Why Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Pasifika Drag Representation Matters
By supporting local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanderand Pasifika queens we are amplifying their voices and the issues they raise.
As a proud Wiradjuri, Dharug, Dhungutti, Gooreng Gooreng and Tongan Gay man, I do believe in the power of representation. Representation allows us to feel validated and express ourselves freely, without the feeling of prejudice. I strongly believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and Pasifika Representation in our drag scene is so important, especially because of the rise of popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its Down Under edition. I think it’s more important than ever now to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and Pasifika Representation in Drag.
Queer people living in Pasifika communities often feel ashamed about expressing their identity due to strict religious and conservative views and values. As a result, queer people feel like they have to suppress their identity to avoid raising concerns in their communities. Historically, the suppression of queer identities was never the case in Pasifika communities. Pasifika communities and cultures engaged in sexual practices and gender fluid perspectives. But today, in various countries in the Pacific, homosexuality is considered immoral, or even illegal. In a world where you can be incarcerated for being who you are, any amount of representation in the media or academia helps minorities feel validated. Pasifika Drag Queens help fight that stigma, allow us to reclaim our heritage, and feel proud to be queer and Pacific Islander. One pure example is RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season 2 finalist, Kween Kong. Kween Kong is a proud Tongan and Samoan queen, originating from Auckland, New Zealand. Kween was the first Samoan Drag Queen to appear on any Drag Race franchise.
Kween Kong has been doing drag for almost seven years, but is no stranger to the stage. She has been a dancer for the past 13 years and has travelled with the Australian Dance Theatre performing across the nation. In 2019, Kween Kong won Miss Drag Nation Australia, where she represented Adelaide. Drag Nation is a national drag competition where queens perform and compete locally before representing their state in the nationwide competition.
In 2022, Kween Kong was announced as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season 2. Becoming the first Samoan drag queen to appear on any Drag Race Franchise. Kween Kong has been pronounced a “Strong Polynesian warrior goddess,” she is influenced by her Pacific ancestry as it drives her to carry her story, and pushes for visibility and representation.
When she first appeared on Drag Race, I showed my Tongan father a Queen who is proud of her pacific heritage, and is proud to be queer. Because of her, my father’s perspective has broadened, seeing the intersection between race and queerness come to fruition.
Kween Kong may be one drag queen with Pasifika descent, but her influence makes her an icon and trailblazer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and Pasifika visibility.
Queer and Gender Identity has always been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures. In the Tiwi Islands in the Torres Strait, we have the Sistagirls and Brothaboys. In certain communities, Aboriginal Dreaming stories of the Mimi Spirits are depicted as genderless. The Mimi Spirits are described as tricky and naughty, which has underlying links to ideas of sexuality. However, proud representations of sexuality and gender identity have been repressed since invasion. Queer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have suppressed or hidden their sexuality as a survival mechanism.
Recently we are seeing the rise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Drag Queens in the scene, especially on our television screens with the launch of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under. One Aboriginal Drag Queen people should pay more attention to is Jojo Zaho. Jojo Zaho is a proud Biripi and Worimi drag queen who resides in Newcastle, New South Wales. Jojo Zaho appeared on Drag Race Down Under Season 1, and was the first Aboriginal Australian Drag Queen to be cast on the show. Jojo Zaho started her drag career in 2015 as a response to a Dubbo Council Member stating that homosexuality is not a part of Aboriginal Culture. She appeared at Dubbo’s first annual Central West Pride March with an outfit made both from Aboriginal and Gay Pride Flags.
In 2018, Jojo Zaho competed in the Miss First Nation Competition. Miss First Nation is an all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander drag competition which made its start in Darwin in 2017. Jojo Zaho competed in the second year where she won both Miss Photogenic and Miss National Costume. During her time on Drag Race, Jojo was able to advocate and speak on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues. Her “hometown” runway look was a powerful statement. Written across her outfit were the words “always was, always will be”, which references the ongoing fight for recognition and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty.
Jojo Zaho’s appearance on Drag Race allows young queer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth to see themselves on the screen. “One of the key things for me doing drag, is about being the representation I didn’t have growing up. You can’t be what you can’t see, (so I wanted) to be that queer Indigenous representation for queer Indigenous youth out there. If I can reach a couple of kids and encourage them that they can be queer and Indigenous and that they can co-exist harmoniously – there is something beautiful in that, in accepting who you are”. Jojo to me is one of the most influential Aboriginal Drag Queens that I respect so much, I never thought I would see a blakfella on my screen representing my Culture on the Drag Race stage.
Having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and Pasifika Drag Representation is so important not only for the validation, but for Queer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanderand Pasifika youth to feel comfortable with being who they are. It’s important that non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and non-Pasifika people should follow and support their local queens, may it be Queens like Jojo Zaho and Kween Kong. Drag is a form of Queer Activism. By supporting local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanderand Pasifika queens we are amplifying their voices and the issues they raise.