How this local bakeshop made a safe space for Filipino drag

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For Drag Brunch, Butterboy recently introduced its first drag king, Alpha Venti. Photo by JL JAVIER

Every weekend is a busy one for Butterboy. Ever since the bakeshop, known for its croissants, started doing Drag Brunch and Meriendrag in May, their cafe in Quezon City has been filled to the brim. And since the premiere of Drag Race Philippines, seats sell out within minutes.

Drag Brunch and Meriendrag are essentially viewing parties of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” sandwiched in between drag performances. The headliners range from queens on the cast of “Drag Race Philippines,” drag industry mainstays, and even budding performers who are just starting to make a name for themselves.

Naia performing during the Butterboy Drag Brunch. Photo by JL JAVIER

The show last Aug. 27 showcased the latter: for Drag Brunch, Butterboy introduced its first drag king, Alpha Venti. Alpha performed alongside Naia, who has been performing at Butterboy since they started doing the viewing parties. “Aside from booking ‘yung girls on “Drag Race Philippines” and ‘yung girls na may following na, we want to give a chance din to baby queens… and drag kings [specifically] kasi talagang wala pa masyadong shows that star them,” says Hilder Demeterio, the head baker and co-owner of Butterboy.

Apart from featuring budding drag talent, Demeterio and his Butterboy partner Jayson So want to make it a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community to gather and appreciate each other’s talents. “It’s a way to give back, kasi all of us were, at one point in our lives, people who were waiting for opportunities to be able to show what we have,” Demeterio explains.

Drag Brunch and Meriendrag are also a way for people to experience drag performances outside of the usual nightclubs. “Being a tito na tumatanda na. (Laughs) Naiintindihan namin na may mga groups of people na hindi na kaya gumising nang gabi, kaya hindi nila napapanood ‘yung mga drag queens,” explains So. In addition to that, there are also minors and people intimidated by gay bars, says Demeterio. “May mga people below 18 na naga-attend minsan ng Drag brunch,” he adds, “These are people na hindi talaga pwede pumasok ng gay bar. And yet, they have a chance to connect with the queens na hinahangaan nila.”

Butterboy's Hilder Demetrio (left) and Jayson So. Photo by JL JAVIER

With more and more queer talent penetrating the mainstream, it’s easy to throw the words “safe space” around, or to dismiss it as a publicity stunt. But for Demeterio and So, positioning Butterboy as a LGBTQIA+ space is a personal conviction. “Drag Brunch is not a gimmick,” says Demeterio. “It’s how Butterboy Bakehouse reveals itself to be more than just a bakery – more than being a place that makes good bread, we make a place for [our] community to break bread together.”

To achieve this, consistency is key. “Makikita mo what a brand is as an ally in the actions they do when the rainbow flag is down. What do the brands do from July to May? Dapat hindi siya gimmick, it’s supposed to be part of the brand DNA,” Demeterio says.

And that starts with giving a platform to talents like Alpha Venti, among other projects they have in the pipeline. As Alpha and Naia got ready backstage, we talked to them about their drag origins, the difference between daytime and nighttime drag, and what having a safe space means, in what they jokingly called “Butterboy Untucked.”

This interview has been edited for brevity.

Tell us about your drag origin story. How did you get started?

Alpha Venti: As a drag king, I started late 2019, so I was a pandemic bedroom king. Pero prior to that, even before I tried drag, I was already doing make-up. I was fully invested in SFX make-up. At the time kasi, I was trying to play around with my gender a lot more. I didn’t like being labeled just as a woman, like I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of feminine things. And then I discovered that I could be masculine.

I eventually did come to the conclusion of being non-binary. And through that, I was able to discover drag kings in the States, like si Tenderoni, si Landon Cider. And then eventually, I was like, “You know what? I’ll start trying this for myself.”

