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Taiwanese Drag Queen Nymphia Wind Takes RuPaul’s Drag Race by Storm


June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month in the US and there is no better time to celebrate Taiwanese Drag Queen, Nymphia Wind’s recent victory on RuPaul’s Drag Race 2024. Throughout the episodes of season 16, Nymphia Wind gagged the judges with her character, whose Taiwanese identity forms the bedrock of her act.

Trigger Warning: This article discusses mental health struggles and suicide.

Since 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality television competition series, has been dazzling the public with its showstopping drag queens decked in intricate outfits and showcasing their talents with its creative challenges. And, on April 19th 2024, Nymphia Wind broke Drag Race’s “Asian curse” by becoming the third AANHPI winner and the first winner of East Asian heritage across the show’s 16 seasons.

RuPaul’s Drag Race follows fourteen drag queens as they compete for the title of “America’s next drag superstar”. The series is best known for its creative costumes and the drag queens’ big personalities, which have been memorialized in viral videos and memes. During its 15 years on air, RuPaul’s Drag Race began a global phenomenon that saw drag culture enter the global mainstream, with spinoffs in countries from Sweden to Thailand. The series is many viewers’ first introduction to queer culture, and today, thanks to Drag Race, drag visibility and its cultural influences can be seen in the United States.

This season’s winner, Nymphia Wind, is the drag queen persona created by Leo Tsao, a Taiwanese American fashion designer. Her first name is derived from a Pokémon character and her second name, which in Mandarin is homophone for crazy (風/瘋), reflects her desire “to be free and invisible”. Nymphia Wind was raised in Hong Kong and Taiwan and became interested in drag when she moved to London for university. After returning to Taiwan, she had her first drag performance in 2018, in Café Dalida, one of Taipei’s beloved gay bars. After her first performance, Nymphia Wind gained a devoted group of local fans and performed in bars across Taipei. In 2022, she moved to New York, looking to challenge her drag, and in 2024, joined the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16.

Outfits and Inspiration Breakdown

Throughout Nymphia Wind’s drag career, she has prioritized incorporating traditional Asian folklore and modern culture into her outfits. Her most iconic look was the bubble tea outfit from the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race in reference to Taiwan, her home country from where the drink originates. Other Asia inspired outfits include the Peking opera outfit with face paints to embody a deity from hell and the Japanese Butoh inspired outfit paying homage to the Butoh performances that explored taboo themes such as homosexuality.

Nymphia Wind’s trademarks are her signature color yellow and her banana outfits. Ever since her first yellow outfit in 2020, Nypmhia Wind claims that she fell in love with the color and the fruit. She links yellow to her choice to reclaim the often stereotyped color of her skin and, in an interview before the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she stated that “by wearing yellow, [she] hope[s] to raise more Asian awareness and appreciation”. True to her words, Nymphia Wind represented her belief in the RuPaul’s Drag Race finale in her second look consisting of a yellow peeled banana encrusted in diamonds paired with a matching wing.

Nypmhia Wind: A Taiwanese Character

During the four months of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16, Nypmhia Wind did not hold back in her public support of Taiwan. During the competition, she continuously referred to Taiwan as a country and showcased Taiwanese symbols like bubble tea. In her crowning speech, she even stated “Taiwan, this is for you!

In return, Taiwan and its people have been vocal supporters of Nypmhia Wind in her meteoric rise. Upon her victory, former then-President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted “Congratulations to you, Nymphia Wind… for being the first Taiwanese to take the stage and win on RuPaul’s Drag Race…Taiwan thanks you”. Capitalizing on Nymphia Wind’s success, as well as Taiwan’s pro-LGBTQ+ status, then-President Tsai Ing-wen invited Nymphia Wind to perform at the Presidential Office in Taipei five days before the end of her presidential term. At the event, Nymphia Wind could be seen “voguing” and “death dropping” in front of Taiwanese symbols such as a bust of Chiang Kai-shek. 

