The Divine Divas: Redefining Reinvention
There was a time when drag was only celebrated in street bars littered around Metro Manila. There was a time when drag performers couldn’t fully explain what they did for a living or why they did it, primarily living on the sheer satisfaction they got from getting on stage and doing what they do best. The Divine Divas—Precious Paula Nicole, Viñas DeLuxe and Brigiding—know this well. But as luck and skill and timing would have it, they also know what it’s like to help redefine and reinvent the face of entertainment.
Most of us got our first look at the Divine Divas from Drag Race Philippines. Viñas and Brigiding ended the season in seventh and sixth place, respectively, and Precious was hailed the grand winner after 10 episodes. But the three have a history beyond Drag Race Philippines, and—while they know what the show has done and will continue to do for them—their futures will go beyond it, too.
At a small bar in Cubao called Pink Manila, Viñas DeLuxe performed in drag for the very first time. This was eight years ago, and the song of her choice was Beyonce’s Single Ladies. “Suot-suot ko ‘yung swimsuit ng ate ko tsaka wig na ginawa ko mismo from scratch. Super memorable ng araw na ‘yun kasi after ko mag-perform, nung pauwi na’ko sa Bulacan, P150 lang ‘yung TF ko tapos nadukutan pa ‘ko sa bus,” she recounts.
(“I was wearing my sister’s swimsuit and wig, which I created from scratch. It was a super memorable day because after I performed, on my way home to Bulacan, my TF was P150 and I was pickpocketed on the bus,” she recounts.)
As a natural-born performer, Viñas has always loved being in front of a crowd—from joining singing competitions to eventually performing in theater. During her college years, while she wasn’t completely “out” yet, she found a YouTube makeup tutorial emulating Drag Race’s Nina Flowers. She didn’t realize that drag makeup was an art form in itself. “‘Uy gusto ko ‘to i-try, hindi siya pa-girl.’ Papasa pa siyang ‘Hindi ako baklang-bakla,’” she recalls saying to herself, before jesting: “‘Yun pala, ‘yun na ‘yung rurok ng kabaklaan.”
(“‘I want to try this, it isn’t too girly.’ It would pass for ‘I’m not too gay,’” she recalls saying to herself, before jesting: “I didn’t realize it was the pinnacle of being gay.”)
Doing drag gives Viñas the opportunity to marry her passions together. This type of performance art is intoxicating to her. She shares, “Ito ‘yung gusto kong gawin…Gusto ko makita ‘yung sarili ko na maganda ‘ko. Gusto ko na pinapalakpakan. When I tried it for the first time, nakakaadik.”
(She shares, “This is what I want to do…I want to see myself as beautiful. I want people to clap for me. When I tried it for the first time, it was addicting.”)
Still, the life of a drag queen is rife with challenges that call into question one’s dedication to their craft. Back then, the local drag culture was admittedly toxic, an environment that enabled bullying. “Iba talaga ‘yung culture dati. Uso ‘yung bully-han—nagtatago ng heels, nagtatago ng costume. Luckily, wala na siya ngayon…mas naging professional ‘yung queens,” Viñas reveals.
(“The culture before was different. Being a bully was normal—they would hide your heels, your costumes. Luckily, it’s no longer around…the queens have become more professional),” Viñas reveals.)
Saying Drag Race Philippines has changed the local landscape of drag culture is an understatement. The show has paved the way for more queens to perform in different venues—from a drag-themed brunch at a café to packed mall tours all over the Philippines—instead of just the usual night bar. More people are even considering drag as a profitable career. “Naririnig ko, kahit sa mga bars, tumaas ‘yung caliber ng drag queen. Tumaas din ‘yung TF,” shares Viñas. “Ngayon, dahil sa Drag Race…dumadami na ‘yung venues [for queens]. Dati kasi, sobrang konti lang ng venues, so patatagan kung sino ‘yung kayang tumagal…may hierarchy.”
(“I hear, even in bars, the caliber of drag queens has grown. TF is higher, too,” shares Viñas. “Because of Drag Race…there are more venues [for queens]. Before, there were very few venues, so it was a matter of who could stay the longest…there was hierarchy.”)
In Malate, at a nightclub called Red Banana known for burlesque-type shows, Brigiding had her very first drag audition. She lip-synced to Jessie J’s Mamma Knows Best wearing an oversized pullover jacket from an ukay-ukay, which she decorated with a UK flag. For the next three months, she would perform in drag without any compensation and do it all for the love of the game.
The journey, Brigiding would soon discover, is filled with one sacrifice after another; one’s love for their craft isn’t enough to sustain it. She reveals, “Ang haba ng oras na ginugugol mo sa pag-perform…Sakripisyo siya na kailangan mong tiisin at magpakatatag. For sure, it will pay off. All hard work will pay off in the end.”
(She reveals, “You exert a lot of time to perform…It’s a sacrifice that you should be willing to take, and you need to be strong. For sure, it will pay off. All hard work will pay off in the end.”)
