Meet Culture-Fucking Drag King Wang Newton
Extravagant suit on and monogrammed microphone in hand, Wang Newton is always ready to steal the spotlight. Epitomizing "gaysian flair," the Taiwanese-American Drag King hosts Wang TV, where they interview other superstars in and around the Drag community. Also known as Emcee Dr. Wang, they're the cheeky presenter of performances all over NYC, and were recently featured in Gregory Kramer's New Book, DRAGS. After falling into a YouTube hole of Wang Newton's #1 Show, I just had to speak to the Drag King (of my heart) and learn more.
LB: When did you first learn that drag kings were a thing, and what was it that drew you into becoming one yourself?
WN: Oddly, I really had no idea it was "a thing"! Apparently, the Universe had different plans for me because I couldn't take the subtle hints.... Wang Newton was born as a Halloween costume in 2004, as part of a friend's birthday party requirements to wear a wig and black clothing. I donned a wig and tuxedo, printed lyrics to Wayne Newton’s song "Danke Schoen," won the grand prize and the rest is history. Prior to this, however, was a stint as an extra in a movie. I was supposed to be a female village person but ended up being a Cambodian Khmer Rouge soldier with a 12-gauge shotgun in hand and blood splatters across the face -- the director zoomed in on me. Before this, I attended a European cruise with an artsy neighbor whose mother was a costume designer. One night we wore full men’s suits and there happened to be a contest to win a bottle of champagne. With my 3 piece and fedora, I lip synced to "New York, New York" the summer that Sinatra passed -- and scored a bottle of bubbly. You could say that I didn't choose the drag life, the drag life chose me!
LB: How did Wang TV get started?
WN: Truth be told, I did enjoy MTV when it used to have good programming. I had an idea to have an anchorman moment in homage because their anchors were considered "cool." The karaoke mic with MTV flag was only used a few times before I was headed to vacation in Brazil. Luckily, as with most TV stations, my name started with a "W" and had 4 letters. I printed W-A-N-G TV and slapped it over the MTV mic flag. This was my way to interview strangers in Brazil, pose for photos, and make them question if it was real or not. I didn't need to be limited to the stage or wait for people to hire me for gigs - I wanted to take Wang to the world. (And hey, which Asian stereotype have I not totally owned?) It wasn't until I was at New York Fashion Week a few years ago that someone shoved me up to supermodel Coco Rocha with this fake mic – then the joke was on me. As the film crews began rolling and photographers started flashing, I had to just wing it with this fake mic. That same day I bumped into CeCe Peniston and Vicky Jeudy from Orange is the New Black. Note to Self: get a real working mic with better video equipment and step that Wang up!!!
LB: What’s involved in the process of transforming yourself into your drag king aesthetic?
WN: "Oh, you know baby -- I have finding the nearest telephone booth for the change-aroo!" #SuperWang
LB: Your website describes you as the comedic relief. Have you always been a comedy king?
WN: Helrooo -- Look at this face! :p
LB: You called yourself “not only a gender fuck, but a culture fucker.” Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
WN: I say culture fucker because this culture of ours is fucked up. Take a look around, especially outside of our NYC bubble.
With gender: if you begin to have conversations with anyone outside of the binary hetero-normative spectrum, you'll find a myriad of gender and sexuality nuances. ("obvi" for most of us reading this...). In my personal experience I went from boy crazy teenage years to those first moments of being attracted to the feminine body... I was so scared and bewildered at first but now that’s no longer the case.
With culture: we do live in America -- and given our diversity, let's focus the lens a bit. How many people have had in-depth conversations with Asian Americans? Each country in Asia is vastly different from the other. The same that applies to those raised in America for generations, those born in Asia but came as a toddler, those that came in later as a teenager/as an adult, to those that lived in small towns vs. big cities, those that stayed put and those that globe trotted.
I happened to be one of those that came from Taiwan as a toddler and raised in small towns. My deepest knowingness that "there MUST be something more to this bullshit" was reconfirmed as wanderlust lured me away, all while calling Philly/New York my home base. For the record -- there's a lot of bullshit when it comes to beliefs that do not feel correct. Small example? I come from a culture that values having baby boys. Males are the 'king of the house.' I moved to a culture that made fun of my small eyes up until high school. One fine day I awoke and it dawned on me, "hold up..four BILLION people have my eyes. Wait -- I'm not the odd or ugly one after all."
