Based on my love of unruly femininity, I’m sharing with you my absolute devotion to the work of Bongganisa (they/she)! Bong was generous enough to let me have an exclusive interview with her. The photos are from their instagram, and are used with her consent. Finally, I end this post with some other musings on the local drag scene here in Vancouver.Vancouver is located on the unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Nations
The last time I saw Bongganisa– their name a play on a Filipino meat stick known as a longgonisa- she was hurling her body onto the grass by Í7iy̓el̓shn beach. Whereas other drag performers might gently, gracefully, and gingerly lower their bodies down to earth for stunts, Bongganisa flings, throws and yeets herself as if tumbling off a cliff.
In other performances she might forgoes lip-syncing completely to instead laugh manically or run into the audience with outstretched arms or my personal fav, hide in plain sight. The power in their movements, always consistently timed with the intense emotionality of their performance reminds me why they are my favourite drag performer in the city.
Bongganisa holds your attention, even while she is perfectly still. Her uniquely deranged aesthetic combined with a portrayal of ugly feelings, leaves one captivated. Ugly feelings–despair, disgust, guilt, rage, fear — I am not suggesting watching Bong is comfortable or pleasing but I am promising they reliably deliver a memorable audience experience that will leave you wondering… wtf?
An interview with Bongganisa
In August 2022, right after the Vancouver Pride season, Bong was generous enough to let me ask them a few questions:
How would you describe your drag?
Bongganisa is an unhinged woman. They are a manifestation of tumultuous romance in a vengeful ghost format. She also wears a lot of head pieces!
What do you admire most about the “Vancouver” Drag scene?
I am really drawn towards fucking things up, and this is a local speciality. The abnormal really speaks to me because I find it so inspiring.
Top moment in “Vancouver” drag History?
My personal top moment ever in Vancouver Drag history was being asked to join the House of Rice.
[Kyra’s note: House of Rice is the only all-Asian drag house in Vancouver. It showcases the talents of the queer Asian diasporic community — with mother Shay Dior at the helm & her many, many children. House of Rice hosts a super fun party RICECAKE and monthly drag dim-sum at Cold Tea Restaurant.]
Thanks so much!
Kyra’s Top 3 Bongganisa Factoids:
- She is a fashion designer.
Bongganisa creates all her celebrated looks — a rare talent in an era of online shopping– Bong is known for serving ‘I actually didn’t know you could wear that’ with an unparalleled flair. Recently I sent them a message complimenting a fashionable creation to be informed “it’s just tablecloths lol”– if only we could all rock dining room vibes so casually… but if we could, we wouldn’t be so (rightfully) obsessed with Bongganisa!
- They are the ‘most bizarre’
Not only is Bongganisa a drag icon, they are also a heavy hitter in Vancouver’s vogue community. She is in Kiki House of Andromeda and won ‘most bizarre’ during the 2022 pride ball. Bongganisa consistently brings her dancing skills into her drag performances in unusually charismatic ways. We have all seen a dip (also known as a ‘death drop’), but have you seen one with a head ricocheting so forcefully you wish they had a helmet? you will if you watch Bong!
- She went to art school.
That’s right, Bongganisa is more than a terrifyingly beautiful face– they also have an expensive piece of paper that validates her talent! Although art school might have refined her skill set, it’s really Bongganisa’s passion that fans the fire within my heart– and that’s something that cannot be taught (but they also have a degree in teaching! SHE IS MULTIFACETED!)
Musings on YVR Drag
I started regularly watching local drag in 2018 at a now defunct weekly show in East Vancouver. Full disclosure, it had a reputation for being sorta trash but that was the charm. So, if you really like polished queens emulating femininity as soft, beautiful, lovely… well that’s just not my vibe. I am into weird, unnecessary, excess and gender play that disrupts those traditional tropes.
I recall attending a drag show on Commercial and being accosted by pre-queers (aka ‘heterosexuals’) who wanted to share their knowledge about my culture as they just loveddddd drag. They had driven in from a suburb to see the show — their first live show ever— and were amazed to see that drag was more than cismen in dresses being sexy pretty ladies. Of course, they didn’t even know to bring cash to tip since that’s not a part of what is seen on T.V….
Which brings me— inevitably, to money! Currently, we live in a capitalist society and drag artist need to be supported financially by the community. There is no Canada council grant for ‘gender fuckery’ (yet)— so tip your performers! Remember that drag usually involves hours of prep: the application of makeup, creating elaborate costumes, and rehearsing —before the artist even reaches the stage.
However, there is a real clear favouritism of this ‘commercialized’ drag that has been popularized in mass media: polished performances by AMABs of a particular form of femininity. That is what those suburbanites ‘expected’ to see…how else do those expectations manifest? It would be very interesting to do an intersectional comparison of tips, bookings, and general reach of our cities’ performers. This analysis would also need to include the format of their drag…it also might vary by performance. Yet this returns to us, as the audience. Whose shows do you go to? Who are you following on social media? When you only 5$, who are you tipping? When you compliment a drag performance, what matrix are you using to evaluate?
All this leads to being conscious and curious about who might be gatekeeping your conception of drag. In Vancouver, there are very few cismen drag performers, we are so blessed with many non-binary talents! For instance, comedian, singer and drag artist Toddy (they/she/he) won a 2021 televised competition and the title ‘first child of drag’. Or Mx. Bukuru (they/them), a founding member of ENBY6, who is so sexy, powerful and embodies Black Excellence. However, I strongly recommend actively seeking out performances by Kings. Drag Kings engage in an exploration of masculinity. Consider King Fisher, Skim & Jeff Garbage [a wonderous alter ego of Rose Butch].
I wonder… how is new talent being forged in Vancouver? Who gets mentored within the community? How can a drag artist do something that might ‘fail’ when they rely so much on tips [which in turn, relies on playing to audience expectations of ‘good’ drag]? What is our responsibility as the audience to challenge those expectations and support our artists?
Lastly, I wish we had a local regular [weekly] show again for artists [of all levels] to try new acts in a low stakes’ situation…ideally not in the west end or all the out by UBC (but do check out UBC Drag!)… but like close to a sky train east of Main St? in Mount Pleasant…? on the Drive? I miss the community building of a space where folks can eat together, sit together, and attend at a very low entry cost (under 10$). If you have a space where that sounds like it could be possible, let me know! I’m ready to sit on the floor, watch more weird queer art and CHEER [and tip!] my heart out!