[EXCLUSIVE] The World Sees A Man, But I’m More: I’m Malaysian Drag Queen Kitty Vön Phiercè
The drag queen scene in Malaysia is bigger than you think. Did you know that there is a community here? Probably not – because it’s difficult to see them anywhere but on social media, where they are free to live their best lives. But, even there, they are subject to abuse, hate and harassment. Recently, the Queens in Malaysia did a “Don’t Rush” Challenge on TikTok and some people have used it as a reason to spread more hate and hostility towards the drag and LGBTQ+ community. In a now-removed post on Instagram and a group chat for the channel, their video was posted with the captions and some of the responses,
” Look how brave these people are, are they already accepted in Malaysia?”
We speak to R* (name withheld for their safety), a local drag Queen about being queer in Malaysia as well as for a much-needed reminder that members of the LGBTQ+ community are human too.
1. Not many people know who they are – how did you find out who “you” are?
It was a roller coaster ride, hah.
Growing up, I’ve always felt a whole lot more fem than mass (feminine than masculine). I despised society’s idea of what a man should be. At 7, I was like, “What do you mean I can’t shake my hips in a certain way?”. So for the longest time, I thought that since I didn’t fit into the mould of what a man should be, that I might be a woman after all. I genuinely thought that I was a girl trapped in the body of a chubby boy. But then I watched Manila Luzon’s music video for “Haute Couture” in full awe. I did some research and… it was a godsend. I finally understood that I am not trans – I just am all and neither at the same time. I now identify as a non-binary and non-conforming. In layman terms, I do not believe that I belong to any gender or any gender that is on the spectrum. If genders lined up in a straight line from the most masc gender to the most fem gender, I’d probably be at home not participating in the lineup. My pronouns are they/them.
I was also born into a Muslim household. The one constant throughout my life has been my love for Islam. I went to Sekolah Agama (religious school), religious classes and camps. I grew up respecting Islam and I definitely had doubts and insecurities about where I fit or stand in Islam. But I found that because of my love for Islam, I am constantly expanding my knowledge and understanding of it through reading journals and other interpretations online. I’ve now become comfortable living as a queer person and a devoted Muslim.
2. And who is Kitty?
The Kitty Von Phierce is tenacious and driven. Kitty is a tough cookie that does not crumble easily.
Kitty is not afraid to tackle social issues and messages through performances. With Kitty, I explore different concepts like one I did for a medley of “God is A Woman”, “Bloody Mary” and “The Laughing Track” that was based on the concept of how people see women as less and the effect of that on mental health and will of life.
As Kitty, I could walk, run and dance in 10-inch heels without fear of falling. But as R, I’m still struggling to talk to people on the phone. I’m an Aquarius, so I’m very artsy and creative-minded, but with anxiety and my mental health, it’s a struggle to reach my true potential. Kitty is an extension of me because Kitty is pretty much everything that I aspire to be.
I truly pride myself as being one of the first few starts in the new age wave of drag queens here in KL – which basically refers to the Queens that are born within the sphere of the internet and with an online presence. When I first started, there were only me, Kumela Kumslut and Carmen Rose.
3. What was it like growing up queer?
I know the world is changing, and trust me it is changing, but the change is slow. Whether I’m in drag or not, I have always had hate being thrown my way. In school, I had to deal with the fact that I’m queer and issues with my weight. My peers would call me “Gajah” (elephant) on top of the age-old names like, “bapok”, “nonok” and “pondan”. But one instance when I was 13 still traumatises me to this day.
I was living in the dorms of an all-boys school and I was woken up one night at around 2 AM. I was dragged out to meet some seniors in a classroom (they were 15/16 years old). They interrogated me for hours; they would slap, beat and dump water on me. They did this as they asked me questions like, “Is it true that you’re a fag?”, “Do you like one of us”, “Have you been watching us in the shower?”. I didn’t go to class the next day because I was so scared – this incident f***** me up bad. I ended up changing schools, seeing a psychiatrist and taking meds. From then on, I became a bully – eat or be eaten, you know? And now, looking back, I regret some of the things I did in school as I tried to get at people before they got to me.
