There is something quite radical and freeing to behaving – dancing, singing, speaking, talking, or just plain moving – like nobody’s watching. Creating spaces like that is a goal of Becca D’Bus, an outsized, outspoken, and generally out there drag queen who revels under a spotlight, regardless who’s watching.
"It is radical to be in a space where you’re told to behave like you’re not being watched, and to claim that space."
For those of us more used to sitting and watching, the people from showbiz are invariably an intimidating bunch. And so it was when I met with the drag queen Becca D’Bus, albeit sans glitter and tulle, and instead in a large, circular-cut kaftan-poncho hybrid. This was Eugene Tan, although he is quick to clarify – and he has done so in other interviews – that the line between Eugene and Becca is an unclear one, that Becca D’Bus is just an amplified version of himself. To wit: before settling on this Rosa Parks reference, he was adamant his drag name would simply be ‘Eugene’. 

But back to the point: Becca D’Bus is an intimidating figure, and I don’t mean this in a roundabout way of saying the quite plainly obvious: that she is tall and fat. Up close, without the lights, costumes, and makeup that go into a show, one is left face to face with a person of strongly-held opinions, the intellect to back it up, and the eloquence to put it across. That’s a rare combination, and one that belies the flamboyance, colour, and artifice that goes into making, by Becca’s own (and possibly slightly underplayed) measure, this “very sparkly clown”. 

You probably know Becca D’Bus from RIOT!, her monthly drag revue. The show, first staged in 2015, has moved from Orchard Hotel’s TAB, to Shanghai Dolly, back to TAB, and now found itself at the Hard Rock Café on Cuscaden Road. It is her calling card, and it is a show that fiercely champions individuality and experimentation. The idea is that the ever-changing cast of drag performers in RIOT! get free rein over their numbers, and depending on the mix of the month, some magic is made. 

Other places you might have seen Becca D’Bus: the annual LGBTQ rally Pink Dot, in Hong Lim Park, where her outsized drag regalia is nigh unmissable amongst a crowd of mostly picnickers in pink t-shirts; Facebook, where her posts run the gamut of absurd silliness (poop reports) to being, quite often, the nexus of debate and conversation around controversial matters of the day. Becca, or Eugene (it becomes especially unclear here when we’re talking about an online presence), resists the idea that she, or he, is an opinion leader that way – despite what seems to me like a quite obvious truth. It might be a smidge of delusion, but it’s perhaps better for the rest of us who do watch Becca D’Bus, whether as an entertainer, a personality, or an activist. Think of it like watching someone dance, in a room full of people, with their eyes closed. That way, with a vague notion of being freed from the gaze, you get to see that thrilling combination of liberation, truth, and self. And with a show like that, you know there's going to be magic.

When did you first have a political awakening?

I was not brought up to shut my mouth or to be afraid of having an opinion about something. I suppose, as it happens with a lot of people, when I went to college I started to engage with these ideas in more theoretical ways. You literally learn about it in class but also you're talking about the time when you come of age as an adult. I was in Boston, in Emerson College from 2001 to 2004. The second day of school was 9/11. We engaged with that kind of politics in a visceral way. 

What was your time at Emerson like?

The school I was in was very interesting because we had a professor there named John Bell. His specific area of interest was puppetry, and he comes out of the Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont. What they're known for are these incredible pageants and shows with these large scale puppets, and those puppets are used a lot in protests. So the work is very much interested in politics – obviously very left. I participated in my first protest because there was an opportunity to operate a giant puppet.

And that was what drove you to your first protest? 

I was like, Do I want to walk an eleven foot tall skeleton down the street? Yes, I kinda do. And it's a very fun puppet to operate because it's stuck into a backpack and it goes up eight feet, and on top of it there's a papier-mâché head, the arms of the puppet are operated by two poles, and you're inside its dress. I came out of university thinking I wanted to become a performance artist. 

Performance art seems a pretty obvious precursor to what you would end up doing.

In my last summer, just before my last year, I interned at a place called The Theater Offensive, which is a queer activist company in Boston. I don't know why I picked them except that they seemed interesting. I'm very shallow like that. My first assignment was to call the entire database and clean it up. That meant making phone calls to, I wanna say, 6,000 people?

Was that the down and dirty of activist work, in a way? 