Naia. Photo by JL JAVIER

Naia: I have a younger sister who’s into make-up, [and] as a kid, I’ve always wanted to play with make-up. My first look was actually green eyeshadow all over the face, parang Shrek. (Laughs) I never really acted upon it, but I knew I wanted it and I liked it, I liked make-up. And then I was already flamboyant as a kid, so when I got to college and started seeing “Drag Race” and going to gay bars and seeing the local queens performing, I was just like, “Oh, there’s such a thing.” And I wanted to do it.

I had a friend who introduced me to the local scene in Malate, And then I studied them — for class, actually, sa BroadComm [in UP Diliman]. And that’s how it started. I just started stealing more make-up from my sister, and then… (Laughs) Seryoso ‘yun. Supportive naman siya. She didn’t know how to do drag make-up, so I had to teach myself. I started doing back-up dancing for other queens in Nectar Nightclub before the pandemic, and then I debuted in 2019.

Since both of you debuted or started doing drag in 2019, what was it like during the pandemic? What were you doing?

Naia: I think because I debuted in December of 2019 — literally ilang months na lang nag-pandemic na — I still had that drive. I was still finishing my thesis at that time, so drag was my escape. It was just a hobby, honestly — an expensive hobby. When I did gratuade and got my degree, ABS-CBN was shutting down. [I said], “Okay, ano na?” Do I really want to work in the media? And that’s when we started doing live shows online, on Facebook. It was a very weird time, but also a great time to grow, as someone who just started doing drag officially.

[But] that’s just the silver lining, okay. It sucked, really, kasi wala nang Drag Cartel sa Nectar [then]. Walang mga events for the baby queens or any of the amateurs — or even the pros — except online. So that’s where we all went.

Alpha Venti. Photo by JL JAVIER

Alpha Venti: I spent that time building up my repertoire. Kasi si Alpha early on didn’t really have that much of a character, pero when it comes to what I did nung pandemic, [it was] practicing a lot of numbers, practicing a lot of make-up. It took me a while to build this signature face. And throughout the pandemic, what I wanted to figure out for myself was that as a king, I have to make myself distinct. Like, I’m gonna use this time, however much I have, to really build who I am. And now, Alpha’s here.

Naia: Ganda ng mga sagot niya ha. I feel competitive. (Laughs)

Speaking of your character, what informs it? Are there any specific references that are integral to your drag?

Alpha Venti: I like describing Alpha as a goofy little goblin with a glamorous face. Like look at this face, he is serving. Pero yeah, the character sort of informs Alpha’s aesthetic. You know the kinds of… the little bastard characters that people are drawn to in a show? For me, [it’s] Shego from “Kim Possible,” Him from “The Powerpuff Girls,” Klaus from “The Umbrella Academy,” Vaas from “Far Cry 3.” I like looking at those characters kasi they’re so far out. And I sort of want that to reflect what Alpha is. Kasi ‘yun nga, goofy little goblin with a glamorous face.

What about you, Naia? I know you were previously known as Tanya Sativa. Why did you change your name?

Naia: That’s tea. There’s tea there if you want, but you gotta shut that phone down (Laughs) Keme lang. [I wanted to] reclaim my journey as my own, because Tanya, and now Naia, is the product of me and my boyfriend, ‘yung pag-explore namin sa drag and sa art.

Naia (left) and Alpha Venti performing during the Butterboy Drag Brunch. Photo by JL JAVIER

[I came up with Naia] kasi I’m from the south, so it’s very close to NAIA. When I was changing [my name], I brought it up with my family. “What do you guys think of… Alabang Zapote?” (Laughs) I wanted something geographical… and I was like, “Why not Naia?” Isn’t that kind of cute? So ‘yun, I changed it and didn’t look back.

Now that live performances are coming back, what’s it like doing drag after being locked down for so long? Are there any challenges?

Alpha Venti: Siguro ang biggest struggle ko lang is I watched a lot of queens do their [online] live shows like Naia, but I never took part in live show spaces. And my sort of digital drag was really just visuals, like [serving] face. So ang struggle ko now is learning to adapt all of the performances I’ve built up in my head to these [physical] spaces now.

