Sparks Magazine Online
Sparks gets untucked with Kim Chi

Sparks gets untucked with Kim Chi

Interview by Kevin Huynh

Story by Nicole Dan

Sparks Magazine interviewed Kim Chi before her appearance at UF’s Pride Awareness Month’s Drag Show. Kim Chi is currently the only Asian American contestant on season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She spoke about her gender identity, race and style inspiration.


Sparks: What do you have to say to people who might have some trouble expressing their gender identity?

Kim Chi: That’s kind of like a hard philosophical question. Also, like how you express your gender depends on your surrounding and what type of people you’re with. But at the end of the day, do whatever makes you feel happy. And if you don’t feel accepted in the community you’re in, things will get better eventually. I grew up in a small town in Michigan where it was very anti gay and homophobic to an extent. But I knew one day when I grew up I would be able to move and I moved out to Chicago. And my life has never been the same since.

Sparks: So you recommend for people who have some self doubt to just hang in there and wait for a better future?

KC: A better future will happen.

Sparks: Our latest issue of Sparks Magazine is the embody issue, so it’s all about how Asian Americans present themselves to the outside world so how do you come up with your outward appearance? What inspires you?

KC: My inspiration comes from many different places. My major inspirations are the high fashion runways that are conceptual and avant garde and a lot of the Japanese Korean animations.

Sparks: I read in an earlier interview that you’re really inspired by the really high class designers. Is there a dream collaboration that you have in mind with a designer?

KC: I mean obviously Gareth Pugh but a lot of his stuff might be a little too dark for who Kim Chi is but ideally Viktor and Rolf. They’re always pushing the boundaries and they’re always coming up with new concepts that I never would have thought of in my lifetime. They’re brilliant designers.

Photo courtesy of Royce Abela.

Sparks: You have such a strong look that I always see you doing a collaboration with like Jeremy Scott or something. Is that something you’re open to, collaborating with other artists?

KC: Definitely. I mean, a lot of the drag culture is collaborating with different artists. Most drag queens learn their makeup from other queens.

Sparks: I know you were one of the really influential queens in Trixie Mattel’s life. Do you think drag queens get a bad rap for being too cutthroat?

KC: From my experience, it also depends on what the gay culture is in your town. I think Chicago is such an artist city, and there’s a lot of different artists collaborating over there. So I haven’t felt the cutthroatness. But I do hear a lot of horror stories of drag queens breaking costumes and stealing things but I’ve yet to experience anything.

Sparks: Have you ever felt pressure to look a certain way because you’re Asian American?

KC: Growing up in Korea I definitely did. Because Korean culture is so much about conforming to society. And you study to pass this entrance exam and you get a corporate job, and you get married. I feel like definitely being in America I feel less pressure. I mean there is some pressure like that from my family, but also I’m not really in close contact with them. So I’ve kind of created my own destiny here.

Sparks: How do you see the future of drag? And what’s your role in it?

KC: Ooh. I think drag should be something that’s fun, open minded, and if there’s something and if there’s a look you want to do, if there’s an idea you want to pitch to the audience: do whatever you want. There’s no rules.

Sparks: How would you describe your drag in three words?

KC: Tragic. Awful. Smelly.

Sparks: What do you think are the most important issues for the Asian American community?

KC: You guys are asking me the good questions. No really because every single interview I’ve done has been like “When did you start drag?” like “how did you apply to get in the show?” But these are good questions.

I feel like especially for being a gay Asian male, I feel like almost Asians are very….

Sparks: Pigeonholed.

KC: Pigeonholed. And it’s either, like dating an Asian guy is almost considered a fetish. Like in the gay community especially. And a lot of the Asians in American culture are almost used as comic relief and even though we have like a great history and there’s so much great technology and stuff coming out of Korea in the American mainstream culture Asians aren’t taken seriously. And I just wish more different Asian cultures are well known in America. So when a random person in the middle of nowhere sees an Asian person they don’t assume, like “He’s Chinese, he’s Japanese.” There’s a lot of different cultures there, and we all have a different story to tell.

Photo courtesy of Royce Abela.

Sparks: So you think we get lumped into the same group too often?

KC: Exactly.

Sparks: Do you ever feel typecast as superficial? Because your looks are so great do you think that people underestimate your other skills?

KC: What other skills?

Sparks: Do you think it’s really important to be superficially on point? Do you think it’s a double edged sword almost? Being flawless?

KC: I mean drag itself, it’s a profession that focuses so much on vanity. And all drag queens to a certain extent are creatures of vanity.

Sparks: So it’s not a fair argument?

KC: Exactly.

Sparks: How does your masculine identity intersect with your Asian American identity?

KC: These are the hardest interview questions I’ve ever gotten. You’re talking to the wrong person here, because I’m a man in a wig passing off trying to look like a woman for a living. I don’t even know what traditionally masculine is.

Sparks: Do you think we even need labels nowadays? Do you think labels hold us back or do you think they help get people recognized?

KC: For some people it helps them define who they are. So if you feel like that’s what you want to use by all means go ahead and use those labels. But for me I’m just here to eat and have fun.

This interview has been condensed for clarity. Feature image courtesy of Royce Abela.