You could say that, but I didn't experience it as activist work. I thought of it as marketing. The Theater Offensive is also where I started to work in community engagement and organising stuff to support their shows. I was part of organising a brunch that was supposed to be a community space for audiences to a show called 'B4T' (Before Testosterone), which was by Imani Henry, a black trans male artist. The idea was to organise a brunch for trans people of colour, and I remember jokingly saying “so that means brunch for three?” We all laughed, but we filled a theatre with a hundred-something people who identified as trans people of colour. That's when I realised there was something quite powerful about creating these spaces. Then I had my last year in college, and – I remember this – graduated May 17 2004.

That's very specific.

It's very specific because it was the first day of marriage equality in Massachusetts. And at my commencement, I don't remember who said it, but one of the speakers pointed out that while it's great that this is a culmination of our education up to that point, people outside are getting married, and there's a world that's bigger and more important than you. So congratulations on your bachelor’s, but literal history is being made outside. There's some perspective.

What did you do after graduating?

I remember this phone call I received when I was in a hotel room in San Francisco. I answered the phone, and it was my friend who was a year my junior in college. She was like, “Hi, I was just wondering, what’re you doing on this day?” And I was like, I'm flying into Boston that morning. And she goes, “We’re wondering - I'm interning at The Theater Offensive now” - and I go, great – and she goes, “Do you wanna come march with us at Pride?” I said, Sure, why not? You sound like there’s a big idea behind this. And she says, “Yeah, we want you to be the bride of the Statue of Liberty”; and I was like, Ok, that sounds like cool image making, yeah, let’s do it. So I marched at Pride that day, and this other quite young woman was dressed as the Statue of Liberty. That's also when I started to really understand the power of image making. That image caught fire in a way I didn’t expect. People really wanted that photo of the Statue of Liberty with a bride who was a drag queen. Whoever dreamt that image up was hella smart.

What kind of bride were you?

I wore this rando white dress that I had pieced together. I had a veil and a pair of bizarrely pink, velvet gloves – this will make sense in a bit. So I marched through Pride, posed for a lot of photos, felt real fierce. Halfway through, Abe Rybeck, the Artistic Director of the company said to me, “What’re you doing this summer?” I said, I don’t know yet, I have a year to hang out and figure it out. And he was like, “Why don’t you come in on Monday, there’s something I might want you to work on.” Of course I said yes, and when I went in to meet with him, he said, “Would you wanna work on this thing named A Street Theater Named Desire?” Which, during my internship, I had sort of read about in the archives, but wasn’t really sure what it was.

A Street Theater Named Desire was an AIDS activist guerrilla street theatre project. Essentially, it did performances in cruising areas: late night, midnight, ‘til three in the morning. Found a stalker in that process who was, from what we could tell, enamoured with fat crossdressers and – here’s the part about the gloves – he came up to me one day on the street like, “You’re the guy with the gloves,” and I was like what? And he was like, “You’re the guy with the gloves at Pride, you were really beautiful”. I just thought, whatever. People say weird shit in the street and you don’t think about it too much. But when we were doing A Street Theater Named Desire, he kept showing up and at a point I started feeling a little unsafe about it. I guess I looked really stressed out and Abe was like, “Let me go talk to him”. And Abe came back and he was like, “Well, he lives in the park, he’s homeless. He says he’ll leave you alone” – so that was great. But y’know, when you live in a city like Boston, you’re aware that there’s homeless people and it becomes different when you realise that you’re literally performing in somebody’s home. So you don’t actually get to sit around and bitch about somebody being your stalker. 

Cos you’re in their space?

You’re in their space, and maybe we don’t understand in Singapore so much this idea that a park might be somebody’s home. But I think A Street Theatre Named Desire was so important for me because it’s when I started to think very clearly about this idea – which I still believe in today – that we grossly underestimate pleasure as a means of organising. That people are attracted to what they’re attracted to, and I mean that sexually but I also mean that in terms of entertainment. There’s a way of talking about things like the arts or culture like it’s a medicine that is good for us. 

Sometimes it’s just fun?

More than sometimes, the real reason people go to the theatre is that it’s pleasurable. It’s pleasurable to be around people performing some sort of narrative, virtuosic dance, or music, or whatever. Sometimes you just wanna see hot bodies. Sometimes you just wanna see beautiful people. I’m not suggesting that Benjamin Kheng is not a very talented actor, but I’m willing to bet that very often when he is cast in something, or a big part of the reason people go to it, is he’s cute. That’s more than okay. In fact, that’s a pretty good reason to go to something. As long as you’re not creepy about it.

