hushed whispers about their knowledge through whatever bits they’ve learned from watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, but what you don’t see and hear most of the time are the backstories of the individual queens; unless of course, you become a big fan and dive head first into Google. Otherwise, you’re usually only exposed to the “fun” side of said Hollywood-filmed reality show.
It’s the same when you head out to catch a drag show in Singapore—you’ll see the impeccably dressed queens with full painted faces performing a couple of well thought-out numbers. Entertainers like Gina are often unclockable. But after the show, after all the make-up, tassles, sequins and wigs have come off, they return to their regular lives.
Gina, the co-producer of Peaches’ on-going inaugural amateur drag queen competition Drag Wars and leader (or drag mother) of Haus of Gemini, has been performing professionally for the last eight years. During the day, she cuts her teeth as a customer relations officer at a hospital, while earning extra money on the side as a freelance make-up artist and wig stylist. She belongs to a new generation of drag queens who hope to continue evolving the ever-changing art form in Singapore; and in a sense, graciously receive the proverbial baton from the older queens who have “retired professionally from performing”, as Gina mentioned in a previous interview.
Life hasn’t always been easy for her though. Years before she picked up the brushes and assumed the persona, she went through some pretty gruesome stuff we hope kids these days don’t have to experience. “There was the typical name-calling like ‘bapok’, ‘kewat’ and ‘kedi’.”
She added, “There was also this one time when a fellow classmate of mine just flipped my lunch after months of taunting. But of course I retaliated; I punched his cheek and broke his back tooth.”
She may have had a taste of justice—she got away scot-free, apparently—but she wasn’t happy with how her school dealt with it, even though the antagonist in this anecdote was suspended from school for a period of time.
“I was sent to counselling, but it didn’t make sense. I’m the one being bullied; I’m not the one causing the problem, so why were they counselling me instead of the bully?”
When she was in Secondary 3, she was appointed as her school’s military band Drum Major. “People saw my growth from being such a sissy boy to this, and they started to respect me for that.” But in assuming a position like that in a co-curricular activity (CCA) with such strong regimentation in place, she consciously lost a part of herself.
“I became less feminine. I had to suppress that side of me, to the point it got a bit depressing because I couldn’t fully express myself. But as time went by, I turned to theater. That’s when I started taking up a few acting classes at the same time.”
But don’t go judging her by her past; she doesn’t live there anymore. Read on to see how Gina Gemini came about, her turbulent journey and her future endeavors, which include writing a children’s book.
Note: interview edited for clarity.
How did you get into drag?
In polytechnic, I was already freelancing as a make-up artist and doing school assembly shows. I was always put into a masculine role, so in that sense, that’s like drag for me as well. That ultimately made me a better person becaue I realized that I could control myself. And for me, acting was one of the best ways not to focus on my depression so much back then.
This was a time when people really grew to accept my differences, my feminity, queerness, quirks and all. They understood, accepted it and laughed along as they embraced. This was the turning point that contributed to the growth of Gina Gemini.
I see drag as a self-expressive art form. I remember when in the first round of Play’s Drag Academy, people couldn’t understand what I was doing. I like doing parodies, and in Singapore, there wasn’t anyone doing them. I’m the kind of person who wants people to listen to the music carefully while watching. But Singaporeans are naturally visual people, and in my performances I like to challenge them to listen and laugh at the jokes in the song.
It all started out with Jackie Beat’s “Don’t Tell Me You’re Gay”. My biggest inspiration are the comedy queens from all over the world, like Lady Bunny, Coco Peru, Jackie Beat, Sherry Vine, Becca D’Bus… these are people I study. I also like to play around with musicals too, tapping on Broadway seeing how I’m a theater kid and all. I’ve even done a Wizard of Oz item and played the Wicked Witch. I grew up in a family that’s pretty conservative; a typical Malay house. But Gina developed more because of my relationship with my mother. I feel like our relationship’s like Dorothy Zbornak and Sophia Petrillo (from the show The Golden Girls), especially now that she just found out that she has diabetes. On my birthday, she fainted and was hospitalized, but I feel like these moments in my life have helped shape and define who Gina is.
Apart from my biological family, I also have my Gemini girls, Isaac Chan and Noristar, whom I consider my drag mother. She taught me everything, groomed me, showed me many designers and costumes—some of which she’s given me to repurpose.
So you like challenging the perception of what drag is lah.
Yup, but of course, it’s going to take some time because at Peaches, we have sets instead of a full-on show. At the end of the day, we need to engage the crowd and all. If there are opportunities for me to do parodies and all, I’d definitely do it.
What’s it like to be Gina Gemini?
I like to call myself a clown fish. For me, drag is like clowning as well; every aspect of putting on make-up is like clowning. Did you know that even for clowns, there’s a story behind their make-up? Like, why a tear is there, or why the shape of the mouth is a certain way. It’s the same for Gina, like why is her face like that? It’s pretty iconic, so people will remember that it’s Gina; it’s my own personal brand.
Did you have to come out to your parents?
