The vibrant world of drag culture, widely celebrated overseas, has found its spotlight and acclaim in Thailand. As we journey from its history to the present, the essence of “drag” has undergone a transformation. In the past, drag was often perceived as “men dressing as women.” However, in today’s landscape, many drag performers don’t strictly identify as male. This naturally prompts the question: Does drag truly have boundaries when it comes to gender?
To find out, EQ chat with Ivory Black, one of the standout Thai drag queens with remarkable talent and a flair for drag makeup styling. We delved into matters of gender within the context of drag, as well as the journey of self-discovery that emerges from the brushstrokes that dance upon the canvas of the face.
Embarking on the drag adventure
“I’d never really heard or known about drag before. Maybe I’d seen performers like Jai SIRA, but I didn’t realize that it was called drag. I just thought they were dressing up like women, looking beautiful. My true introduction to drag was during my freshman year of university, around 18-19. I was a fan of Lady Gaga, and there was this one time she was a guest judge on the 9th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” So, I started watching, and in like the first 15 minutes, I was like, “Whoa, this is so much fun and full of life!” It triggered this curiosity in me, you know? Like, I hadn’t really dipped my toes into that colorful world before. Then, when I got to uni, there was this event where I finally got a chance to try it out, and from that moment on, I was totally hooked. I’m still on this journey of discovering the whole drag thing while figuring out more about myself too!”
It began with a passion for makeup
“I’m really into makeup, but being from a different province has limited my chances to explore it as much as those living in the city. I used to feel like I had to fit into this macho image and conform to a closeted gay identity, even though I had a lot of female friends. I often helped them buy makeup because there was only one store that sold this popular brand, ‘Wet n Wild,’ and every time I went there, I’d be so amazed. I’d buy my favorite shades and stash them away in this small box in my wardrobe. I wouldn’t really use them, just admire them. I’ve admired makeup artists for a long time, so I started playing around with makeup – I even tried the Joker look! I began by using acrylic paint on my face, which, in hindsight, wasn’t the best idea!”
Embracing self-expression and discovery through drag
“I started doing drag because I wanted to express myself openly, but it’s more about creativity for me than just self-expression. Drag makes me feel unique in an extravagant way. But honestly, it’s been a real boost in becoming who I am today. It’s like another version of myself that I never knew existed before – I’d never really seen this side of me before! Once I started doing drag, it’s like it brought that hidden part of me out. Recently, I had the opportunity to perform at Silom, and that was a moment when I got to chat with my LGBTQ+ peers. It suddenly hit me that, hey, I’m living in a society filled with diverse people. It was the first time I felt so much like myself, a feeling I had never experienced before. Is this what it’s like for people who celebrate Pride or those who have come out? It feels like being liberated.”
“I once wrote in a post after graduation, “The journey that brought me here allowed us to meet ‘her,’ and she’s become an integral part of me. It’s just me all along.’ While I used to describe drag as playing with characters, my perspective has shifted. It’s no longer about playing a character; it’s another facet of who I am. To me, drag is the “highest form of gay.” I can now proudly say that ‘Ivory Black,’ my drag identity, will forever coexist with me.”
How did you come up with the name Ivory Black?
“The name came from an oil paint color. When choosing a drag name, I was drawn to the dark and intriguing aspects of existence. I wanted a name that held beauty and a certain depth, reflecting the darkest times of my life, which shaped the characters I create. One day, I stumbled upon a tube of black oil paint named ‘Ivory Black.’ The juxtaposition struck me – ‘ivory’ typically symbolizes purity, tenderness, and femininity, yet in black, it exuded a captivating contradiction. By blending ‘Ivory,’ representing innocence and gentleness, with the darkness of black, I gave birth to ‘Ivory Black.’ It’s like an ebony ivory, maintaining an elegance that shines through even in the darkest of times.”
You’re such a talented makeup artist. Have you ever taken makeup lessons?
“I’ve learned makeup all by myself. As I mentioned, I started by watching drag and attempting to replicate it. I wasn’t that great in the beginning, but I’d do my makeup in my room every day, then post it on social media for people to comment on. That actually motivated me. Even now, I still watch makeup tutorials. As far as my drag is concerned, I see makeup as my strong suit, but I never stop developing myself. I feel that there's always room for growth. Drag isn’t just about transforming into a woman; it’s about creativity.”
What do you love the most about doing drag?