So pleasure isn’t an entirely shallow endeavour?

It’s that we don’t allow this kind of shallowness to have power. I sound like I’m making an argument for taking influencers seriously – which I’m not – but in a way that’s what’s happening there. It is just true that people want to see pretty pictures, and the influencer market has just figured out that that can be monetized.

Wasn’t there another reason A Street Theatre Named Desire was a turning point?

It’s because of A Street Theatre Named Desire that I discovered drag. And it was because I discovered drag that I realised that I could say a lot of things I want to say in performance in a form that would at least pay for itself. Now it pays for my life, but at the time at least it wasn’t going to cost me money to do it.

Isn’t drag quite…  

Expensive? Yeah, but I’m hella cheap. It’s hard to be that cheap in Singapore especially when you’re large because there aren’t a lot of inexpensive options. But in the U.S. you can go to a thrift store and pull together a look for 20 bucks. I stole a lot of wigs, I’m not gonna lie. When I was coming up in Boston, I was coming up at the same time as Katya. At Katya’s day job, she worked in a wig store called Dorothy’s, and we would steal shit. I would go in on a Sunday with a giant tote bag, almost like those black army duffle bags, and hand it to her over the counter and point at a bunch of wigs I thought were cool. I would leave with the bag full of these wigs. I remember going in one day seeing – you know there’s this Margiela, I think a tank top that’s made of silk stockings? Early Margiela artisanal –  and I was like, “I wanna make one of those for myself”. I remember going in to Dorothy’s and stealing the entire rack of pantyhose. I’m not proud of it... yet I kinda am. I went home with 90 pairs of pantyhose in every colour and skin shade in between. 

Can you talk about your early days as a drag performer? 

Very soon after I started, I was in Katya’s show ‘Perestroika’, a show called TraniWreck, and in a show that I ran called the Jaded Lounge. It was an all-Asian, all-genders cabaret. And between those three, I was doing enough drag that people were sort of into what I was doing. 

What were those years doing drag in Boston like for you?

The creative community was great. Whenever we thought “oh my god that’s so stupid”, someone would do something even stupider and we’d be like, “Oh my god, that’s so cool”. Or that’s just so – this is not language that’s acceptable in almost any other situation – but we used words like retarded. Like, “that’s so retarded”. And that’s really un-PC but we would not… yeah, I shouldn’t go at lengths into defending the vernacular, but y’know. 

It was another time, I guess?

No, it was not PC to say it anyway. But it refers to a particular approach to drag that’s like, you’re just gonna be so stupid. Like, how stupid can you be? Stupider than stupid. Perestroika’s overture was the Soviet national anthem, which is kinda bizarre. Imagine being in a dive bar and that blares and that’s how you know the show’s starting.

It’s very good branding for Katya.

Wasn’t it? I came up with it.

And then you moved back in 2010.

Flew out on Christmas day, arrived on the 27th. 

Did that feel like shit?

I thought it was gonna be really terrible and it wasn’t. I did not experience it as this super intense – and I was afraid it was gonna be – culture shock. It’s not as if I didn’t have friends in Singapore and all that, I just didn’t have a drag community in Singapore at the time.

I’ve read you say that drag is very geographical. The style of it is tied to its origins. You got started in the Boston way and – 

A specific part of the Boston way, no less.

When you came back to Singapore, it’s a whole different scene. How did you reconcile that?

When I started, I didn’t try to reconcile it. I wasn’t performing a lot but I knew that I wanted to connect with people who were. I started working on Dr Sketchy in Singapore, which is a live drawing class where the models are typically burlesque performers. But at the time there wasn’t really a burlesque scene, so I expanded it to be performers and personalities. That’s how I connected with a bunch of people. I knew that I wanted to make drag happen, so I entered an amateur contest at Play. Really knowing full well that I wasn’t doing it to win it, I just wanted to get my face out there. That was my strategy with it: to just be constantly turning out looks and constantly just be seen doing what I do. I came in second. 

And that’s how you started working on your drag in Singapore?

I worked that scene a little bit, but I knew that I’m a hard person to hire. In Singapore they like to do group numbers and that kind of thing, right? And, A: I’m not a dancer, so I’m not talented in the way that people need you to be talented. And B: you have three pretty girls on stage and one fat clown. This is not a group number, this is just people who happen to be on stage together. It’s an aesthetic, but it’s not the aesthetic here.

