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What it takes to be a queen of the night 

FOR many students, nighttime is often spent finishing homeworks and other projects that are needed to be submitted to get passing grades in school.

It is also used as a time to recharge both the body and the soul.

But for 21-year-old John Lloyd Abcede, nighttime might as well be daytime.

Going by the name “Eliza,” Abcede dresses up in a fascinating outfit, crowned with a silky soft wig, when night falls. 

A Philippine Studies student, Eliza transforms into an alluring drag queen and steals the limelight wherever she goes.

For “Eliza,” drag brings out a certain kind of magic that makes her feel more like a woman – confident, enchanting, glamorous, invincible. It’s as if she has acquired a power that allows her to do things she didn’t think she could do.

“The moment na nagsuot [ako] ng wig, everything changes. I’m more confident, more vocal on what I want when I’m in drag,” the drag queen said.

The birth of Eliza

Eliza has been doing drag for 11 months now. Her fascination with this form of art began when her high school English teacher introduced her to the colorful world of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

She recalled that it was during one of their DOTA 2 game sessions when she saw her teacher watching the show. She said she found it astounding how these ordinary people could transform into bewitching witches with extravagant costumes and captivating hairstyles.

Later on, her friends invited her to watch a drag show in a nightclub in Taguig City. But because of the expensive entrance fee, her friends dressed her in drag to get themselves a free pass to the party. Little did she know that those in drag would be asked to come up on stage to perform.

This was the exact moment her drag persona was brought to life.

Without any experience in performing in drag, Eliza lip synced to Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles, captivating the audience while also falling in love in this new-found interest.

After her impromptu performance, Eliza knew right away that she wouldn’t let that fire she acquired that night to bite the dust.

“I fell in love with the confidence I was able to exude on that night,” she said.

“Sabi ko, after this, since parang it lit up something in me, gusto ko na pagbalik ko ulit [dito], prepared ako,” she added.

The following months, Eliza strived to elevate her drag by polishing her makeup and creating her own costumes, until she was able to land a gig in some clubs around the metro.

What it means to go drag

Like any art, drag is a form of self-expression, as per Eliza. It is something she uses to reveal her true colors to the world, and not something she only does to impress the people around her.

“Drag is not just showing off na maganda ka, showing off na you’re polished,” said Eliza. “There are times na hindi ko kayang ilabas in my normal self kung ano man yung nararamdaman ko. So whenever I perform, dun ko siya nilalabas.”

Eliza also said drag can be used as a form of storytelling, and how drag queens choose to narrate their stories is dependent on how they do their drag.

Eliza minus the drag

But like ordinary students, Eliza said she finds it arduous to juggle her drag queen gigs and her academic duties.

Her day starts as early as 7 a.m. From here, she would attend her classes at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila that usually end at 3 p.m. Her nightlife often begins at around 9 p.m. and concludes at the crack of dawn.

She goes home at 4 to 5 a.m., and the cycle continues.

Tired from her routine, she naps in between class breaks.

But because of her passion for drag, she said she tries her best to manage her time properly.

“Nakakapuyat siya, pero since I love what I’m doing, kailangan ko talagang nag-i-balance out,” she said. 

Challenges and misconceptions about drag

During her early days in the drag scene, Eliza admitted that she found it difficult to acquire the resources she needed for her performances.

She said this was the major challenge she encountered when she was just starting out, as wigs are pricey and drag queens have to create their own costumes if they don’t have a designer to help them.

But she said the earnings she receives from her performances help a lot in allowing her to afford the resources she needs for her future shows.

“Whenever pumupunta ako sa gigs, I earn money then. And then yung money na na-earn ko, pinapaikot ko siya into the resources that I need so that next time, I have this na I can use in my future gigs,” she said.

Another difficulty she’s currently trying to overcome is time management. Since she is also a student in the daytime, Eliza said it is grueling to shuffle between her career and school life. But she tries to balance out everything by taking one step at a time.

“Ang ginagawa ko, I’m focusing only on what I need to do during the morning. And do things that I need to do kapag gabi,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the biggest misconception people have about drag, according to the 21-year-old, is that it is easy.

She stressed that the struggles drag queens face are oftentimes masked by the entrancing visuals they show on stage.

Eliza’s routine starts with preparing her makeup and costume two to three hours before an event. It is also back-breaking to wear heavy wigs, high heels, and makeup for long hours, she said. 

She also said there are drag queens who can’t pee or eat when in full regalia as it could ruin their ensemble.

“Ang daming bagay na hindi nakikita sa isang drag queen. Ang ganda niyang tingnan, ang ganda ng all in all na visuals niya. Pero yung drag queen na yun, di mo alam, yung paa, sobrang sakit na, di nyo nakakaihi ng matagal,” she said.

“It takes a lot of effort [and] sacrifices to do drag.”

The importance of support and acceptance

Born in Lucban, Quezon, Eliza grew up in a woman-led household. Being with her aunt and grandmother most of the time made her realize the femininity inside her.

It later on manifested in how she talks and presents herself. Because of this, she did not feel the need to come out as she could already feel the support from her family members.

Eliza said this acceptance from her family allowed her to fully spread her wings and do the things she wants without restrictions.

It made her comfortable with who she is and her family felt like a wind behind her back — a powerful force that pushes her to follow what her heart truly desires.

“Since hindi ako restricted on the things that I want to do, mas ano siya, naging fulfilling,” she said. 

Message to baby drag queens

When asked about what advice she can give to those who are also dreaming of doing drag, Eliza said the key is a brave heart.

She said it is crucial for them to not be scared of exploring drag and of envisioning how they want to present themselves to the public.

She also assured them that it takes time to hone their craft, which is why they shouldn’t be ashamed of how they would look when in drag.

“It takes little steps, baby steps for you to elevate your drag or for you to establish what you’re aiming to,” she said.

Managing Editor: Henrick Chiu
Creative Director: Sven Gaffud
Graphic Artists: Jadelyn Isiderio & John Dale Lacdao
Writers: Izel Abanilla, Gaby Agbulos, Joanna Deala, Joyce Remo, & Joshua Gerona

Production Staff:
Avin Dela Cruz
Gabriel Arevalo
Aqi Britanico
Michelle Grace Henriche
Gabriele Ann Nicolas
Pamela Monica Gonzales
Gabriela Angeles