Sawadee krap (hello in Thai)! We are going international for this month’s Life Story, all the way from Thailand. #humblebrag: I was in Thailand earlier this month (and yes, it was amazing). It was a no brainer to profile someone here who was visible, a beacon for the queer community and works hard to advance LGBTQ rights and understanding in a country that has recently granted civil partnerships and appointed its first transgender MP.
Meet Pangina Heals (real name Pan Pan Narkprasert) who is arguably the most famous drag queen in Thailand today and also the co-host of Drag Race Thailand (which was the first international edition of RuPaul’s Drag Race). We met on a balmy Bangkok night in Silom to discuss all things drag, heels, family and our community.
31, male, gay, Thai-Taiwanese
Life Right Now
Life is busy! From hosting the popular Sunday Gay Night at Maggie Choo’s to hosting Drag Race, things are hectic. I don’t take any of this for granted, as I know all of this could be taken away on any day – so it’s important to me stay grounded and humble. I’m lucky to have a great support network around me, especially my sister who supports me with my work. Recently, I’ve been doing performances, appearing on TV and getting to fly all over the world. And I’m also bringing out my own line of bags – which is very exciting! I love what I do, so this all feels like play. It’s a little gay boy’s dream, to put on makeup, enjoy the attention and live my best life. I’m always grateful!
I was confused about my sexuality when I was in middle school. I saw men as being kinda hot, whereas females were much softer. Hormonally, that was confusing although it became clearer when I was 15. After having my first experience with a man, I knew I was definitely gay – something that felt was wrong, was so right. I remember having an opportunity to live the life that was expected of me, there was a beautiful girl who really liked me but by being with her, I would have been lying to the most important person – myself. I also couldn’t do that to her, to pretend and ruin her life. Ultimately, I’d rather be miserable living as myself, rather than happy living a charade. I’ve never felt the need to apologise for who I am. It’s natural and it’s a part of me.
My Family & Culture
With an Asian Mum, we had a difficult period initially. She just wanted me to get good grades and focus on my education. And I did, I worked hard and eventually studied Fine Arts at UCLA. Once I achieved success in that respect, my sexuality became secondary for her. Before coming out, my Dad would always say there were 5 things that a good person should not do (under the mask of Buddhism) and one of them was not to be gay. After I came out, I remember he cried and apologised to me – for him, it was important that I was a good person and that his responsibility as a parent was to love his child unconditionally. As a result of this, he became a person who was looked up to in our community for his level of compassion and acceptance. My sister is the complete opposite of me, she is much calmer, reserved and doesn’t get involved with all the things I have done. She gives great advice and is particularly helpful when it comes to my decisions with men. She is younger and I see her as my good conscience.
I associate with being Thai more, I was born here. I’m Buddhist and spiritual; Buddhism offers guidance and expects you to be a good person and to not harm others.
I came out when I was 18. I was dating a guy at the time, the perfect catch (or so I thought). My Mum knew and said don’t switch back and forth between genders/partners, as it confused her. My Mum outed me to my Dad the day my boyfriend broke up with me. I was also moving into school that day. It wasn’t really her place to do so, but as I’ve mentioned, my Dad’s acceptance and support has been amazing.
I support National Coming Out Day as a concept, but it can’t be tied to one specific day. It’s such a personal thing to do – as people of colour, we have to be ready in our own lives and have the resources to do so. My boyfriend hasn’t officially come out to his parents, but they know and he doesn’t hide who he is. If some conversations are detrimental to a person’s health or safety, then they don’t have to come out in the way that’s expected – it remains a personal choice.
My identity is a big part of my career and being authentic has helped me build a career I love. The name Pangina Heals comes from my love for Peter Pan with a twist. Imagine Peter Pan in drag, with a vagina. There is also inspiration from Ongina (Drag Race) and her style, her fashion sense. Finally, Heals is a play on words as you need your heels to be a queen, but I’ve also found that performing drag has healed others and healed myself. In a broader sense, I feel I represent Thailand, by showing that we can produce art and talent that can rival anyone else in the world – that no matter where you come from, you can be as good as anyone else. It’s not always easy, but that’s what gives me my drive. Drag Race Thailand has educated people and helped move forward the understanding of drag as a concept (in comparison to transgender people) simply by being in the mainstream. It’s also important to me to use my platform to help other performers and drag artists, all of this adds up.
Love, Dating & Relationships
I’ve been with my boyfriend for just over a year. He is wonderful; to find someone who accepts the art of drag is great. To find love in general is hard, no? I’ve always been clear that it’s drag over dick. It’s an art form and the person you’re with shouldn’t be embarrassed by it. My previous boyfriend wanted me to do less drag, and so I finished that relationship. For me, a great relationship is built on communication, spending time together as well as caring about the whole person and all aspects of their life.
I’ve had a positive experience in the LGBTQ community here – although I’ve not checked up on what people think of my for a long time. I’ve been able to participate in different Boards and panels where I get to work with/interact with trans people – and we get to discuss how we are different and educate each other. Being transgender is much more common here in Thailand, whereas drag has not always been understood. By working with the LGBTQ community and showing up together, we not only educate each other but the wider community too which I think is great.
In terms of progress, I would encourage our community to be who they are and speak out about their lives; the personal is the political and each story is important. If you have a voice and a platform, use it because other people in a similar place will know they’re not alone.
Words of Wisdom
No pain, no gain – without hard work you don’t get anywhere, so be prepared to work hard to follow your dreams
Love yourself before others – otherwise it’s a sinking boat. I make sure I practice self-care from eating well and working out to celebrating positive moments.
Be kind to others – essentially, don’t be an asshole – in all aspects of your life. Always ask yourself, how can I approach this situation with kindness?
Our time was up! Pan Pan was flying to Singapore the next day for a performance, along with his girls Angele and Kandy from Season 2, Drag Race Thailand. I promised to head to Maggie Choo’s on Sunday to see him perform – which I did, and it was amazing (definitely on the must do list for Bangkok)!