Want to know what it’s like to be a drag queen in Hong Kong? Local diva, Coco Pop chats confidence, importance of unity, designing costumes and more.
We can’t deny that drag queens are born performers with a charm and level of confidence like no other! But there’s more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye, from making the leap to finding your style and building a support system. With hit-shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and more LGBTQ+ shows hitting the limelight, not only are more people drawn to alluring performances by drag queens, more drag queens are on the rise! We chat to one of Hong Kong’s earliest divas, Coco Pop, on the secret to confidence on stage, costume inspirations and her RTHK show, We Are Family.
Can you give us a brief journey of how you found your calling of transitioning into a drag queen? What inspired you to take the step?
Growing up, I was very much fascinated by divas like Madonna and Whitney Houston and local star, Anita Mui (my number one icon!), I always dreamt of one day performing like them. Back then, in my understanding, I thought I could never do that as a man. Then, at 19, I first got to know about drag queens! This was also around the time I was exploring my sexuality and getting to know the gay community, so it all came together.
I gave my first drag performance in 2002, it was just for fun, with some friends. I had bought my high heels back in 1997 but that was the night I wore them out for the first time and I felt so happy! I was eager to know when my next drag performance would be but my friends weren’t very keen on continuing. But I couldn’t stop, I dug deeper into the drag culture, famous drag queens from around the world and started contemplating how I could make this into a profession. I told myself I will do it, I didn’t know how, but I told myself I would learn!
From around 2006 onwards, I started performing regularly at a nightclub and my first show was lipsyncing to Anita Mui!
What part of being a drag queen do you find most appealing?
Initially I copied the styles of my icons but going on I found my own and that’s what was appealing to me. I don’t just mean make-up and costumes, I’m also talking about creating my own voice. I have my own RTHK show called We Are Family where all topics are welcome, for all types of viewers. I read stories for children and create educational videos about safer sex and aim to spread awareness about the LBGQT+ community. This is me creating Coco Pop’s image, beyond being a drag queen.
How significant would you say your shift in personality is when you are in drag?
There isn’t a huge difference between myself and Coco Pop, Coco Pop is like an extension of myself. Sometimes I think that Coco Pop is even more real – when I’m not in drag, I look like every other male in the society and with that comes certain expectations of masculinity. As Coco Pop, I can happily and confidently try whatever I want to do and be as bold as I want! Don’t get me wrong, I like both my selves and I don’t function like a switch (though some others do function like this which is also fine but I’m not that type). Both my selves are very similar and being a drag queen isn’t something secretive.
Would you say having a “drag family” is important?
You need to have a “chosen family” because in our community we need one to hang out with. It’s important for me, it’s important for the young ones in the LBGTQ+ community and all of us. People may have a good relationship with their biological family but sometimes it’s not the case. When you come out to the society, it’s good to bond with your chosen family and build your support group.
For example, in countries where gay marriage is legalised, there have been many cases where people’s biological families wouldn’t show support or attend the wedding but their chosen family will always be there for them.
This topic is personally what I’m striving to push out there. I myself have my own chosen family, I have my drag daughters and two very good drag sisters who also have their own drag daughters. To be a drag queen, you need a lot of support. This goes to not just being supportive of being a drag queen but also helping others cope with their personal issues.
You’re a costume designer as well, who is your style inspo? Do you do your own makeup too?
Yes I do! I get my inspiration from anything and everything! Initially, I bought clothes from H&M, Zara and more but they could never accurately represent me so I started designing clothes myself. I like the 80’s fashion and monotones and it gives me more flexibility to fit my style when I make my own outfits. I’m still in the process of learning to sew – I try to learn more so that I can create more styles.
Growing up, I was a huge collector of fashion magazines and they greatly shaped my style. I also used to work for Elle magazine under merchandising so I have a significant knowledge in terms of fashion. I love them a lot and I’ve spent a lot money (and time!) looking through these magazines. Also, I aim to be eco-friendly with my choices so I love mixing and matching clothes and also borrowing pieces from other drag queens.
As for makeup, you can find plenty of tutorials on social media nowadays. Early on we relied on makeup artists and I would note down tips from them. Slowly, I picked up the techniques and now my face is my canvas!
You were at last year’s Women’s Festival at Eaton, how was the experience for you?
Yes, I read What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter and Dancing at the Pity Party to an adult audience (normally my audience for storytelling are young kids). It was a great experience and I have pitched something else for this year’s Women’s Festival – let’s see how it goes! I am always eager to spread my knowledge and I welcome any interviews because I want to be the bridge that connects people and deepens people’s understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.
You always own the stage! What tips do you have for looking and being confident?
Some people think that the minute you put on your make-up, wig and costume, you’ll automatically feel confident but it’s not quite like that. For me, confidence comes from preparation. And knowing you look great and your costume is impeccable adds to that confidence. If you’ve spent enough time getting ready, you know you’re the queen of the night and your confidence level only goes up from there.
How does your RTHK show, We Are Family spread awareness about the LGBTQ+ community in Hong Kong?
I welcome all topics on my show and I always have a little sex corner – not just for the LGBTQ+ community but also for straight-people – it usually airs after midnight so I found the timing quite apt! I also highlight tougher topics like sexual harassment. I like to encourage people to open up about all topics, none are off limits!
People think We Are Family is targeted towards certain people but it isn’t! It’s for everyone; parents, children, those struggling with their sexual identity. Another thing is, parents who have children in the LGBTQ+ community have very less support. They don’t know what to do and how to handle the situation and that’s where I can jump in and help. It’s a show where we come and say, “It’s okay, you’re not alone. Don’t be apologetic for who you are”.
What do you think people are often misinformed about when it comes to drag?
Hong Kong people are actually pretty open when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues but that’s only until they personally have to handle the situation, say finding out their son is gay or their daughter is a lesbian. Sometimes the family members are supportive, sometimes they are completely against or sometimes, they just ignore it. For my father, he wasn’t against me but he also didn’t really do anything about me coming out gay.
I think people are most misinformed about handling these types of situations.
What form of discrimination have you often faced? Do you think Hong Kong is more tolerant now than before towards the LGBTQ+ community?
I have personally never felt directly discriminated by anyone. And my gay friends who came from countries with legalised gay marriage often say they feel safer in Hong Kong than in their own countries! Hongkongers are tolerant until they themselves have to deal with a family member who is from the LGBTQ+ community, but I’m hopeful that the situation will gradually improve.