LB: How has your Chinese heritage affected your experience in the drag scene of New York? Have you faced any stigmas within the Drag community?
WN: Helrooo -- Look at this face! (just kidding)
It's interesting, ya know. The blatant racism happening in America can be filmed and called out. If you're lucky you can turn into an epic meme. Just below that surface, however, is where it is difficult to prove with evidence or detect. The small-eyes bullying of my school years is easy to call out; barely dating at all in high school is questionable. Was the "standard of beauty" different for a town of 6000 people? I lived a lifetime in my body to sense when something feels off. Perhaps one thing to note is the distinction between anti-racist and non-racist: one is actively working for race equality; the other doesn't “see” skin color and is all for peace and love yet stands idly by when action is needed. The almighty New York City is not immune to this distinction.
I sometimes get booked to play "that one Chinese dude" when needed -- yet sometimes I feel people don't know what to do with Wang. Granted, I can take responsibility for my part in playing up the stereotypes (while being the opposite in real life). Beyond that, I can say things only feel off. It's not always overtly racist or misogynistic ... it's a glossing over, an oblivious ignorance. As with any marginalized life experience, we have tons and tons of stories... but I'm too busy working my ass off twice as hard to spill the tea, honey.
Joking aside, I hope one day Asian Americans do get frequent natural exposure in media. I'm here for it!! Me and my big wang strap on under a bold ass red suit is SO here for it.
LB: What is your support system like? Who has mentored you throughout this journey?
WN: It's been a long solo ride of 13 years. When I moved from Philly to New York I lost a drag wife, Erika Stanley, as she in turn moved to Portland. I didn't come up around other drag performers. Recently, however, I'm happy to say I connected with a true Original Gangster king -- Mo B. Dick who started in the 1990's. Mo has offered to simply be on call any time. For the nuts and bolts of Wang, I have my friend Scott's wisdom along with a true mentor in the entertainment industry -- Paula Muthafuckin' Gilovich!! She gets Wang and wants the best for him. While it's refreshing for someone to get the value of being the only Taiwanese king, a top among peers, and 1 of 10 drag kings of Asian heritage in existence (according to social media)... it's a bigger honor to be appreciated for my art in itself.
LB: You were featured in DRAGS by Gregory Kramer. What do you think is the impact, both in the drag scene and the larger culture, of works like Kramer’s?
WN: Gregory Kramer leaped forth with this project and truly validated our New York community. He found us and paid us accordingly plus had the integrity to bring it to life and to the world. The photos were shot in classic black and white. This book covers a span of history and is a hard copy print available on Amazon and worldwide. Gregory was professional and included drag kings -- he gave me freedom in presenting Wang in the best light. Since the book came out I've gotten so much exposure and am truly grateful.
Imagine if this entire description was replicated? Where would we be? How would we influence misconceptions of 'alternative lifestyles'? THAT could be the impact of works like Kramer's.
LB: What would you want people to know about the drag king culture?
WN: Women have been dressing as men since the Tang Dynasty, post 618 AD. The term 'drag king' as we use it was coined in the 1970's. While I could note that as majority cis born females, most kings still face the usual patriarchal headaches, while drag queens are mostly cis male and take up space, etc etc etc. But I can't prove this. And I'm exhausted talking about gender and race. It's also boring.
In other news, the drag king culture has recently been growing beautifully thanks to the internet. Since my beginnings days I feel a shift from competitiveness to cooperation, a "brotherhood" if you will. We have groups on Facebook and a website dedicated to our legacy -- as www.dragkinghistory.com states, "It is our sincerest hopes that this site serves to preserve these art forms and to create community and unity." Artists are getting their shit together and looking fierrrrce day by day. Here's to hoping the Wang Dynasty will make its mark, baby. May we continue to create a drag king culture that we choose. May we cultivate and nurture it with intention and heart, free from qualities that no longer serve us and society at large.
LB: Bonus Question! Wang, are you a top or bottom?
WN: Ummm neither, baby... Wang usually in the middle....