Most fail to realize that Hawai’i is much more than just a tourist trap and weekend get away. Our islands are inhabited by a diverse, cultural melting pot of people who are often portrayed poorly in the media and entertainment industry. The true voices of locals and the stories of our people are rarely heard of. Many know nothing about our stolen kingdom, our history and our rich, beautiful culture that goes beyond the stereotypes we’re associated with. Within this beautiful culture is a lost history of our drag queen community.
In the 60’s and 70’s, many drag performers worked for the formerly world-renowned Chinatown club, The Glades, which was notorious for their elaborate showgirl-esque drag performances. During this era, performers were required to wear “I’m a Boy” buttons on the streets by law. The buttons originally served as a way to prevent arrests but resulted in rampant violence and death. Around 30 girls were said to be murdered at this time. Things were much different during the days of the Ancient Hawaiians. When one was māhū-- an individual who embodied both feminine and masculine spirits-- they were looked up to. Embodying both of these traits were thought to empower them as caregivers, teachers and healers. All of these things heavily influenced Hawai’i’s drag culture and the style of drag in Hawai’i for generations. Recently, these norms of drag have shifted as the younger millennial generation has come about.
During my research and time spent with O’ahu’s current drag queen community, I’ve learned that there is little to no trace-- both visual and written-- of this beautiful subculture. Many of their stories have gone unheard and many queens of the past have become only memories. I decided to document the different aspects of O’ahu’s current drag queen community in hopes of changing that. I aim to inspire others with their boldness, bravery, artistry and unapologetic individuality. Since then, I’ve been working on several different projects with them, with one of them being Femasculine. The main goal of Femasculine is to unveil what lies beneath the painted faces and how the current queens embody the Ancient Hawaiian concept of māhū. This project both explores the depth of their onstage persona, as well as who they are as Hawai'i locals. I interviewed and photographed 14 different queens for this portrait series to help provide a range of insight.
Grindr's online magazine, INTO, also published a shorter version of this project which can be viewed here:
Retouching done by myself and Jessica Gallagher (jessicagallagherimagery.com)