Part of saying I wanted to make it happen was that I made RIOT!. Because I knew that for me to be working at the level that I would need to be working at, to earn a living, I couldn’t rely on people hiring me. And I knew how to make a show. First of all, I worked in theatre. I also ran two different shows in Boston. I knew how to book people, I knew how to market a show. 

It was nothing new to you, essentially?

Not nothing new, because obviously the Singaporean audience is different and the economics of doing drag in Singapore is very different. Perestroika had a cover charge of $7. But it’s a different economy with drag there because people tip. So they pay $7 to walk in there, but by the end of the night they’ve probably thrown up at least $20 in dollar bills, if not more. Some people are very generous, but for the most part people tip singles.

Tipping – that changes the nature of the acts.

In a very big way. But I don’t think it’s for better or worse. It just privileges a different way of performing. A lot of my American friends, when they look at the ticket prices of RIOT!, they’re like you’re insane. But I’m like, we don’t tip here. Also, it’s an expensive city.

What set RIOT! apart from other drag shows?

The difference was I was hiring performers and saying to them, “I don’t care what number you do. I want you to do the fullest version of whatever it is you’re interested in. If there’s something you wanna try, this is the place to try it.” My responsibility is to prime an audience for that. I think people who come to RIOT! quite a bit recognise that that’s what’s happening. If you don’t come to RIOT! a lot you will be sort of like, “Wow she’s weirdly self deprecating and really weirdly intent on managing some expectations here”. But that serves a function, cos I’m trying to set up a situation in which an audience is ready to go with the performance wherever you wanna go.

RIOT! is maybe the only sort of drag platform here that’s open ended, which is important for it to grow. You seem conscious of that intention from the get go.

I say that it’s the only regular drag revue in the sense that you’re just gonna come and see drag queens do numbers. And it is monthly. I think that’s important because I felt early on – first of all, it’s economic cos I have to make money. Having food to eat is fun – that if we don’t create a space in which performers are just doing their shit and developing a relationship with the audience, I feel there aren’t a lot of spaces in which that’s allowed to happen. 

Do you ever think you’re trying to recreate Boston?

No, I don’t think I was trying to. But I knew, in a sort of structural way, maybe I was trying to recreate what I had in Boston, which was a regular place to perform and a regular place for performers to perform. 

Drag is its own kind of stagecraft, and that obviously takes practice.

It’s a practice. It’s an art form. And people do this now where they paint in front of a mirror and YouTube, and paint and paint and paint before they come out. That wasn’t what happened at the time. My first looks in Boston, there was a pathetic amount of black eyeliner on, and half moons of glitter over my eyelids. It’s not a good look at all. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. That’s not how it happens almost anywhere anymore. People really fucking practice at home and I’ve definitely met people who are like, “I’ve never performed” and you see them and you’re like, your makeup is way more perfected than mine is. 

I suppose now that beauty influencers are selling diet drag makeup.

Well, what we call Instagram makeup is basically drag makeup. At the higher, polished level of that, it’s not quite drag. It’s a bit more refined. For example, a lot of what NikkieTutorials does, if you put that on a drag queen, it’s like, you’re not wearing a lot of makeup. Or if you put Kim Kardashian’s face on most drag queens, it would be like, you need a bit more colour. Those two strike me as the sort of pinnacle of where the Instagram beauty thing can go. Steps below that is the – to me, anyway – the Jeffree Star, James Charles kind of people. That’s drag makeup and obviously in both those cases they’re men. 

Who taught you how to do makeup?

Nobody. It was very ownself do then look at other things. I used to look at a lot of the Pat McGrath looks for Dior couture. An early version of my face, or the sort of turning point of my face, involved a lot of the Japanese couture collection. The one with multiple platforms and the girls went from one platform to the next and the next.

Spring/Summer 2007! I remember. The girls needed the security men to hold them going up and down those stairs.

Now that I work at Lulu’s, I have sympathy for them. Because the steps up the stage at Lulu’s are just too narrow for my boot. So I say to the security guy who brings us to the stage, “I need you to just stand there. I need to hold your shoulder.” I have a lot of sympathy for the need of a hand. There were a few makeup looks in that Dior show that I looked at a lot. The big turning points in my face were shaving my head and that show.

Why’d you shave your head?

