Taiwanese American “Wang Newton” was voted one of the Top 25 drag kings in the world by peers. Self described as a “cheeky host with a ‘Taipei’ personality”, they host shows in New York City while running Wang TV on social media. The filmed bits feature everything from backstage shenanigans to interviews with the likes of super model Coco Rocha and drag queens from TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race.
TAP-NY caught up with Wang at a show in Brooklyn to learn about their background and journey. Learn more about Wang at www.wangnewton.com or on Instagram @drwangnewton and don’t miss out at their next self-produced variety show on March 28th.
Could you introduce yourself?
Hi — my feminine name is Mei-yin and I perform comedically in masculine form as “Wang Newton.” I was born in Taipei and grew up in Ping Tung (with my mother’s side of family) until I immigrated to the US at 5 years of age. My father’s side is from Hsinchu.
I didn’t discover my artistic gifts until my mid-20’s. In essence, I play in the realm of gender bending as a drag king, which is roughly the costumed illusion and often exaggerated portrayal of the masculine form and mannerisms. My forte is improvisational campy comedy. I emcee and interact with zero scripts.
How did Wang Newton’s whole journey get started?
Picture this: Philadelphia 2004, the day before Halloween. This was the birth of Wang, and yes, he IS a Scorpio. By way of background, I first must honor THE George Takei/”Mr. Sulu” himself for his words to me. Years prior to 2004, I helped start an Asian American non-profit and we hired him to speak on our panel. Sounds funny now, but I actually said to him that I wanted to be an extra in film because dressing up in costumes is fun. He said to me, “Why just be an extra when you can be the STAR??” You could say the seeds were planted in my college days and that Wang was what blossomed.
October 30, 2004 was the fateful birthday party date of a New Yorker friend who mandated that we all ‘wear a wig and black clothing.’ And so, bored Mei in a Philadelphia office cubicle somehow came up with the Chinese version of tuxedo wearing Vegas crooner Wayne Newton. I started with what I already owned — a black tuxedo and dildo (hence, the name “Wang” as a double entendre), and then purchased a mustache and wig.
At that time in my life, I had no intention to be doing this art form called “drag.” I really just took the party’s costume requirement and tried not to spend much money. While most people are more familiar with the term drag queens, the idea of drag kings was even new to me in 2004. Social media was not prominent at that time so I didn’t see any other Asian Americans doing this art. There were definite moments of doubt and a long hiatus (PS — don’t worry, now that we have social media, I found the other 5 existing drag kings of Asian descent now).
Moving through the discovery and ownership of my gender and sexual identity was a separate journey in itself. I’m certain that I love my feminine aspects and am not called to have a sex change. In fact, the former club kid in me sometimes steps out in ultra-femme “Empress” form. As the world’s top drag queen RuPaul says, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” All in all, I am pleased that Wang was created organically. To this day, I’ve never had a more intense gut feeling telling me to go forth and be courageous.
From what and where does Wang draw inspiration from?
Besides master comedians like Dave Chapelle, my jokes are influenced by my life experience mixed with social observations and current events. My expression is the art of clowning with intent to genderfuck as well as “culturefuck”. I challenge the status quo in these two arenas perhaps because they were once so serious for me.
I was born in one country, influenced in the early stages of life by an ancient heritage. I have few solid memories yet deep down I know it was loving and positive. I landed in another historically young country, grew up to adulthood, and was made fun of for being ‘ethnically different.’ The same duality applies to my sexual energy and gender fluidity. I was born and lived happily as cis-bodied female; then I experienced the strong emergence of an undeniable masculinity. Without much understanding from the world around me nor my own traditional parents, I didn’t feel safe to be all the different ever-changing aspects of myself.
In my junior year in high school I had an epiphany. In one shining moment I became aware: I didn’t have ugly small eyes… a billion people also have these same eyes! In my 30’s I came upon more information: that in many Native American cultures, two-spirited people were revered and had roles as the tribe’s medicine person. I have come to realize that identity is an interesting mask we all wear. Only for some it is stuck on, passed down from generation to generation without question. For others it is a created facade.