“What I really love about doing drag is that it’s a time to just be myself. The real world can get so chaotic, and everyone’s got their own way to reconnect with who they truly are. Sitting down to do drag or makeup is like this special moment where I get to be truly me. Sometimes after a long day at work or dealing with people, no matter how late it is, I’ll just sit in front of the mirror and start doing my makeup. And when I finally meet Ivory, all that exhaustion just melts away. Without this passion and the genuine connection with myself, I wouldn’t have the ability to spend hours painting my face from 4 in the afternoon until 3 in the morning. It’s really about accessing that creative mindset and then liberating oneself.”
What are the differences between doing drag makeup and regular everyday makeup?
“Drag makeup requires a hefty dose of creativity. I use the same makeup I use for everyday life, but drag makeup tends to be much more exaggerated. Whenever someone asks about drag makeup, I always say, ‘Make it bold, make it pop.’ The differences in colors need to be vivid, not softened. The highlights should be prominent. You have to be able to spot me from the top of the alley.”
“But these days, things have changed quite a bit. Some drag queens have shifted to lighter makeup looks, emphasizing a more feminine appearance. And honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Because drag is the art of transformation and entertainment. It’s up to each drag queen to choose how they want to represent themselves so it doesn’t matter whether it’s heavy or light makeup.”
“If you feel like you’re a drag queen, then you are a drag queen. It’s all about each person’s own self-definition, and that’s what matters.”
An art form that transcends the boundaries of gender
“Back in the day, drag used to involve men portraying female characters since women weren’t allowed to perform on stage. So, those who did drag were mostly men. But over time, there has been a gradual transformation, and now even women can do drag. They’re often called ‘bio queens.’ Anyone, regardless of their gender, can do drag. I wish to break down the walls of old perceptions. I want drag to be a means of self-expression. Every time I go live to do makeup, I always say, ‘If you feel like trying, just go for it.’ Because you might discover an art form that lets you release something within yourself.”
“I feel that drag is suitable for everyone, regardless of whether you’re gay or trans. It’s a hotly debated issue within the drag scene, but I believe that drag isn’t defined by who you are or your gender.”
“I just look at the ideas drag artists bring in, their concepts, the stories they want to tell, without getting caught up in gender-related stuff or whatever’s down there. As long as drag isn’t used to make fun or disrespect someone, it’s all good. Because drag is like its own kind of politics, a performance that tears down those gender walls. It’s not just about getting dressed up or putting on makeup. Everyone’s got their own story to tell through drag.”
What’s your favorite look?
“This look! I feel so accomplished with it because I did it myself. It’s beautiful and very much a representation of who I am. I can actually use it in performances. I don’t think anyone has ever done something like this. I design everything you see from head to toe. I do my own hair, makeup, and even the sewing and stitching. It’s my goal to craft distinctive looks that remain one-of-a-kind. That’s the essence of drag artistry for me. I want people to come and check out not just my performances, but also the different looks I bring to each show.”
“As for this one, it’s not a complete look, but I adore it for its dark vampire-inspired vibe. It’s reminiscent of my early days, channeling that ‘Dragula’ coolness. ‘Dragula’ is a show where drag takes a darker, edgier turn. Both these looks make me proud. From brainstorming and sketching through the night to putting the outfit together, it shows just how much my drag has evolved. These looks wouldn’t have been possible three years ago.”
If you could do drag with just one item, what would you choose?
“Oil paints, because they have a true foundation version as well. Plus, they’re easy to find and not expensive. If I want the perfect foundation shade, I can mix oil colors. For lipsticks or eyeshadows, I can use oil paints too. Sometimes, I use this technique to make the colors on my face pop. The downside is that without setting powder, it can smudge in hot weather. Another choice would be eyelashes. Without them, the look wouldn’t be complete. Eyelashes and drag queens are a perfect match!”
“I think everyone needs their to have their source of inspiration. It doesn’t have to be drag-related, it could be art. Me personally, I have drag queens who inspire me like Violet Chachki, who started doing drag after her first gay bar experience, feeling unimpressed by the drag queens she saw. She decided to be herself and eventually won ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ I think finding inspiration is better than just wanting to copy someone. Just find role models and practice based on that. Slowly, with practice, you’ll eventually improve.”
“If you’re not sure but want to try drag, just go for it! If you’re doing it to celebrate or express yourself, just do it. Don’t worry what people might think about you. You can get in drag to celebrate Pride Month even if you’re not a member of the LGBTQ+ community. This art form is open to everyone. If you’re not sure, just give it a try and practice. When you feel confident enough, go out there and live your truth!”