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Nymphia Wind and the growth of drag in Taiwan

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Nymphia Wind — World of Wonder
Nymphia Wind — World of Wonder

Not long after Taiwan had been struck by a once-in-a-generation 7.3-magnitude earthquake, another major historic event shook the foundations of the nations's drag and LGBT community: Taiwanese contestant Nymphia Wind became the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race season 16.

In her acceptance speech for the title of "America's next drag superstar," in front of a global audience of millions, Nymphia made a loving dedication to her home country and community: "Taiwan, this is for you."

In honor of this momentous occasion, I had the privilege of witnessing up close Nymphia's drag family, the Haus of Wind, and other performers hold an unbridled celebration of her victory, hosted by the city's flagship Gay bar, Café Dalida, at the Riverside Live House in Taipei's historically Queer district, Ximen. Their stellar drag performances were accompanied by a viewing of the season's finale. On Nymphia's win, the audience's reception was nothing short of utterly ecstatic, and the venue released vibrant confetti and banners in her favorite color, yellow. Many people broke into tears, embracing one another in triumph.

"It's so difficult to host drag queen events here in Taiwan... [with Nymphia's win,] it feels like we finally won," stated Alvin Chang, the owner of Café Dalida and host of that night's event.

Nymphia and Alvin together, 2024 — Alvin Chang  

Chang has played a significant role in many Taipei-based drag queens' lives, including that of Nymphia Wind. He has been an active member of the local Gay scene since his college DJing days in the mid-1990s and has slowly become one of the city's most seminal Queer figures. And yet throughout the decades, one thing has remained the same: his love and passion for the art of drag.

Chang spoke with me in an interview about the history of Taipei's drag scene and Nymphia Wind's rise, as well as how RuPaul's Drag Race helped to rehabilitate Taiwanese interest in the art form.

The evolution of the drag scene
The popularity and support of drag performers among Taiwan's LGBT community has not always been consistent, Chang told me. When American gyms started cropping up across Taipei in the late 1990s, he noticed a shift among his Gay compatriots toward an obsession with masculinity and a corresponding stigmatization of femininity. "The Gay community here started to hate feminine men. All my drag queen friends stopped doing drag, and went to the gym," he said.

This "femmephobia" in Taiwanese Gay culture is what prevented greater interest in drag from taking off at the time, Chang surmised. For over a decade, the demographic makeup of Taipei's drag shows were predominantly foreign expats coming to watch foreign queens.

It was only in 2016, when RuPaul's Drag Race became easily accessible to watch from home on Netflix Taiwan, that Chang once again began to notice more Taiwanese patrons frequenting the drag shows. It was also around that time that more Gay-oriented events, like the monthly "Werk!" party, started cropping up around the city. Café Dalida also started hosting a monthly party for drag queens called "Create Ur Mmmagic" (or C.U.M.), hosted by both Chang and his friend and veteran drag queen Bouncy Babs.

Veteran Drag Artist Bouncy Babs — Courtesy photo  

The initial C.U.M. lineup was composed of all foreign queens, but that was soon to change. In 2018, Werk! decided to hold a lip-synch competition in order to recruit more local talent, and the winners ended up being none other than Nymphia Wind and her good friend Chiangwei. Soon after this, Bouncy Babs decided to invite both of them to perform at C.U.M., which is how Chang coincidentally met Nymphia for the first time. When asked to recall his first impressions of her, Chang endearingly said he thought to himself: "Such a crazy bitch. I have to know her right away!" And the rest was Taiwanese drag history.

That same year, C.U.M. was also able to secure a pivotal visit from RuPaul Drag Race's season 8 finalist Kimchi. This was the first time one of Drag Race's contestants had come to Taipei to perform. According to Chang, the impact on the community of witnessing an internationally successful — and fellow Asian — drag queen perform live could not be overstated. "Many of my drag daughters said they started doing drag since that event," he said. "So many in the audience joined the event in drag... [we] Taiwanese love her very much."

Despite past wavering in local interest, these events provided the crucial turning points from which Taiwan's homegrown drag artistry evolved into its current flourishing era.

Nymphia's edge
Nymphia Wind, alongside the gigs at her "home bar" Café Dalida, would also go on to organize her own performances around Taipei over the years. Chang recounted several of them to me, but his favorite of the bunch was her 2019 show called "The Alien Experiment." In it, Nymphia starts off in typical drag show fashion by playing a blonde bombshell while lip-syncing on the runway — but then subverts audience expectations by harshly interrupting it with screaming and an on-stage freakout. Two drag accomplices in scientific white lab coat getups then storm in to strip her down and probe her, alien-style. They forcibly pour liquid down her throat while also transforming her piece by piece into a dark alien costume with a spiderweb-like contraption.

"She is always willing to try something new. So much talent," Chang told me.

No doubt these experimental drag shows in Taipei were the stomping grounds in which Nymphia was able to hone in her craft before embarking upon the US drag scene and RuPaul's Drag Race.

The rise and now victory of Nymphia Wind has only confirmed the strong support and love of the drag art form that has been built in Taiwan for almost a decade; it was certainly palpable during the Haus of Wind's victory celebration party in April.

In response to one of my last questions of the interview, Chang shared with me his reasoning for why he believed Nymphia was able to take home the title: "She always takes care of the audience, not just performing her own thing on the stage... she did it at the final lip sync," referring to the Drag Race season 16 finale performance. It was this attentiveness to her audience, which he has witnessed throughout her entire career, that allowed her to gain the edge and win.

The historical significance of Nymphia Wind's victory, as well as her outspoken love for her home country in interviews, has not gone unnoticed by the highest echelons of Taiwanese society; outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen wrote a statement not long after the release of the finale on the official Drag Race Instagram congratulating Nymphia on her win, stating: "Taiwan thanks you for living fearlessly."

Nymphia Wind will fly back to Taipei to perform alongside other season 16 show contestants Plane Jane and Mirage on May 25 for the You Better Werq tour. It's safe to say that her triumph will mark Taipei on the map of drag excellence internationally for years to come.