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Because having only one reality television show about drag queens just isn’t enough, you might know that RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR) has given birth to several spin-off shows. There’s, of course, the popular, drama-filled after-show, Untucked and the short-lived RuPaul’s Drag U (that really was a rough spot). But my favorite Drag Race spin-off has got to be Drag Race Thailand (DRT). The show is exactly what you might expect from the name, branding itself as the search for the next Thai drag superstar. And although it follows the same structure of its American counterpart, Drag Race Thailand never feels tired, overdone, or repetitive. In fact, there are many times at which DRT even outdoes RuPaul’s show.

A lot of those moments are thanks to Pangina Heals, one of the show’s delightful hosts. Go ahead and laugh. It’s a purposefully funny name that derives from mixing her boy name, “Panpan Narkprasert” with the word “vagina.” But beyond the name, who is Pangina Heals? Heals’s response to this question is as sharp as the queen herself. “Who am I? I ask myself that every day!” She tells Hornet.

Heals is the most famous drag queen in Thailand–and maybe all of Asia–and rightfully so: She’s entertaining as hell. Still, she’s humble about it in her own comedic way. When asked how she got the co-host position on DRT in the same Hornet interview, she simply responds, “I sucked a lot of dick.” It’s this kind of fast-paced humor that you can expect from Heals throughout her performances on the show and in real life. Always high energy and ready to share bizarre stories, this zany performer once “swallowed a 10 baht coin onstage.” That’s about the size of a quarter. “Lesson learned,” she laughs it off in an interview with BK magazine. “Never put things in your mouth that you cannot swallow.” As for how this all happened, the performer herself can’t say.

It goes without saying that Pangina Heals is always completely ridiculous, and she finds a way to work her weird, campy sense of humor into all aspects of her drag. From her quick one-liners and fantastic insult comedy to performances that end in her swallowing whole coins to some totally over-the-top outfits, Heals absolutely kills it as a host. I mean, she even walked the runway dressed as a bowl of noodles in celebration of the Chinese new year! And you better believe she modeled the hell out of it.

When asked what makes her such an exciting MC, Heals says, “I am crazy, loud, and I love making fun of people. But at the end of the day, it’s all out of love and a celebration of life.” It’s statements like this where we see an exuberance and empathetic yet carefree attitude in Heals that can be hard to find in RuPaul and Michelle Visage’s hosting. Unlike the two older, American hosts, Heals’s comes across as incredibly approachable throughout her role on DRT. “I have a very light view on things because I drink a lot, so it’s more of a sisterly kind of bond between me and the contestants,” Heals quips for The Standard Hotel’s “Hot Tea” series. “I’m just a hot mess. I am!”

There’s a common impulse to categorize drag queens. Performers might be labeled “comedy queens,” “pageant queens,” or “look queens,” and the stereotype is that these characterizations are often pretty strict. No one expects a comedy queen to snatch wigs with her death drops and jump splits, and no one expects a look queen to be able to tell a joke. Heals doesn’t just defy these stereotypes, she positively murders them. Not only is she charming, kitschy, and witty, but Pangina Heals is also an unbelievable dancer. In fact, Heals first rose to fame for popularizing waacking in Thailand.

Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably seen a queen waack before. It’s a dance style that’s so similar to voguing that the two are often conflated. Both forms of dance were created in underground queer scenes, and both make heavy use of the performer’s arms and angles. In addition to having started on opposite sides of the country–voguing in Harlem and waacking in Los Angeles–waacking differs from voguing in that it tends to be smoother and less controlled.

Heals explains the dance style to Nation Multimedia: “[gay audiences at drag shows] would get so lost in the performance that they’d use their hands, arms and upper bodies to ‘catch the rhythm’ of the songs, a way of expressing their appreciation. It’s a dancing style that’s very universal, very unisex and very expressive.” It’s a fitting dance for Heals, as it is just as dramatic and fast-paced and energetic as the Thai queen herself. But what she really loves about the dance is that “there’s no restraint or construct,” she expresses to BK again. “You’re never ‘too gay’ or ‘too feminine’ or anything.”

Not long after Heals introduced waacking to Thailand, did she rise to her title as the country’s favorite drag queen. She won the reality show T Battle, Thailand’s version of Lip Sync Battle, and now co-hosts her own show that streams internationally. And she’s passionate about it too. When Heals talks about Thai drag, there’s a wonderful sincerity to her words. “You have to understand,” the Thai-Taiwanese queen tells Hornet with urgency. “When Alyssa Edwards says ‘it’s drag, it’s not personal,’ I completely disagree, because drag is personal. It’s basically who you are, and sometimes it’s an escape from the world. And in this very judgemental gay world, sometimes when you get in drag you become the better version of you…That is where you go for solace and healing.”

With these words, we again get a glimpse of that loving and emotional side of Heals that makes her such a well-rounded and refreshing host, as well as a better understanding of who Pangina Heals is to Panpan Narkprasert. There’s the goofy and confident side expressed in “Pangina,” of course, but there’s also the uplifting fighter that inspires the last name, “Heals.”

As a host on DRT, Pangina Heals seems to have made it her mission to spread the messages of self-love and acceptance that she has found in drag. Although Thailand is more accepting of trans women, drag is still a largely foreign concept. “Drag is a Western art,” Heals informs The Standard. “Thai people are not as familiarized with it.”

Heals’s observation about the West-centric nature of drag is incredibly poignant. As an art that is so heavily informed by pop-culture and current styles, the world drag is as trend-driven as the fashion industry. So when I scroll through an Instagram feed dominated by American queens, my understanding of drag is incredibly contained. I’ll often see the same songs being performed or the same make-up techniques being practiced. DRT exposes drag fans such as myself to a whole new world of drag based on a completely different set of cultural references.

Recognizing this, Heals emphasizes that while Thai queens are influenced by Western drag, there’s a push on DRT to “showcase [Thai] culture and what it means to be Southeast Asian.” Of course, queens will lip-sync to Lady Gaga and Britney Spears but they’ll also be asked to perform popular Thai and Bollywood songs. “I want to bring a lot of culture form the Thai side and the craft and nitty-gritty details we’ve been trained to see,” Heals, who did her fine arts degree at UCLA, remarks in a conversation with NewNowNext. “I also understand the Western side of drag after four years in L.A., so merging those two cultures together I hope I bring in something new and relevant. Drag is a passion, something that should be spread–like a disease!”

 

 

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