La Chiquitta: An evening with Hong Kong's premier drag queen

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The road to stardom is paved with misconceptions but La Chiquitta has overcome all obstacles to become one of Hong Kong’s premier drag queens. Amanda Sheppard spends an evening with Rye Bautista, the man behind the woman, to talk about life, love and bravery. Photography Calvin Sit. Art direction Jeroen Brulez
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For the last eight years, leading drag queen La Chiquitta has rocked stages throughout Hong Kong as a singer, dancer and, above all, an entertainer. When she’s not performing, she is Rye Bautista. Bautista, who hails originally from the Philippines, is an active member of the LGBTI community and a contributor to Pink Season, an annual LGBTI festival promoting social and cultural events. Bautista and Chiquitta are two living, breathing people with distinct personalities, but they are hardly two sides of the same coin. In fact, in every way apart from the physical, they’re completely different people. We step into Bautista’s world for an evening as he becomes Chiquitta, to see exactly how this transformation takes place.

La Chiquitta

4pm
We meet Rye Bautista on a cold and wet afternoon. He is friendly, warm and welcoming, but we know he’s the more reserved of the two people we’re meeting today. He makes coffee while we talk about La Chiquitta’s outfit. Many of her outfits and accessories, including today’s, are housed in a storage facility in Sheung Wan. On the evening’s plans, we’re told there’s a dinner ‘but that’s a Rye dinner’. Bautista and La Chiquitta are wholly different people, as we’re about to discover. After a coffee, Bautista steps into the shower, beginning what he warns is a lengthy transformation process.

La Chiquitta

La Chiquitta

La Chiquitta

4.45pm
Bautista flattens his eyebrows using a UHT glue stick and gathers up his makeup and brushes. While we wait for the glue to dry, he recalls his first drag experience at a Halloween party in the Philippines but he qualifies ‘that wasn’t really drag, just Bautista in a frock’. 
His first ‘real’ experience was with two close friends (also drag performers) in Lan Kwai Fong at the original Volume club. Shortly after, he was given a list of 200 carefully researched names and chose La Chiquitta as it, like him, was the most exotic choice.

La Chiquitta

5pm
Bautista sits in front of the dressing table and applies foundation before contouring Chiquitta’s cheekbones. We learn that performing has always been a passion of his. He was a classically trained contemporary and ballet dancer before moving to Hong Kong to perform in Disneyland’s production of The Lion King. While dancing remains close to his heart, ‘drag is where I found my voice and now I see it as a legitimate art form’. Drag gives Bautista a platform to make a statement and, for him, this means transforming himself into a feminine figure with the exception of one masculine element – either highlighting his Adam’s apple or leaving his arms hairy. He doesn’t want to be a woman, he says. He wants people to know that he is a man dressing like a woman – ‘my interpretation of a woman.’

5.30pm
The conversation turns to Chiquitta’s impact on Bautista’s relationships and he can’t help but smile. Asked whether love is blossoming, he tells us that it’s refreshing to meet a new face in the small community – especially one not intimidated by his eccentricity. This has long been a problem for Bautista, as in the past ‘people [haven’t] seen the person beneath the makeup’. What they see instead, he tells us, is what they expect. One of the most disheartening things about his art, he says, is that ‘everyone thinks we’re sissies but that’s not it’. Bautista has a tattoo on his chest that reads ‘fortune favours the brave’, demonstrating the strength it takes to reject those assumptions. Because, after all, it takes a lot of courage for a man to dress like a woman and express herself openly.

La Chiquitta

6pm
Bautista marks out where Chiquitta’s eyebrows will be drawn as talk turns to his family. On his mother, he says ‘I’ve always just felt her support’, despite her stepping in as an oftentime ‘unwelcome’ makeup artist. Bautista has a brother who he tells us ‘is gayer than me, if you can imagine it’. The brother lives in Dubai and performs in drag as La Sahara. Legislation prohibits public performance there, forcing the pageant behind closed doors. He says they are supportive of each other, with an added measure of sibling rivalry.

La Chiquitta

6.20pm
As he applies Chiquitta’s eyelashes, we notice Bautista’s increasing confidence, with a change in both his posture and persona. Drag is gaining in popularity as an art form in Hong Kong, thanks, in part, we learn, to Drag Overdose, an annual event Bautista has been instrumental in establishing. Further proof of the popularity, he says, is that there’s been a reduction in his personal clientele. He says: “It means they have more options. That was the whole point of this.”

La Chiquitta

6.45pm
Correcting Chiquitta’s eyeliner, the transformation from man to woman is becoming clear. But what about the change from Chiquitta to Bautista? He pauses before replying: “I thought I’d outgrow it but I haven’t. It’s always a sad process. That’s when the illusion is ending. It’s like dragging a kid out of Disneyland.” Chiquitta gives Bautista the opportunity to express himself. He says: “I had so much in my heart that I wanted to say that I could not articulate. People didn’t understand how difficult it was.”

La Chiquitta

La Chiquitta

La Chiquitta

7pm
With the makeup complete, Bautista begins to stuff Chiquitta’s tights to accentuate her hips before he puts on her breasts. This is all part of the illusion that he warns must remain intact. “I give my drag babies shit when they start taking their shoes off in public,” he says. “I hate that. You are not done until you are at home. It’s a matter of principle.

La Chiquitta

La Chiquitta

7.15pm
Bautista puts on Chiquitta’s dress, a sleeveless blue patterned piece, and lays out her jewellery. With makeup, dress, accessories and shoes ready, we’re reminded that ‘until the wig comes on, I am still Rye’. But then, after running the long, straight black hair through his fingers, the final piece is fitted and the queen is officially crowned. Earlier in the evening, Bautista told us: Chiquitta isn’t bossy, she doesn’t swear, she’s just not that kind of girl. She’s a lady.” Now we finally meet La Chiquitta. And she’s every bit as beautiful as we imagined.

La Chiquitta

Listen to La Chiquitta on RTHK Radio 3 every Saturday evening at 9pm on The Gaybourhood.

See also: Hongkonger: La Chiquitta

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