Honestly? I was watching QVC, or wherever Joan Rivers was hawking her jewelry, and I just said “I need to shave my head”. I’m not even joking, this is literally what happened. I got up, went to Supercuts, and had them shave my head. That night, I painted on a face and went to a party that two of my friends were performing at, and one of them saw me and fell on the floor. That’s when I knew, ok, this was a thing.

When you first settled on the name Becca D'Bus, obviously there’s Rosa Parks and its implications: civil rights and politics and all that. Did you know from the get go that this was what you wanted to include in your drag?

I knew that’s what I wanted out of a name. I wanted it to be funny, punny, and have some kind of political bite. That much I knew. I feel I have a reputation perhaps that I’m so political, but am I? I say things online a lot but that’s not performance necessarily. Although some of them are incredibly performative, and I can accept that. 

Like drag is a civil rights issue?

That was kind of a joke. That’s the other thing that’s difficult to parse out sometimes with what I do. A lot of things I say are just totally tongue in cheek. This is the part where I feel like a fraud, but anyway.

In what sense?

In the sense that if drag is an upending of what we understand about gender and those ideas, then yes of course I think what I do is political, in a way that I feel perhaps a lot of other performers in this town are not interested in or not interested in questioning. And that’s ok. 

But you approach it differently?

I tend to create situations that allow us to play in that space but not address it directly. I’m more interested in “How do I evoke this feeling, the sense that there is something to say about something?” Very often, I feel that the audiences that are interested in what I’m doing and come to what I do are people with some political consciousness. They’re not clueless about these things. In part because I talk about these online, and in general because it’s who they are.

I think sometimes all I’m interested in saying is “I see you”. I get that there’s shit going on in the world, perhaps we all have feelings about that shit, and this is a space in which my numbers can allow ourselves to feel those feelings and let them develop. Sometimes we’re not allowed to feel that those feelings or opinions are valid. RIOT!, and a lot of my performance stuff, is about saying “I think it’s crazy, and I get that you think it’s crazy too, and let’s just acknowledge that”.

“Like, I’m extra, and so fucking what? I think we should all be more extra more often. At what point did we decide it was not cool to care?”

Is anger a part of your creative process?

Not that much. I’ve realised it’s not particularly entertaining. We used to say a lot at The Theater Offensive that drag without irony is lethal. 

Do you think part of the power of drag comes from simply being different?

It’s not just about being different, but about acting on that difference. And it’s also about being unashamed of that, embracing that, and celebrating that difference. I think there’s a very namby pamby “oh we’re all different”, I get that. But drag queens take the word ‘different’ to another level. Like, I’m extra, and so fucking what? I think we should all be more extra more often. Why not? At what point did we decide it was not cool to care? Cos that’s what extra is, it’s saying I care, and I’m willing to put the fact that I care on the line. How gross is it that we punish people for caring? For giving a shit? 

With the optics of drag in the mainstream now, do you think Drag Race helps or hurts the form?

I was just thinking about this on the way here because of that New York Magazine piece that people have responded to. There’s a follow-up piece that appeared today. So there were two stories, National Pastime and the ranking, and now there’s a third story that is also on Vulture that’s worth reading. In a lot of those pieces there’s a conversation about the mainstream. That RuPaul has brought drag into the mainstream that no one has in a way before. I think that’s only true if you look at the US.

As far as I know, RuPaul has not been hired as a soft power ambassador to her country. Kumar has. I’m serious! Wanna talk about a mainstream? Kumar’s been hired to go to other countries to speak for Singapore. To demonstrate that Singapore is actually kinda cool, that actually Singapore is quite liberal. But you wanna talk about the mainstreaming of drag? Kumar sells out the fucking Capitol Theatre. 

Let’s just think about this: the Capitol Theatre holds, I think, 900 people. Does 10 to 12 shows in there. That’s 10,000 people, paying real money to go see her. How many people saw Werq the World in Singapore? How many people saw Shangela in Singapore? How many saw the sold-out Bianca Del Rio show in Singapore? 

The parts of Drag Race that have gotten mainstream acceptance have been the least weird parts or performers. There are performers who go on Drag Race and become popular in different ways, and are still extremely subversive, and the mainstream just doesn’t pick up on them in quite the same way. Tammie Brown comes to mind. I would argue that, in a bizarre way, Katya’s 'Help Me, I’m Dying' is completely this. I think the show is extremely subversive in a way that she’s not letting on. 

And audiences just aren’t getting it?

