In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I assisted in the preparation of a fake vagina.
Specifically, I helped to cram the forty-five feet of pink and magenta fabric in the butt of a leotard so that when pulled through the legs, the “interior scroll” could then make its way out of the polka-dotted orifice and into the waiting crowd.
From there, the scroll was passed around like a beach ball at a baseball game, with the audience members laughing as they continued the circuit, making a full loop of the crowd with more fabric yet to emerge from the bespeckled birth canal of the drag queen onstage.
This is the story of Becca D’Bus, also known as Eugene Tan. This could be a superhero story “" mild-mannered Eugene ducks into a telephone booth, quickly changes outfit, and becomes invincible in his green and blue leotard. Or perhaps it could be a stage actor’s story, with the makeup and costume giving Eugene an entirely different persona. Instead, it’s a little of both. By crawling into the jungle-flavored outfit with the over-sized false vagina and 45 feet of extra fabric in the caboose, Eugene becomes Becca, drag queen and performance artist.
“It’s not about gender” Tan said of his craft. “It’s about “Ëœlet’s wear something stupid’.”
Assuming the throne
It wasn’t always about impersonating a woman for Tan “" there was a day when he was working toward a career that in comparison seems boring. There was a time when Tan was on his way to becoming an advertising copywriter.
“I had an internship in Hong Kong” Tan said, “and some ads I wrote were actually sold.” Tan, who is from Singapore originally, came to the United States for college in 2001, and September 11 was his second day of classes at Emerson College.
After he graduated in 2004 with a degree in Marketing Communications and Theater Studies, Tan began work at The Theater Offensive, a queer theater company based in Cambridge, directing a production of “A Street Theater Named Desire.” Tan, now the community engagement director, says that his drag queen beginnings resulted from trying to increase public awareness of HIV/AIDS. “It’s important that we present a diverse face of queerness, that queerness doesn’t equal gayness, and gayness doesn’t equal gay-white-maleness,” Tan said.
“I don’t think I ever grew up wanting to be a drag queen,” Tan said. “I won’t say I fell into it accidentally. I think we landed in drag quite deliberately. We landed in drag as an extension of HIV/AIDS outreach. We were trying to find a more successful way to hand out condoms.”
Tan, by his own assertion, joined the drag-iverse in a “nontraditional” way. He says that many drag queens grew up in and around the scene, going to drag nights, and finding mentors within the arena. It takes a long time for a drag queen to garner street cred.
“It seemed like the older queens showed me a lot of respect before I deserved it,” Tan said of his quick entry into the realm. “The Theater Offensive bought me some respect in that scene.” Tan got his start through Wreckage, a monthly amateur drag night at Jacque’s Cabaret in the South End. Wreckage was an offshoot drag night from Traniwreck, an all-gender drag show also held at Jacque’s.
From there, the Becca D’Bus persona expanded in 2006 to several regular drag nights, including Perestroika, and the Jaded Lounge, which she hosted. In 2008, the Jaded Lounge became Cherry, Becca’s regular fixture at Jacque’s.
Regardless of whether it’s Tan or Becca, though, there’s one rule that remains constant.
“[My parents] have seen me in person in drag. The only thing my mom could say was, ‘don’t get glitter everywhere’.”
“Becca has no skin.”
It’s a running joke among the drag queens Tan works and performs with “" Becca D’Bus has no skin. For a long time, Tan said, beneath each of Becca’s outfits was a leotard of one outrageous color or another. Becca has become more exposed lately, but flamboyance is still the status quo for her outward appearance.
Although his hair is already only a small fraction of an inch long, Tan insists he needs to shave the rest of it off “" the eye makeup he applies extends far onto his forehead, and a smooth surface makes for more even coverage.
The first step in the hour-long makeup process is to break out the hairdryer. Remember, he doesn’t have any hair to dry, but the foundation that Tan uses as the first layer in his makeup is so thick it needs to be melted before it can be applied. Dermablend Corrective Cosmetics are designed to cover up scars, birthmarks, and tattoos, and it doesn’t come off easily.
“The market is burn victims and drag queens” Tan said. “It’s thick enough that (your skin) could believably be another shade.”
From there, Tan adds contouring makeup and eyeshadow from his eyelids several inches up onto his scalp. He adds eyebrows above that, and painted-on eyelashes beneath his eyes. The lipstick is a blue and white mix for this performance, with lip liner accentuating the lips even more.
“When I started, I always did way over-sized makeup” Tan said. “I would just line my eyes and wear a half-moon of glitter. Then I started thinking of shapes.”
Becca’s outfits are a homemade effort as well. In one corner of the cluttered drag room in Tan’s North End Boston apartment hang outfits from shows past, waiting for reuse. In another corner, from the floor to the ceiling, lay bolts upon bolts of gaudy fabric, waiting to be transformed into Becca’s next leotard.
“Often I start with fabric only, but just as often it’s a specific costume (I’m designing) and then I go buy fabric” Tan said. Frequently, people tip him off about fabric sales in the Boston area, and Tan picks up whatever’s on sale. From there, he sews just about all of his outfits himself at a sewing machine perched on a crowded table.
His wigs, however, are held together more precariously. Many of the Becca D’Bus hairpieces, which rest on shelves above the door to the drag room, are composites of other wigs, held together with safety pins. One wig, a blue and green piece, is composed of seven smaller wigs.
“I try to look spectacular” he said.
An exaggeration of femininity
The performance art piece was simple. Carolee Schneeman, a feminist artist, would climb, naked, on a table, slowly extract a scroll from her vagina, and read aloud from it as she continued to pull. “Interior Scroll”, the performance was called. (This photo equals 1,000 not safe for work words.)
Tan sought to turn this familiar event in feminist history into a drag spectacle.
“If a drag queen is an exaggeration of what it means to be feminine, then what is the drag queen interpretation of the Scroll?” he wondered aloud. And the result was to make everything that much bigger and bolder.
Schneeman’s scroll was 36 inches. Becca’s was 45 feet. Schneeman got naked and up on a table. Becca shed a bathrobe and climbed atop a chair to expose her speckled fabric vagina. Schneeman read poetry aloud. Becca performed to “Material Girl.”
“I’m interested in the way a lot of pop in the last 20-30 years is written with a lot of metaphor” Tan said of his song choice. “Hollaback Girl has all this imagery… I don’t get it.” Becca D’Bus takes everything literally, though. During a performance called “Rain”, Becca sprayed the audience repeatedly with a squirt bottle.
“It’s really colorful and it’s super, super literal” he said.
Not everybody quite understood the costume, though.
“He looks like Superman, doesn’t he?” asked a cab driver as Becca loaded her gear into the back of the taxi.
“Hello, nice paint. I’m Joey” ventured one nerdy-looking MassArt student when Becca arrived at the performance hall.
Following the performance, Kate Bovitch, a friend of Tan’s from The Theater Offensive, summed up the dual personalities of Tan and Becca.
“Eugene can break into Becca when he’s not in drag. Right now he’s dressed but not playing” she said. “I think that Becca is part of Eugene. I don’t think Becca can live on her own.”