I love a bit of drag, and I *bloody* love a drag queen. Exactly what makes men dressing up as women and lip syncing to pop songs so appealing, I am not quite sure. But to me, it represents pure joyfulness, a complete surrender to the silliness of the world. I think that having fun is so important and we should all try to seek out fun each day, but as one of life’s pessimists, “letting go” doesn’t always come naturally to me. There is a freedom in drag performance that even makes itself known to somebody like me, and I just can’t resist it.
Unfortunately, in my home town of London there really isn’t a drag culture – it seems like a strange thing for such a large and cosmopolitan city, but that’s the way it is. On the flipside, my current home of Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which doesn’t have a gay scene that is nearly as big or diverse as London’s, has a surprisingly burgeoning drag scene. In Rainbow Bar on street 136, you can catch a drag show every single night of the week at 10pm, no matter how many people are in the audience. One time at Rainbow, a whole family was there catching a show of dancing cross-dressers, and once they performed only for me. At the most popular gay bar in town, Blue Chili, there is a drag performance every Friday and Saturday night, and the bar is always packed with customers at these times. There was also a time I visited a gay sauna in the city, and to my amazement, there was a complete drag show with multiple performers and costume changes at 6pm. Outstanding.
My only slight bugbear with drag performance in this city is that the lip syncing is not always that tight, but I guess the performers can be excused considering that many of them don’t actually speak English. At its best, Phnom Penh drag showcases incredibly inventive costumes, surprising song choices, and tight choreography. And of course, these Queens should also be applauded for taking such an open approach to gender and sexual identity in a country where these identities can feel narrow.
Here are some photos from drag performances I have witnessed in Phnom Penh.