“When I was coming out, and I was having a very difficult time with accepting my new identity. I turned to drag and drag was able to kind of help me come out of my shell a lot faster. When I decided to come out, I was like, well, if I'm coming out of this closet, I'm going to bring some of my mom's gowns with me. So I started doing drag and it really did help build the confidence that I needed to become the person I am today,” Manila Luzon said in an interview recently to promote her online series "Jack Fire Drag Queen Summer Glamp."
“I’m really excited to be part of something that spreads the message of joy, acceptance, and celebration,” Luzon said.
Before we began, I asked what pronouns I should use for the interview. She was in drag during our Zoom chat. “You can use she or her. I know it's confusing, but yeah, when I'm in drag, that's how I go.”
She paused before adding, “I want all of them. That's because I'm greedy, I want all the pronouns,” she said, laughing merrily.
What’s not a laughing matter to the drag performer is her fandom, whom she genuinely appreciates. Asked if she has any idea how she connected with them, she said: “I think authenticity really resonated with viewers, you know. I’m not just a character that was written by someone.”
Manila Luzon plays Firefly in the new season of DreamWorks animated series "The Mighty Ones." She will also host the first Filipino drag queen competition series "Drag Den."
Q: How did the pandemic change you?
Manila Luzon: There's definitely that feeling of FOMO, fear of missing out, that I got to throw away because I was like, ‘Well, everyone in the whole world is kind of on a timeout.’ So it was nice to be able to be home and do a little self reflection and changing my priorities a little bit.
Q: When you came up with Manila Luzon, was that your first choice or did you workshop different names?
Manila Luzon was my very first choice when I decided to become a drag queen. Celebrating my Asian heritage has always been important to me. Growing up as a mixed-race child -- my mother's from the Philippines; my father was born in Minnesota, he’s white -- my mother always made it a point to keep her heritage alive with me and my sister when we were growing up. So when I decided to choose the drag name, I named myself after my mother's home place because my mother is one of my biggest heroes, she's a wonderful woman she's always fashionable, and she's very smart and she's a feminist, and I've always looked up to her.
Q: How would you describe growing up in Minnesota as a Filipino-American?
I don't know how to really describe it because I feel like I have been raised very uniquely because of my mixed race. Every week we would meet, we had a cultural society of Filipino-Americans in Minnesota that would meet every week. And we would have a potluck and eat Filipino food and the kids would get to learn the traditional Filipino dance tinikling.
Q: When you're out of drag, do people recognize you still?
Surprisingly people do recognize me. Even when I'm outside wearing a mask, I get recognized.
Q: How does it feel to get that validation?
You know, I have to say that it's kind of amazing because especially as an Asian-American, where people aren't used to seeing us represented very often in the media. So the fact that someone can recognize me without my usual look of being in full drag and with a mask on is great because it means that people are noticing our community a lot more.
Q: What do you think made them connect with you?
I have to say, um, I have absolutely no idea. (laughs) I just went on to reality TV and I was just being myself or a version of myself wearing lots of glitter and makeup and wigs, but still myself. And I think that's one thing that's really nice about my experience of being on reality TV is that I got to just go on TV and be myself. And I think that that authenticity really resonated with viewers, you know. I’m not just a character that was written by someone.
Q: Was doing drag something that you started organically when you realized one day that that is what you wanted to do, or was it a slow blossoming?
It was slow, a slow growth. I have to say I've always been really interested in theater, dramatics. I've always considered myself a visual artist so I'm always interested in fashion and with makeup and hair design. So when I was coming out, and I was having a very difficult time with accepting my new identity, I turned to drag and drag was able to kind of help me come out of my shell a lot faster. When I decided to come out I was like well if I'm coming out of this closet I'm going to bring some of my mom's gowns with me. So I started doing drag and it really did help build the confidence that I needed to become my own today.
Q: Why do you think that Filipinos are so great at drag?
Well, I think it’s — I mean not to sound biased or anything but Filipino people are just beautiful people, so throw lash and lipstick on us and we look amazing! (laughs) I think that Filipino people in general are just these warm, loving people who people are attracted to. And if not, then they’ll probably serve a really good dish of chicken adobo.
Plus we sing!
Or if they can’t sing, they can just be like me and lip-synch!