Hot Trans Summer: on pride, representation and drag with BluberryBakla

By Oli McAuslan, updated 3 months ago in Lifestyle / LGBT people and culture

bluberrybakla in blue outfit with sydney harbour trans flag background

As party season erupts around the country, it’s time to celebrate all that makes up the LGBTQ community.

We spoke to Gadigal-based drag performer BluberryBakla (Jae out of drag) about what pride means to them as an Asian, trans artist and what to do this hot trans summer!

Who are they?

Jae (they/them) is a transmasc, non-binary drag performer. They are Indigenous Filipino. In drag, they go by BluberryBakla, which combines Bluberry – representing their past as a proud sex worker — and Bakla, which reclaims a queer and trans slur from the Philippines.

We share their story in their own words.

How would you describe your drag style?

My drag style is very alternative and goes between hyper-femininity and different types of androgynous gender expression. I like to be an alien.

drag performer BluberryBakla performing onstage in black leather outfit
Image: supplied

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I am influenced by predominantly R’n’B, black-produced music, and the ‘90s and early 2000s aesthetics.

I really love Aaliyah. Aaliyah from the late ‘90s is a big influence.

Same thing with Lil’ Kim. I love Lil’ Kim’s persona and how her fashion can show through her attitude. And that’s also a big thing — attitude as a performer and embodying this certain energy and confidence.

How does your culture influence your drag?

The Philippines has a history of extravaganza and admiration of the ultra-feminine. We have a tradition of extravaganza pageants when we turn a certain age. A celebration of age and looks, it’s full of gowns. I live!

To be Bakla is to be the ultra. We are beyond gender and sexuality. It’s truly the perfect umbrella term for the Filipino LGBTQ community. There’s so much power in identifying as Bakla.

We are trans, we are gay, we are queer, and we are one community.

I feel at home with my Pacifika trans and queer siblings. Whether we share experiences or not, we hold a certain enerhiya (energy) that is felt beyond explanation. In community, I feel understanding, safety and belonging.

bluberrybakla close up in brown wig
Image: supplied

How do you feel pride?

I feel pride by being in community spaces. I love experiencing queer joy. Being with all people in the trans spectrum, in community events catered to us. I love being around other queer BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) at events for us, where I feel safe and seen. And knowing that people are really pushing for events like that to happen makes me feel pride.

Queer joy is a heartwarming, ear-buzzing sensation…I feel immense happiness around community and within my safe space. It’s a feeling of love. I feel queer joy with communities that I connect to.

How do you connect with your queer, trans and POC community?

I really love supporting inclusive events, especially smaller ones. I find community through these events. There’s a few queer, trans and BIPOC parties happening these days.

BluberryBakla’s event recommendation for a hot trans summer:

UpLate is a queer, trans and BIPOC-inclusive event inspired by R’n’B and black-produced music. Our performers showcase very diverse talents — with a largely trans and BIPOC lineup.

bluberrybakla in pink alien world
Image: supplied

Are Jae and Blu different or similar?

I find balance in things because I tend to steer to masculinity outside of drag. I do play with gender a lot, but I identify as a transmasc person who is still very non-binary. But me and my drag persona are quite different. I even socialise differently. Energy-wise, my attitude is completely different.

When I’m in drag, I bring the hyperfeminine, strong, powerhouse energy on the stage and when I’m networking. Sometimes, I catch myself doing my work messages and replying as a completely different person. But I guess it’s just the brand I made as a performer, and it works!

How has representation for performers changed?

There’s a lot more inclusivity post-lockdown. I’m still very grateful for the club kid era from my previous drag house, which was insane and amazing. I loved all of it, especially how creative performers can be.

I feel like now, since the world has settled, it’s been great seeing how more parts of the community are being included in events. Seeing togetherness, diverse performers getting booked, and being included in spaces makes me feel like things are slowly progressing.

drag performer BluberryBakla posing at petrol station in blue outfit
Image: supplied

What would you like to see for queer, trans and BIPOC in the LGBTQ community?

Safer spaces. I want to see more protective measures for the trans community because we are a strong part of the community and so diverse and beautiful, but we are not protected.

I’d like to see security at venues catering to trans people through providing sensitivity training. I’d like to see more gender-neutral bathrooms at venues. I want to see more authentic trans representation instead of being the weird cousin or funny side character. I want to hear our voices and see our stories in films and shows.

When asked if they had any big-picture aspirations for trans people, Jae responded:

For our trans community to have continued [protection] outside of community events and safe spaces. To be able to live day-to-day to the fullest quality of life, every single day.

What do you do to stay healthy during party season?

At the moment, I’m putting more effort into myself to prepare for Pride. Making sure I’m fuelling my body, eating right, keeping hydrated, and not drinking that much. And when Pride is over — and for many performers, it’s not over for months — then we can have a break!

Do you have any plans to visit other Australian Pride festivals?

I would love to travel interstate during Pride because I’ve never had that experience. I want to see the events in Naarm (Melbourne). I’ve seen some of the drag scene down in Wollongong, and it just looks epic. I’ve seen so many videos of Heyday, with its steel fencing right above the performer’s wigs!

We thank Jae for sharing their story and wish them the best this hot trans summer!