Hats Off To Ongina
It is always delightful when someone can turn their chance at fame into a wonderful platform that helps educate others on, raise awareness to, and support others with HIV/AIDS. RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1 star, Ongina, has done just that.
On March 11, a tribute to the diminutive and striking drag queen will be held at San Francisco’s premier gay club, Trigger, entitled Hats Off To Ongina, and benefiting Asian and Pacific Islanders Wellness Center, Black Coalition On AIDS, and the Native American AIDS Project, which features performances by Pollo del Mar, Sandra O. NoShedi’nt, Landa Lakes, Mercedez Munro, Miss Rahni, Kitty Tapata, BeyonSoy, Anjie Myma, and this interviewer.
In preparation of this meet and greet benefit, I caught up with Ongina at home in Los Angeles in hopes of finding out about those hats, the impact of her HIV status announcement, how she has stayed relevant after RuPaul’s Drag Race, and what major goals lay before her in 2010.
BeBe: I read somewhere that in your initial exposure to RuPaul you had thought of her as a real woman rather than a drag queen. How do you think your fans actually see you?
Ongina: I think my fans definitely view me as an artist. And I think they see me as a gender illusionist. A gender illusionist doesn’t mean you have to have big hair and sequined gowns. Every performer has a drag persona that they believe in, and for me it’s really being a bald drag queen with head pieces and stuff. I don’t limit my self from wearin’ wigs, I just rather not because really sweaty under there.
BeBe: I know all about that.
Ongina: I mean anyone who puts on a pair of pumps and eye lashes is considered a drag queen whether you have hair or not. You see when I was growing up I thought RuPaul was just a really tall woman. And I will always see her as a beautiful woman. I think my fans see me more as an artist.
BeBe: How did your fabulous hat trademark come about?
Ongina: It all started when I lived in New York. When I first started drag I had hair. I actually had tracks glued to my hair. At that time I had gotten my hair straightened in the salon because my hair is naturally curly. It was very Rihanna with my bangs. And I felt very fabulous. But then I started to shave my head because my hair started to fall out from being overly processed. And I thought I could create a persona with having a "bald weave". And then I was introduced to a couture hat maker who designs hats for runway shows and editorial magazines, Baby Phat, Heatherette, Britney Spears and that sort. I went over to his apartment and went wow, he’s amazing. I asked him if maybe I could wear one of his hats someday, and he said, "Sure. You can where them whenever you want to." So that kind of sparked my love to being creative and stepping outside of the box. Instead of me wearing a different kind of wig every time I go out, I wear a different kind of hat.
BeBe: you mentioned your artistry. It’s like you wear art on top of your head as an extension of that.
Ongina: It really comes from my love for fashion. I work in the fashion industry. I am really big on spending my money and not eating for a week as long as I have my fashion, especially my love for woman’s fashion. So I thought why should I settle for wearing men’s fashion when I could wear women’s fashion and rock it just as hard as any woman could and would.
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Watch this interview with Ongina from StyleITOnline.com: