On Friday, award-winning Boston-area drag king Quyen Tran made the trek down to Providence to deliver her solo drag show, “Transformation.”
Tran has been performing as her drag king alter ego, Jayden Jamison, for over 18 years, she told the audience. Her performance was hosted collaboratively by the Global Brown Center for International Students, Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender and the LGBTQ Center at the Underground of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center.
After the event, participants were invited on stage to embody the “attitude” of drag — strutting their stuff to compete for prizes.
The night began with Jamison lip-syncing to music while switching outfits on stage. Then, she described how her life experiences as a Vietnamese refugee, promising softball star and retail worker influence her performances in her “superstar” life on stage today.
As a toddler, Tran and her family of nine escaped Vietnam and spent around one year in a refugee camp, she told the crowd. They then moved to New Jersey — where they felt ostracized as low-income family in their affluent neighborhood.
Family — including Tran’s late mother — is an essential part of her life, she said. “I talk about (my mother) every day because she has shaped who I am.”
When Tran was growing up, she lacked support within her family to explore her gay identity. Today, she remains involved in her nieces’ and nephews’ lives. “Aunt Quyen’s got you,” she said.
While Tran works to support youth in her family, engaging with other young people has been “scary” because of outside backlash against programs like drag storytimes for children.
“I get more scared at drag storytime than I do performing at the bar at night,” she said. “The bar has security. Now, people are storming drag storytime, scaring toddlers and screaming.”
Tran added that as a performer, she wants to subvert expectations about drag performers and Asian-American people.
“Everyone always assumes that the drag king is going to play straight,” she noted. “Why is that? Why can’t gay just be the standard?”
She added that in Hollywood, Asian men are “overlooked because we never get cast as the main character — we’re always the bookish ones or the punchline.”
Through performances like her “sexy Asian Jayden” routine, she aims to counteract that stereotype, she said.
Jenn Huynh, a sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design who attended the performance, felt “seen” by Tran.
“I heard that the person that was performing was Viet-American, and I’m Viet-American,” Huynh said. “I’ve never had that kind of representation that I could attend and see in person, and I wanted to come and just absorb that.”
J Banson ’26 was “interested in drag” but “never heard of drag kings” before the performance.
“I was really drawn to the fact Quyen takes her cultural background and her life experiences to inform her work,” Banson said. “It was really cool seeing how she adds all these different aspects of her identity into her art.”
Chinmayi Rajaram is a staff writer for The Brown Daily Herald. She likes that one quote about the peeling paint and the other one about oranges.