Tomorrow evening the A•O•Z in Fukushima City will host the second ALT-led drag ball, The Fuku-in Fabulous Drag Ball: The Sequel, an event aimed at raising spirits, awareness, and money for charity. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the event organiser, Felipe, and the master of ceremonies, our very own Mercedez. They both shared with me some amazing insight on the event and what drag means to them personally. For the first part of this ‘Faces Behind’ the event, we will focus on the event organiser, Fukushima City’s very own Felipe, and his drag persona Shelita Booty.
What was your introduction to drag?
When I was a kid, I would drive around the streets of Medellin, Colombia with my father on his motorcycle. I would see the girls on the corners and would be told how dirty they were and how they were only there to deceive men. It wasn’t until I was around 22 that I discovered “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, which changed the bad perception on cross dressing I had had since childhood.
What made you want to try drag yourself?
Actually, my family has held many “pageants” as jokes during our drinking parties so I wasn’t that new to dressing up as a woman. However, it wasn’t until I came to Japan and felt a little more free that I wanted to try it out for real and not just as a joke.
What is the format for this year’s show?
This year, we will have a similar setup to last year. There will be staggered performances with games and activities in between. This year’s games will include the audience even more as we will be having an iron-chef style makeover challenge. Additionally, there will also be a raffle for drink tickets donated by our sponsors.
How many drag queens will there be? Are there any games?
I believe that we will have some type of king drag, some bio looks and around five queens of various styles and experience. We will have some new performers as well as returning crowd favorites!
Can you tell me a little bit about the charity the even will be supporting?
Of course. We will be supporting ReBit, a non profit organization in Japan that seeks to create a more inclusive society that is accepting of all. They support children and teens from grade school to high school. They focus on educating Japanese society on LGBTQ+ issues, and they offer career support since many people who do come out are passive aggressively driven out of their place of employment. Recently, they also started doing a queer coming of age ceremony, where the participants can dress up as they like. For more information, please visit https://rebitlgbt.org/
What was the most helpful thing you learned from last year’s event for this year’s?
Last year, I learned that there are many of us who are looking for a place to belong in, including here in Japan. But I also learned that there are many who are willing to support our cause. Additionally, I saw that even though we had some hurdles to get over, the event was a success and we were able to help a little bit. There will always be trouble, but you have to look past that and be the best you can be, be your honest self, and everyone will come to see how great you are.
What does drag mean to you personally?
I’m not going to lie, I do believe personally in having an illusion as close to real as possible; I will in most instances go for the more “real” look. That said, drag is an extension of one’s self, it is the ability to project your deeper feelings and thoughts out into the world in a way that maybe your everyday self is not able to do. I have learned a lot from Shelita Booty [my drag persona] and I often use her as inspiration to get over my anxiety and depression. Whenever I hear the negative voice in my head (we call her Deb), I call upon Shelita to drag Deb back into the corner where she belongs. So drag is the ability to express yourself freely but it is also the chance to give yourself the courage you need to continue moving forward.
How do you feel about the Japanese approach to cross-dressing as a joke, rather than an expression of identity that it is in drag? How do you think it can become more understood within Japan rather than a joke at events?As I had mentioned before, I come from a family that uses cross dressing as a gag, only as a joke. So I understand now how demeaning that can be. I mean its fine to have some fun, we are doing it too but it is the way of conduct that makes a difference, respect is very important. I believe if more Japanese folks were involved in events like this where not only performances are shown but also educations sections like ours are given, then that awareness will spread. Even just showing pictures of my make up to people at bars, they begin to see the work it takes and start asking constructive questions. This all started as a way to have a couple laughs, but I am glad it evolved past that and that we are now making a difference in the community. Thank you.
Whether you’re a drag show veteran or virgin, make your way out to the A•O•Z tomorrow and you are sure to have fun, learn something new, and support a great cause. For more information including event times and locations, check out the Facebook event page! We hope to see your most fabulous selves there.