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  • Annya Pabial

What's Her Name?

Why Priyanka is a symbol for South Asian confidence and authenticity

Priyanka, the very first winner of Canada’s Drag Race has taken the world by storm in her year-long reign, now succeeded by season 2 winner Icesis Couture but that hasn’t put an end to her domination of the drag world.

After being crowned, as well as releasing a killer EP and high-production music videos to accompany it, Priyanka has constantly been touring and performing across the world. From looking at her Instagram feed alone, you can see she’s been booked and busy since the very first episode of Canada’s Drag Race aired. Even before she appeared on Drag Race, she won many prestigious drag titles and accolades, including the best drag performer title in NOW Magazine’s 2019 Readers’ Choice poll, and was quickly recognised as a star by her peers. However, all her monumental achievements aside, Priyanka, as a drag queen, resonated with me on such an intrinsic level because she is the very embodiment of South Asian diasporic success.

Being only the second drag queen of South Asian descent to appear on the franchise, (the first was Genie from Drag Race Thailand) Priyanka has been some very important representation for LGBTQ+ South Asians. The Drag Race franchise has always been a very diverse one but it doesn’t take much investigation to see how few South Asian drag queens have had the chance to compete. It took until season 11 of the U.S. installment to see the first Muslim drag queen on the show, Mercedes Iman Diamond.

However, Priyanka made a splash and showed that she wasn’t here to mess around from the start. She not only brought her A-game to Canada’s Drag Race, aside from Snatch Game but we’ll let that slide, she stood her ground and became one of the funniest, polished and entertaining queens to ever set foot on the Drag Race stage. The Indo-Caribbean queen served up numerous showstopping looks on the runway that were inspired by her heritage and did not disappoint anyone who had been waiting years to see South Asian drag on the world’s most prestigious drag platform were definitely not disappointed. She let it be known exactly what she is about from her Meet the Queens look, a gorgeous outfit that combined the general concept of a salwar kameez suit with a traditional drag jumpsuit silhouette, and maintained the same amount of attention to detail right up until her incredible finale look, a beautiful bridal lehenga in the colours of the Canadian flag.

But perhaps her most iconic and impressive look she has graced the runway in was the outfit she wore to the season 2 finale when she crowned the aforementioned Icesis Couture. Stepping out in an ethereal, blown out lehenga, complete with two additional artificial moving arms, she once again paid homage to her culture in the most awe-inspiring way. She took inspiration from Hindu goddesses, the Dasa-Mahavidyas, and dragged up their looks. Something that had literally never been done in the entire history of the show … and she wasn’t even competing for the crown at that point! Not only did the season 2 finalists watch in complete amazement but so did the judges, making everyone’s jaw drop, proving once again that she’s that bitch.

Priyanka’s level of commitment and talent in her execution is a testament to the work ethic a lot of people of colour have to keep up for the most part of their lives in order to make it in the west, something that was mentioned on the show. She had only been doing drag for two years prior to her appearance which is an astounding feat when you consider just how precise and refined she already was. I really appreciate that she took the opportunity to exemplify South Asian drag culture because she made history not only with her win but by delivering looks no one had ever seen before. It may have taken over a decade for a South Asian drag queen to make her mark on the show, never mind win, but Priyanka did it in such a sophisticated way that audiences were made to sit up and acknowledge the creative and cultural brilliance of this subsection of the artform. She also spoke about how she was essentially living a double life since she hadn’t come out to her father as gay prior to filming her season. She told him that she was dating a girl named Priyanka and not that it was her drag alter ego. This is something that can be universally relatable for closeted individuals who are struggling with their families’ prejudice ideals and such an important topic to raise, especially for South Asians who may never be able to discuss such matters that are still considered taboo, both in the diaspora and homeland.

I hope Drag Race sees the rise of many more South Asian queens and offers them the same opportunity their counterparts have received over the past thirteen years of the show’s duration. That isn’t to say that South Asian drag queens deserve to be cast just because of their ethnicity, we don’t want pity handouts, but isn’t it time to allow those who haven’t had the chance to represent their communities to do so? South Asians have slowly but surely been edging into the limelight of media and popular culture in recent years and to have someone like Priyanka stand on the same pedestal like so many legends of TV and film have before is reassuring in the fact that we’re being seen and even honoured.

The drag world is one where unwavering self-assurance and genuine validation from peers is needed in equal parts in order to succeed, and Drag Race serves as both for its audience. Young members of the LGBTQ+ community look to the show for comfort and confidence and South Asian members of that community, people who are often forced to reject parts of their identity for the sake of safety and survival, do too. Priyanka is just the tip of the iceberg of incredible South Asian drag queens who display their culture and sexuality loud and proud but she is definitely one that people won’t be forgetting any time soon.

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