Nymphia Wind’s RuPaul’s Drag Race win sparks celebrations in Taiwan

Nymphia Wind’s RuPaul’s Drag Race win sparks celebrations in Taiwan

Nymphia Wind has sparked celebrations in Taiwan and won praise from the island’s president after becoming the first Taiwanese and East Asian drag queen to win RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Wind, who is also the first non-American to win the crown, was congratulated by president Tsai Ing-Wen and incoming president Lai Ching-te.

Wind, the drag persona of designer Leo Tsao, 28, was declared the winner as the 16th season of the Emmy award-winning drag queen reality competition came to a close on Saturday.

For Taiwan, Wind’s win is significant. It’s not just Wind’s personal triumph, but also a cultural milestone. The country doesn’t have a United Nations membership, competes under a “Chinese Taipei” flag at the Olympics, and only has 11 diplomatic allies.

Taiwan’s capital Taipei hosts Asia’s largest Pride march in October and last year even Lai participated, becoming the most senior government leader ever to march at Pride.

Tsai and Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party has also promoted queer rights, legalising same sex marriage in 2019, a first for Asia, and amending the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt children in 2023.

“Congratulations to you, Nymphia Wind, for being so accomplished in the difficult art form of drag, and for being the first Taiwanese to take the stage and win on RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Tsai wrote on Instagram.

“Right after being crowned queen, you said ‘Taiwan, this is for you.’ Taiwan thanks you for living fearlessly.”

Taiwan’s drag scene and openness on LGBTQ+ issues stands in contrast to China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory.

While Wind’s win may have become a source of national pride for Taiwan – with large crowds gathering every week for live viewing parties of the show at Taipei’s Ximending Red House complex – Wind herself tied her performance to her Asian and Taiwanese identity.

“Yellow represents the colour of my skin,” she said in an interview ahead of the finale, referring to the colour she wore most often in the competition.

“By wearing yellow, I hope to raise more Asian awareness and appreciation.”

Wind also incorporated Asian and Taiwanese elements such as bubble tea, Chinese opera and Taiwanese temples in her performances and outfits on the show, reminding viewers at all times where she came from.

Her self-designed outfits heightened her popularity and even earned her a nickname – Banana Buddha – and fans called themselves Banana Believers.

Nymphia Wind attends RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 finale screening event in New York City (Getty)
Nymphia Wind attends RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 finale screening event in New York City (Getty)

On her finale outfit, she told Vulture: “I wanted to do outfits that represented my country … So I thought, what other ways could I do it? Let’s just make a bubble tea outfit, because bubble tea is the national drink of Taiwan.”

On social media, her bubble tea dress was said to symbolise the Milk Tea alliance, an online democracy and human rights movement.

She told Vulture it was the first time she had heard of it but looked it up during the interview and simply said, “Interesting. Maybe I should join that.”

Wind, who grew up in Taiwan and Hong Kong, developed a love for fashion and drag when she studied fashion design in London. She performed drag for the first time in a Taipei competition in 2018 and hasn’t looked back since.

She has been part of several documentaries and television programmes and will represent Taiwan as a performer at the Paris Olympics this year.

Wind’s efforts to promote drag culture across Asia and infuse Asian influence within the subculture will continue.

“The concept of modern drag queens is very Western, so I think I need to use drag to show more Asian perspectives,” she said in an interview to The Washington Post.

“I just wanted to showcase more Asian drag aesthetic. Giving everything an Asian twist.”