For the next eight years, Brigiding would work at the very popular O Bar, “Home of Asia's Finest Dancing Drag Queens,” where she would meet Precious Paula Nicole, the “ate” of the group. For the performer, being a drag queen is “the most fabulous, gorgeous job that you can [have].” She notes, “Nasa gimikan ka, ang daming bading, napapalibutan ka ng saya. For me, initially, that was the most rewarding part. Para ka lang naglalaro…but you are paid. You are appreciated for what you do when you’re performing.”
(She notes, “You’re at a gig, there are many gays, you’re surrounded by happiness. For me, initially, that was the most rewarding part. It’s like you’re just playing…but you are paid. You are appreciated for what you do when you’re performing).”
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During challenging times, Brigiding would hold on to the satisfaction she gets when performing in front of a crowd. She reveals, “Ikaw mismo, ‘yung self-power na nakukuha mo sa ginagawa mo…‘Yung impact mo sa mga tao. Naiaalis mo sila, na-e-escape mo sila for a short period of time na nakakalimutan nila that they live in this crazy world at ‘yung mga problema nila. Having that responsibility is also rewarding at the same time.”
(She reveals, “The self-power that you get for what you do…The impact you have on other people. You give them an escape for a short period of time that they forget that they live in this crazy world and their problems. Having that responsibility is also rewarding at the same time.”)
Drag Race Philippines gave Brigiding “a different perspective on who we are and who we could be as an artist,” pushing the boundaries of what Filipino drag queens can become. They’re no longer confined to a title; they now have space to be influencers, celebrities…you name it. Because of the show, Brigiding believes local drag queens are now more certain that there is a career in drag.
Meanwhile, Precious Paula Nicole tells us about the very first time she performed in drag. She had to negotiate with her drag mother, who first wanted Precious to appear as a male backup dancer. After a quick conversation, it was agreed that Precious could come as a “female backup dancer,” and her drag mother even invited her to start thinking about solo performances. She recalls, “First time ko na nag-drag, naala ko lang na sobrang excited ako. Feel ko ang ganda-ganda ko nung araw na ‘yun kase [ang] tagal ko na siya gustong gawin, kaso wala talaga chance.”
(She recalls, “When I performed drag for the first time, I remember I was so excited. I felt so beautiful that day because it was what I wanted to do for the longest time, but never had the chance to.”)
There was no turning back after that. Precious began to really invest in her own costumes and makeup—instead of borrowing from her ex at the time. But despite the thrill she got from the job, she kept it a secret from those closest to her. “Nagtago ako sa [ex-jowa ko] for mga six months,” she says. “Naaalala ko lang na, kailangan ko na rin magsinungaling sa family kase nahihiya ako. Hindi ko alam kung paano i-explain sa mga siblings ko, sa nanay ko, na nagpalit na ako ng career.”
(“I hid from [my ex] for maybe six months,” she says. “I remember, I had to lie to my family because I was embrassed. I didn’t know how to explain to my siblings, to my mom, that I changed careers.”)
Precious Paula Nicole was in love with the scene, but it didn’t always love her. She recalls nights of traveling between cities in a single night, getting home tired and sweaty with less money than she started with. “[May] mga times na sabi ko, ‘parang wala naman ako mapapala dito. Parang talo talaga.’ Dun ako nagisip na parang, baka hindi naman ito talaga para sa ‘kin,” she recalls. “May napapala ako, may satisfaction siya, pero wala akong kinikitang pera, walang bumabalik sa ‘kin. Pero sabi ko lang sa sarili ko, ‘Feeling ko may kapalit tong maganda.’”
(“[There were] times I told myself, ‘maybe I can’t get anything from this. This seems like a losing battle.’ I really thought that maybe it wasn’t for me,” she recalls. “I was getting something, there was satisfaction from the job, but I wasn’t earning money; nothing was coming back to me. But I told myself, ‘I feel like something good will come out of this.’”)
And now, 12 years after she first began, Precious Paula Nicole is doing things she never thought were possible. She was part of RuPaul's DragCon UK, where she talked to people of different races and performed local songs, and everyone showed her nothing but love. She even tells us a story of someone coming up to her: “‘Yung isa naman, ngayon daw, ‘pag gumagawa siya ng desisyon sa buhay niya, ang lagi daw niya sinasabi: ‘Ano kaya gagawin ni Precious Paula Nicole? Ano kaya magiging solusyon niya dito?’ Nakakataba ng puso.”
(“There was one person, what they do now, when they make any life decision is ask themselves: ‘What would Precious Paula Nicole do? What would her solution be here?’ It fills my heart.”)
But where do we go from here? The Divine Divas’ futures are brighter than the highlight on their faces, and there’s nowhere to go but up. There’s no choice but to try and do better, to continue on the trajectory they’re already on. “Naniwala lang talaga kami sa isa’t-isa na, ‘O, kahit anong mangyari, kaya natin. Ilaban natin,’” says Precious. ”Dapat lagi pataas ng pataas ang rine-reach mo. Laban agad.”
(“We believe in each other that, ‘Hey, whatever happens, we can do this. We will fight for it,’” says Precious. “We need to keep reaching higher and higher. Keep fighting.”)
Maybe not all of us are movers and shakers—at least not yet. But we all keep moving, and we’ll all keep adapting until the world starts to resemble something a little friendlier than what we grew up in. The challenge is to keep at it, and to keep redefining our expectations.
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