It’s a whole… 'don’t ask, don’t tell' situation. I don’t actually know if they know I’m gay. If they know, then okay, but they’ve not explicitly asked me anymore. It’s come to a point where… there was this once two years ago, when I was about to leave the house for a show—and usually that means I’ll have to bring my luggage out, so I try to get out before my dad comes out of the toilet for his prayers—my dad saw me and asked, “You got show ah?” I just kept quiet, but then he just told me to have fun. I went out, closed the door and felt very relieved; like he alerady knew what’s going on. But until today, I still doll up outside and dedrag before heading back home.
As for my mom, I think she’s come to terms with whatever I do, and she’s proud of it, even when I tell her the wigs I style are for drag queens. She’s seen some of my drag costumes in the cupboard and asked, “Who’s going to rent it?”, which of course in her terms means, “When are you going to wear it?” I guess that’s her way of accepting what I’ve done so far.
At the end of the day, whatever income I earn from drag, I don’t use on my parents. It usually goes back for my wigs, costumes, make-up and all that. I still believe in my religion. I rather use the money I earn from drag on myself, so that the sin is solely on me and not on them. Whatever income I earn from styling wigs, which of course is “halal”, will definitely go to them. My day job helps to pay for all the household stuff. They’ve taken care of me for 29 years now, and I just want to repay them.
Have you ever felt like a hypocrite to your religion?
Many times. I think I’m just fortunate enough to be able to do whatever it is I do on stage, as long as I don’t bring it back home. My parents have never met Gina, and I try my best to practise the religion too. I still do read the Quran here and there, though I’m quite bad at it. But I do practise the religion as a form of mediation as well. Whatever my sins are, it’s between me and Allah, and I’ll have to answer for whatever actions I’ve made on Earth. Religion is one powerful mysterious entity. I don’t pray five times a day, but I try my best to pray at least once a day.
What’s your biggest struggle of doing drag over the past eight years?
Finding my voice and putting myself forward. Those eight years, I needed to find my own brand, my own identity. And thankfully, with the guidance, mentorship and approval from my drag mother, Noristar, for putting me under her wings of the Haus Of Stars, and the tremendous support and love from my brother from another mother, Isaac, the opportunity to find a place to grow my craft at Peaches came along. That doesn’t mean I neglect or reject other opportunities that come my way. Money for me has never been an issue, because I’m savvy in finding ways to earn money to fund my craft. If I can’t earn from my day job, I’ll find other ways of earning—nothing sexual of course.
What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done for money?
Being a mascot. Back when I was doing school shows, I took up a role as a speaking frog mascot for a Japanese restaurant. It was very difficult for me at that time, but I told myself to hustle, and take up any job that’s available to earn a living. That’s how I managed. I wasn’t picky. If someone had a gig for me, I did it. I would also teach speech and drama in schools back then, and even organize camps. If there’s money in these things, I’ll go for it. Malays say, “Ada rezeki”.
What about the love department; was it difficult to find love?
I’ve come to a point where I’ve had enough already, so I haven’t been dating for a while. I’m super jaded. Actually, I’ve been single since I started doing drag. Fun fact: I had a boyfriend when I was in Drag Academy, but it ended right before the finals.
Is there a sort of stigma?
The stigma is real, especially when you put yourself on stage and get that amount of exposure to so many people. Of course you’ll get judged. Even now, with Grindr, Jack’d, Scruff and all that, it’s been difficult for me to find somebody to date. But I don’t care anymore. It’s thrown off quite a few men. For some of them, after I tell them that I’m a drag queen, they think I want to transition, when in fact I do it as an outlet to destress and to keep my mind off my depression. The last guy I spoke to, I opened up completely and told him that I have an alter ego, and that I do drag professionally. We added each other on Facebook, talked a bit but of course we ended up drifting anyway. Typical gay story. If it comes, it comes.
What’s your worst encounter as a drag queen in Singapore?
People tugging on my wig, touching inappropriate areas, even while I’m doing a lip sync number. I’ve had guys groping me, and even an instance when this drunk dude who thought I was a woman, grabbed my “breasts”. Another thing I can’t stand is when either myself or my girls are performing, is when (audience members) come on stage. It’s disrespectful.
What’s your proudest achievement as Gina Gemini so far?
Bouncing back to life and going back to business after a three-month break, during which I was hospitalized because of pneumonia. It was a tough time because it was during the same time my last relationship ended. I could’ve passed on in that three months because my left lung collapsed twice. It gave me a break from life though, because at that time, I overworked myself from juggling my day job and my drag performances and all, to the extent I didn’t have much rest. I was so stressed and my body just said, “Enough is enough”. So nowadays, I tell myself to take a break when I really feel like I need to.
I’m also currently working towards publishing a little children’s book about a gay child loving his mother. I want it to be friendly and relevant enough to the point that both adults and kids can read enjoy it. That’s my future goal.
Meet Gina in person at the Drag Wars Finals, happening Aug 10 at Peaches Club Singapore.