Yeah, but this stuff has always been coded. There’s an audience that gets it, and an audience that doesn’t. I saw Courtney Act live at a birthday party, and I think we think of Courtney Act as this beautiful woman drag queen person who sings live, and that’s about it. When I was watching her live, there is a lot of stuff going on with gender in her drag that we don’t talk about very much. The sense of: it’s a man, it’s a woman, it’s a man, it’s a woman is very real when she’s performing live. There’s a way we look at a performer like her and think the gag is that she sings like a woman. No, that is not the gag. That is not even a quarter of the gag. It is that she is actively reminding you that she is a man, while actively reminding you that she’s really beautiful, while actively reminding you that she sounds like a woman. It’s all happening, and it’s intentional.

Is it a huge waste if that subversion is missed on audiences?

On the one hand we say it’s a huge waste, but on the other we say it’s niche. If drag performers are making money off clueless straight people so they can keep doing whatever it is they’re doing, I’m down. That’s not a waste. That is a good use of straight people’s money as far as I can tell. If that’s all you’re gonna get, that’s all you’re gonna get.

To talk about my own stuff for a second, I think about The Glory Hoes. I think a lot of people come to it because they’re into the movies and they like drinking. That’s ok. I’m happy to take their money. And I think there are people who genuinely tap into this sense of, “oh wait, you’re telling me that in Singapore there’s a space in which I am told, I am being encouraged, to misbehave right now?” Likewise with The Hoe Down, I think there are people who tap into that idea which we were interested in from the beginning, that it is radical to be in a space where you’re told to behave like you’re not being watched, and to claim that space. 

So you have RIOT!, The Glory Hoes, The Hoe Down, and all. But a big part of the act that is Becca is online.

Yeah, people say that. I don’t know that I post that much on Facebook anymore. But when I do, it’s like…

In my experience, it’s when shit goes down. 

Like you’re waiting for what she has to say about it?


Oh god, I’ve become that person. I mean, really? I can honestly say I have never felt like somebody is dying to hear what I have to say about something.

For example, this recent thing with Pink Dot and Tosh. I was reading things from a bunch of people saying things over and over again that were driving me fucking crazy. It was super clear what I felt about it, and that’s why I posted that. We’re all just talking ourselves into circles, why are we not acknowledging a bunch of things that we’re feeling? 

You did say it had a performative aspect.

Things like the poop report are totally performative. 

What about the serious stuff?

Not so much. Except the voice la. I try to write with some irreverence.

The discourse, when it happens, circles around a very specific group of people. Who are like… a literati, essentially.

Literati? I prefer cliterati, but let’s go for it. That’s something we need to start in Singapore. And Pooja Nansi would head it. Let me ask her: have you thought of starting a cliterati? Alfian Sa’at? Not allowed in! Sorry, you were saying?

I get a sense that it’s a specific group of very educated people who are saying the same things.

In my experience, it’s a lot of people who seem like they’re completely uneducated saying things. But Singapore has a class problem, let’s just put that out there. 

I’ve been saying a lot recently that one of the things this Tosh thing brought up for me is that it’s obvious Singapore has a class problem. But this class problem is marked, not by education, but the facility with English. For instance, the Chinese literati feel quite differently about all these things, and the Chinese literati, at least in the case of this Tosh thing, very much sided with a sentiment of, he’s already apologised, what’s wrong with you, or that it’s a missed opportunity to reach a group of people. Which I am absolutely on board with, by the way, I do think it’s a missed opportunity. But I think the way it plays out is particularly problematic for people who don’t speak Chinese in Singapore. Specifically brown people. This is not social science-backed, which is important because I think this stuff needs to be looked at in very real ways, but the imagined pecking order is: educated and speaks English very well, and that is some Chinese people and most brown people. Then there is the masses of Chinese people who don’t speak English very well. Then at the bottom, under that, is brown people who are not very educated or [are] poor. I think this is how it’s imagined but unnamed. 

There isn’t a science to it, but there is a definite sense.

It’s my sense, but I don’t know if the social science would agree. We have people write about inequality of class, about race, but I don’t know that we’ve had people put together race, class, and education, and map out how people talk about these things. That is my sense of how the Tosh situation played out.

You mentioned in another interview feeling that a lot of our influence and thoughts on social issues are imported. Do you maybe get the sense that our conversation is taking too much of an American influence?