What was once shameful and hidden for me evolved into a deeper self love and full outward expression. Now I can finally have a big laugh about it all — and I aim to give that to others.
How do you feel about Asian Americans in the LGBTQ community? In the US vs. Taiwan?
I can speculate from observation and personal experience despite not having been immersed in Taiwan’s LTBTQ community. A bit over 5 years ago, I went to a couple of girl bars and the vibe was a bit reserved. My observation definitely may not be accurate, but the sense is that the majority of Taiwanese still live with or near parents, date later in life, and live near extended family (obviously, as an island). Perhaps the overall feeling is slightly timid, romantic, and the acceptable expression is influenced by kawaii “cute childlike” culture. One reflected example is Exhibit A: Taiwan’s all female “boi” band Misster
On the other hand, I can speak directly about my experience as a queer Asian in America. We have the privilege of being exposed to *infinite possibilities*. For us big city dwellers that were raised in the US, we get to make friends and lovers of diverse backgrounds and learn directly from them as opposed to just the internet. By the way, I did grow up in small town America– so I see the difference. When one has multicultural and multigenerational friends, there is a higher likelihood that someone along the way encouraged us to speak up, to dance wildly, to laugh, to be fully in your body, to love your Self, to try new cultures, try BDSM, be sex positive, be okay with celibacy, learn to say NO, have safe boundaries, have no boundaries, only do things if the energy feels right, ask for what you want, exercise, be healthy, slow down stop being crazy, get out there stop being a recluse, dive deeper into true true *intimacy* — the list goes on. Basically, we are more likely to have freedom and time to explore ourselves honestly in the first place… and thus be liberated from the guilt and shame for being who we truly are (and, who we create ourselves to be). As a hopeful example of America, I point to Exhibit B: Los Angeles songstress Sofya Wang. Looks like she made a choice to mix the cute and the WOW by really owning her sexuality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlAW7l6dmeA
What’s your favorite part about Taiwan?
THE FOOD!!! I think that’s the mandatory response, secretly implanted by the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau.
Seriously though, my favorite part of Taiwan is it’s willingness to evolve. With all of America’s shortcomings, I am proud to say I am from a country that seems to have core values aligned to myself: kindness, intelligence, less incidences of theft, robbery, murder. The High Speed Rail was an amazing development and trends seem to travel quickly from North to South. From this foundation, I have enjoyed seeing Taiwan transform each time I have visited the last 20 years. I have not returned for the last 5 years but will do so this coming April 2018. I’m especially proud to know Taiwan is the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. JIA-YOU!!!
What are you looking forward to the most this year?
I’m looking forward to my return home for my Paternal Grandmother’s 100th birthday (and my bday as well!). This will be the first time filming as Wang in Taiwan and sharing with family there. I’m also humbled to have had Glamour Magazine Online film the “A+ Pan Asian Drag Revue” show – crossing fingers that it goes viral when it drops in June for Pride Month! Also slated in June is a European tour, mostly with my fave Dutch festival performer friends. I’ve started a Patreon to help fund the video making and promotion of Wang’s “#1 Adventure Tours” (www.Patreon.com/WangNewton) I feel the world could use some non-touristy cultural exposure and a reminder to just enjoy life play with other adults different than yourself. Who doesn’t want more fun and laughter?
Oh! I am also beyond thrilled to be curating my monthly variety show “Happy Beginnings” (not endings). I know some of the top performers in the city, plus have many international visitors. I can’t wait to share their gifts and make the audience swoon! The first launch is Wangsday, March 28th then May 23 at Drom in East Village. In between time, I also get invited to host major events too. So Save the Date for May 12th: The New York Asian Burlesque Extravaganza. I hosted last year and trust me it was a really sexy high brow event. In the near future, I will do my rounds performing in the big cities of the US as well. Perhaps I can “TAP” into the Taiwanese communities of these cities and together we can enjoy a night celebrating our rich mixed heritage with modern nuances 😉 The time really is NOW for Asian Americans: to support each other, to be seen, tell our stories, share our beauty and fierceness.