Taiwan LGBTQ+ History

LGBTQ+ rights first came to the fore in Taiwan during the 2016 presidential election, when former President Tsai Ing-wen pledged marriage equality as part of her election manifesto. Following a long battle between the electorate and the Supreme Court, marriage equality was adopted in Taiwan on 24th May 2019, cementing Taiwan’s status as a liberal democracy. Nearly four years after the landmark ruling, Taiwan’s legal definition of LGBTQ+ equality has expanded to include transnational LGBTQ+ marriages and legalization of same-sex adoption. In 2023, Pride Parade attendance numbers in Taipei reached 180,000, making it the biggest Pride event in the Indo-Pacific. Former President Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party gained global recognition for championing LGBTQ+ rights, standing in stark contrast to Beijing’s crackdowns on LGBTQ+ rights.

When the gay rights movement burst to the forefront of Taiwanese politics in 2016, it gained international attention and has quickly become an integral part of the global Taiwanese identity. Despite Taiwan’s commitment to democracy and human rights, its complex geo-political situation has meant that Taiwan is not formally recognized as an independent country by most, including the United States. But the American show RuPaul’s Drag Race’s total of 514 million social views – the highest view count ever in the history of the show – has promoted a Taiwan-centric perspective to new audiences across the globe.

With Nymphia Wind’s victory and her vocal championing of Taiwan, American audiences are now being exposed to Taiwan and its richly inclusive culture. As one of the two countries to have legalized gay marriage in Asia, along with Nepal, Taiwan sets a precedent for similar movements in the region. Additionally, on her biggest stage yet, Nymphia Wind will be at the Paris 2024 Olympics, where she will perform as part of Taiwan’s cultural pavilion for its national team, referred to as Chinese Taipei. Nymphia Wind has used her international platform to act as an avid promoter of Taiwan, and with her upcoming international performances, and interviews on American television, we can look forward to her continued representation of Taiwan and Asian Americans.

Mental Health and AANHPI LGBTQ+ Youth

Since being crowned as winner, Nymphia Wind has teamed up with The Trevor Project, an American LGBTQ+ suicide prevention organization, to support the mental health of Asia American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) LGBTQ+ youth.

According to The Trevor Project’s research into the mental health and wellbeing of AANHPI LGBTQ+ youth, those within the AANHPI LGBTQ+ community struggle with multiple marginalized identities, making them susceptible to severe mental health issues - 40% of AANHPI LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, more than half of AANHPI LGBTQ+ youth have experienced a depressive episode, and almost 70% felt symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks before the study was conducted.

In her short chapter titled “Breaking Wind: The Art of Letting Go,” Nymphia Wind discusses the taboos she experienced surrounding open discussions of mental health issues in Asia. As she entered new spaces, particularly white dominated drag spaces, Nymphia Wind recalls struggling with her Asian and queer identities. She stresses the importance of a support network of friends and family, as well as other Asian drag queen’s support and representation in the drag spaces for helping her persevere in her career.

As an Asian drag queen who speaks openly about her mental health struggles, Nymphia Wind is a beacon of hope for the AANHPI LGBTQ+ youth and representative of The Trevor Project’s guiding belief that “representation is forged when visibility is vibrant”.

Through her charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent - the judging categories in the competition - Nymphia Wind raised global awareness of Taiwan by introducing Taiwan to new audiences and advocating for her people on the drag stage. In her future, Nymphia Wind seeks to further her career of “cultural drag fusion” and as an Asian American role model who has created a platform for the American LGBTQ+ community to seek help and gain support, she is an icon to be celebrated this Pride month. 

Jiwon Lim is a Summer 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a rising first year at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies pursuing an MA in International Relations with a functional focus in Security, Strategy, and Statecraft and a regional focus in Asia

Uma Baron is a Summer 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. Uma is a recent graduate from the University of Edinburgh where she earned an MA Hons in Chinese Studies. Uma previously served as an intern at the Global Taiwan Institute.