I should start by saying that I do not have a strong sense of what it is to be a brown person or minority in Singapore. That’s important. I do think that a lot of what we talk about is very specific, like race relations or whatever. There’s always a specific local nuance. I think a clear and easy example is Sangeetha Thanapal’s stuff about Chinese privilege. Do I think that Chinese privilege exists? Yes, absolutely. I think to deny it would be a pretty active act of lying to yourself. 

But where I’m not sure I’m on board a hundred percent is where she, and other people who have written about this stuff, have gone on to say that Chinese privilege is exactly like white privilege – just with a different group of people. I think it ignores a lot of things about the makeup of this town. There are a lot of white people here, so it’s not as if we’re talking about a situation where the top of the pecking order is Chinese people. Because we know, globally, top of the pecking order is still white people, whether we like it or not. It’s not as though that’s absent in Singapore, not as if Singapore was not a colony.

There’s a whole bunch of things in place, and when you start to talk about it on a more social and casual cultural level, or more sexual level, it’s like yeah, no, I just don’t think it’s true. A lot of these ideas are an import, and that’s important because these are frameworks and ways of thinking. But the work after that is that you have to think about these things: what about it applies in this case? What is our relationship to this framework?

“The reality is that queer people are not like straight people. We are more resilient, we are sexier, we are more beautiful, we are more creative – name it. We are those things for a series of reasons that have to do with what we’ve had to do to survive.”

Let’s talk about LGBT civil rights here for a bit. I’ve gotten the sense that you’re iffy about the idea of marriage equality.

My problem with the imagination of marriage equality, after [repealing] 377A, is that it doesn’t benefit everybody, and it could. 

I should preface this with what we talked about earlier. I graduated college on May 17 2004. I get how people fought for that, and it was life-changing for a lot of people. One of the things I had come to believe about diversity, queer politics, rights, and liberation, is a question of why diversity? Why is it important to have people from all walks of life that represent all sorts of identities working together and living together? The first big reason is don’t be an asshole, which I think maybe doesn’t get said enough. But we would also say that society and the human experience is much richer when it is diverse. 

In the run up to marriage equality in Massachusetts, the big rallying cry of the radical right was that these people were trying to redefine marriage. I believe that was a lie because the gays were not even smart enough to reimagine marriage. They just wanted marriage. We were just like, “Oh, we want what they [have]”. I’m sorry, the reality is that queer people are not like straight people. We are more resilient, we are sexier, we are more beautiful, we are more creative – name it. We are those things for a series of reasons that have to do with what we’ve had to do to survive.

Prior to marriage equality, gay people, because marriage was not a possibility at all, were incredible at imagining possibilities for family, relationships, networks of care, and of love. That could be anything from different ways of sexually loving each other, of creating families that had nothing to do with romantic love, to arrangements that had nothing to do with monogamy or poly or any of those things. What marriage equality does is it renders all these things, that could make human experience for straight people much richer, illegitimate. So then I ask, what’s the value of diversity? Why do we include people when we say we can only include you in protections that don’t serve and celebrate what you can bring to the table? 

So the motivations and goals aren’t, perhaps, fully thought out?

Every time I say things like this, people say that oh, you’re just talking about being non-heteronormative – and that’s not what I mean. What I mean is because we can’t imagine these things and can’t imagine the possibility of these things, we run our faces into walls repeatedly with our rainbow flags like nobody’s business and we feel hella progressive for it.

What does this mean for the Singaporean LGBT movement?

I know, or I cannot imagine, that 377A is getting repealed anytime soon. If we are to believe what the ruling party is saying, and if we are to recognise the statistics in front of us, we are essentially just sitting around waiting for anybody 50 and older to drop dead before it can happen. And that can be anything from 10 to 40 years. Because, y’know, medicine. And if 377A doesn’t fall, you can’t legally have marriage equality, because you would be uniting people in a situation that’s illegal to begin with.

So why are we talking about love is love, waving rainbow flags, and co-opting a lot of the language of marriage equality like it’s the most obvious next step when actually the first step is so far away? Meanwhile, we still have people who go to hospitals and have their partners turned away.

Yet I also think, hold on, what if we were working on something that included straight people? What if we were working on something that said, actually straight people have something to benefit from this because Singapore is an ageing population; actually the only sort of real plan for aged care in Singapore is for your children to hire a maid; but there’s a lot of straight people who don’t have children or are unmarried. So then how? Why are we not saying, oh, here’s an opportunity for us to talk about how we can create legislation or policy that protects our families, regardless of whether or not you’re fucking each other. We claim that who I fuck doesn’t matter, right? That’s the claim of the sensible gay rhetoric, so why aren’t we working on something that’s about that? Why are we instead saying, that what it comes down to is, we want a wedding photo.

