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[Video] The Drag Queens Firing Up Hanoi's Nightlife

For over two months, a tantalizing new event has been firing up Hanoi's nightlife: drag queens in burlesque outfits death dropping on stage.

The pioneering drag queens have sparked rounds of applause and fired up cozy bars in Tay Ho, using nothing other than budget make-up and tailor-made costumes. The event, which started off as a viewing party for the international hit show Rupaul’s Drag Race, quickly transformed into a night of its own after talented crowd members took their chance to enjoy the limelight.

Makeup artist Zazazellia found herself in goth lingerie lip-syncing to 'Toxic' by Britney Spears only a few nights after going to see the show. Long-time drag fan Emma, an American expat living in Hanoi, finally stepped onto the stage for the first time after years of financial limitation and family opposition.

Meanwhile, high-schooler Vanessa and college student Betty have been traveling every weekend from port city Hai Phong to perform in the capital. Having performed as crossdressers for four years, the two members of the Hai Phong VIC team admit there are limited opportunities to perform drag.

“Most people haven’t heard of drag before, let alone booking us to perform,” 22-year-old Betty tells Urbanist Hanoi. “Normally we have only about two shows per year.”

Vietnam decriminalized gay marriage in 2015 and cross-dressing has been part of UNESCO heritage ritual hầu đồng for centuries. Yet drag, though not uncommon in Saigon, is a complete novelty in conservative Hanoi.

Drag queens Vanessa and Betty shares that they have experienced discriminating remarks during their four years of performing. Yet when the show was stopped a few weeks ago after people threw bottles of fish guts, feathers and engine oil at the event, the two performers were among those left bewildered.

“We’re surprised at what happened,” event host Tamah Lake tells Urbanist Hanoi, “because [the] Vietnamese people and international people that I speak to are overwhelmingly positive.”

Among the performers, there’s still a strong sense of hope for this form of free expression in Hanoi.

“I don’t think it’s not received in Vietnam, it just needs time for people to accept it,” Hai Phong drag queen Betty added. “I think there’s a big well of understanding in Hanoi that just hasn’t been tapped into yet,” American drag queen Emma concluded.

Watch their story below:

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