4. How do people treat you when you’re in drag?
When I’m in drag, I feel the oppression and harassment that women go through. I know that this may be a controversial thing to say and I know I will never fully understand what women go through on a day to day basis, but I definitely get the gist of it.
On one of the worst nights I’ve had as a drag queen, was at an event with a few friends. We were having a good time and I noticed a guy staring at me from across the room. He came closer and asked to dance with me. Personally, I don’t mind dancing with people – I understand that some people just don’t get to see a Goddess such as myself everyday hahah. But, when I danced with him, he started touching my waist and as we danced, I noticed his hands going on my ass and all over my fake titties. I was so scared I was shaking. I turned my back on him and started making my way back to my friends but he pulled me to him and started to rub himself on me. He went as far as to put his fingers up my skirt. I started screaming, “More tequila” – which is our secret code for when we are in danger or in need to escape a situation – and my friends immediately came to my rescue.
I’ve had nights where I’ve been forced to kiss other people or where they’ve pawed me inappropriately. And this is what inspired a recent performance of mine of Raye’s song “Please Don’t Touch”. As part of the performance, Kitty is seen as beautiful as ever but as the performance and the song progresses, these hands are seen touching Kitty inappropriately all over her body. And every time the hands touched Kitty, her body is stained with ugly paint. I always feel dirty after a night of people harassing me, and I wanted to visually represent the effect of assault and harassment – the stain of it does not wash off easily. My favourite lyric from the song is, “One touch, I’m a victim, so please don’t touch, if you don’t mean it, but once you put your hands here, it can’t be undone”
People need to understand that yes, we are drag queens and we are works of art but like works of art, please do not touch. Drag is basically a female illusion, nothing more, nothing less. And people forget that under all the illusion is still a person with emotions that are as real as the next persons’. It’s as if when we are in drag, people lose all common sense and civicness goes out of the window. Respect your queens, adore us, compliment us but don’t treat us like we’re not real people.
5. How have the recent posts from these negative individuals affected you, the drag and the LGBTQ+ community?
Initially, the Queens Carmen Rose, Cik Teh Botol and Acne Scar, gathered us to bring together the local queens and to let Malaysians know that there is this community with all this talent. Some of the queens in the video are OG Queens (queens that have been doing this for 10 plus years), queens who might not perform at all and queens who simply choose to do their make up in their bedroom. It was to show that we are an inclusive community that supports each other but this has definitely shaken our world. There are queens who were featured in the video that deactivated their social media because they are afraid of the consequences.
And it’s posts like these that give the community a bad rep – 90% of what they are saying comes from a place of hate and slander. This community is so loving, accepting and colourful. It makes me want to ask them to come hang with us just to see how wonderful we are as a community. But with the bombardment of hate that we get every day, we don’t have the opportunity to create an environment of acceptance. It’s so sad because I work closely with an NGO that helps and supports queer youth here in Malaysia so I see the effects of this hatred towards the youth. Our NGO receives about 2-3 cases of teens/adult teens seeking help and shelter simply because they’ve chosen to be themselves. It constantly feels like we’re being pushed back into our closets to conform to being “normal”. The abuse this community faces is just inhumane.
6. What do you wish people would understand about the LGBTQ+ community?
I’ve always believed that our existence in itself is a sign of protest towards all the negative remarks that have been made and thrown our way. We are human too, and we only ask that we are treated as human, for others to show more empathy towards us. Throw away the misconception and stigma that people in the LGBTQ+ community are out to make everyone “one of us” and to “do evil”, that’s just rubbish. Honey, we don’t have that kind of energy or the time to do that. The community is just the same as every other – we pay our taxes, do our jobs and live our lives; we just like to do it with a tonne more flair and style hahaha