I mean, our single big political action is a group photo. That sounds really depressing but it’s true. Our singular, big, collective political action as gay people is “we took a group photo”. We took one every year, we’ve done it for ten years, this is about to be our eleventh. This photo is so important to the people who organise this rally that last year on the occasion of the tenth Pink Dot, we claimed we were ready. There were ten declarations of what we were ready to do. We were ready for laws, education, for this and that, and declaration number ten was “we are ready to form Pink Dot”. We are ready to take a group photo, that’s the most important declaration of the fucking night? I’m saying this, and I sound really angry – and lord knows the people at Pink Dot have heard me say it already, so whatever – but it occurs to me that we’re not really thinking about what this means.

“I mean, our single big political action is a group photo.”

Is it all going nowhere?

I guess each year the photo has to zoom out a little bit more. And we’ve also decided that it has to be a night dot cos it’s prettier, so it’s a group photo where your face isn’t even visible. I’m not against us making powerful, evocative images. But I would be remiss to not point out that for the vast majority of people who show up at Pink Dot that is the end of their political engagement with gay rights. I’m not sure if that is more or less active than putting up a status update. I don’t know. Maybe they’ll go see a gay film at the Projector. Maybe they’ll go to some restaurants that have pink food. Did you know that’s happening, by the way? 

The restaurant week thing? It’s a bit of a question mark.

It’s not! Cos it’s totally what Pink Fest claims to be about, so it’s not actually a question mark. It’s a question mark because we imagine Pink Fest is about something else, I think. And excuse me, I’m doing RIOT! x Pink Fest. If you wanna talk about who am I to critique this shit because I’m taking part in it, well actually I think that allows me to critique it even more. 

Is it a case of it’s not the best, but it’s the best we’ve got?

If I were to be very real about it, it’s an opportunity to make money. I see Pink Fest as a marketing opportunity. Like, what the fuck am I going to put in RIOT! that is any queerer than RIOT!? 

That’s similar to a lot of pride promo around the world, too.

I think behind some of that stuff is a real desire to do some good. But everything that I’ve built is based on my queerness. I can’t get queerer because there is not a scale of queerness. I’m surprised that these restaurants didn’t even come out and say “we’re an LGBT safe space”. 

Is Singapore stifling to you?

I haven’t found it to be that stifling. I think people say that a lot. But I think there’s a lot of policy in Singapore that is just fucking stupid. And it’s built around keeping frantic conservative people happy about shit that has nothing to do with them. And when I say nothing to do with them, I mean literally it has no impact on their lives. That can be 377A, or our licensing laws, or censorship, or any number of things. That part I don’t find stifling, I find it fucking stupid. It’s all a theatre of conservatism. It doesn’t even really care that much about the conservatism itself, it’s just a theatre to allow conservatives to feel like their completely unreasonable fears and demands are at least heard. But I don’t find it stifling because in the first place, I don’t think I’ve done stuff that really comes up against this shit. That’s not my jam so much. At the end of the day, I’m a stupid drag queen who just moves my mouth to songs I didn’t sing.

Want come see, come see; don’t want come see, don’t come see.

For more fabulousness, you can catch Becca D'Bus at:

LuLu's Lounge
every Saturday, and occasional Wednesdays
7 Raffles Boulevard

RIOT! — shows are monthly
usually held on the second Saturdays of the month
at Hard Rock Cafe
50 Cuscaden Road
Get your tickets from riotdragshow.com

The Glory Hoes present
every last Friday at Intermission Bar
at The Projector, 6001 Beach Road.
Stay post-screening for The Hoe Down party.
Get tickets and more information from theprojector.sg

Starring Becca D'Bus
Creative direction by ISSUE Magazine
Photography by Sherman See-Tho
Outfit and Styling, a collaboration by 3EIGHTH x DE HAN
Floral styling by This Humid House
Layout design by Miki Charwin
Photographer assisted by Nigel Tan and Jonathan Tan

A production by ISSUE Magazine and 3EIGHTH

Filmed by Lynn Tachihara
Edited by Caleb Quek
Music by Nigel Tan