An added layer of that is people don’t really book me, as one of the only drag kings here sa scene, kasi they’re still not familiar [with drag kings]. Parang kinakapa pa. So I still have to suss out the crowd; I have to figure out what the vibe is based on the repertoire of performances I have [in stock]. I have a lot that can be performed, but the struggle is always how to translate that to the crowd. But, one I know that the hype and the energy are there, kayang kaya ‘yun.

Naia: I feel like it’s much better nowadays because of live performances coming back. Although there are still COVID-19 restrictions… it’s so much better than performing in front of your camera. [In live performances], you’re giving your energy to the crowd, and they’re giving their energy back to you. It’s a really beautiful thing in a drag show. And that’s what people come for, honestly.

How do you feel about daytime spaces like Butterboy? How important is it to have different spaces that aren’t like the usual nightclubs?

Naia: Because the audience now for drag is growing and growing. And there is now a market for the titos and titas who don’t normally go to the gay nightclubs. Even though drag does have its origins in the nightlife scene, now, it’s great to be seeing it in the daytime, and seeing it on TV. It’s just proof that drag… really does resonate with so many people. Not just party people. Even just the moms. Alpha’s mom is literally backstage helping them out. It’s such a powerful art form.

“Makikita mo what a brand is as an ally in the actions they do when the rainbow flag is down. What do the brands do from July to May? Dapat hindi siya gimmick, it’s supposed to be part of the brand DNA.”

Alpha Venti: No for real, my mom was backstage helping us as the stand-in PA. Another added part of the open spaces for everyone is… drag is being opened up to younger kids, younger than 18. Siyempre it’s given that a lot of them can’t enter night spaces. And the thing with having a safe space, precisely a safe space like Butterboy, you’re getting to see these younger people and their families thrive because they’re seeing performers like me or Naia. These kids will get to be inspired and say, “Hey, if they’re doing that, I can do that.”

I mean, that’s the point din eh, diba? It’s the accessibility and inclusivity for people who can’t access those night spaces.

To add to that, is there anything that you consider differently when preparing for a day show versus a night show?

Naia: Oh yeah. There’s lots of differences in crafting the performance and also presenting yourself. Pag morning, I do a lighter contour and everything. I try to have a happier vibe sa pag-craft ng performance. Iba ‘yung nightclub scene: I mean, you can just go all around sex, sex, sex. Which I do I have that side of me as a performer and as a person, but sa Drag Brunch kasi may mga tita, may mga minors.

Alpha Venti: You gotta tone down.

Naia: You also have to think about the audience, because somehow, in these spaces, it’s art and also design. You have to make sure that your performance is not only appropriate, but can be enjoyed by everyone in the room.

Alpha Venti: Ang addition ko lang dun is the fact na when you are performing onstage in a bar full of drunk people, or people hooking up, you have to compete with that. You have to bring energy that would break that, like “Hey! Look at me, I’m right here.” You have to be able to command that attention. I’d have to say that I find that it would be a lot easier in a [daytime] space like this. [Because] of how Butterboy is built, mas intimate ‘yung space, mas close ka to the crowd. It’s a lot easier to capture their attention.

"The thing with having a safe space, precisely a safe space like Butterboy, you’re getting to see these younger people and their families thrive because they’re seeing performers like me or Naia," says drag king Alpha Venti. Photo by JL JAVIER

Naia: I don’t know, I feel the opposite way. I feel like it’s easier to perform in nightclubs because they’re drunk. (Alpha laughs) Because of the lights and the smoke and the distance between you and them. You could look like shit but because they’re so drunk and the lights are so hazy, “Ang ganda mo! Oh my god, ang ganda mo!”

But may sense ‘yung sinabi mo about commanding attention. It’s hard din. Butterboy’s nice because the audience gives time for the performer to perform. Kasi in nightclubs, there’s lots of things happening. Minsan nakatalikod the whole time. Oh my god, nakakabastos ‘yun as a drag performer.

Alpha Venti: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

With “Drag Race Philippines,” and soon “Drag Den,” drag is garnering more attention than ever in the country. What are you most excited about?

Naia: The spotlight is on the drag scene now. It’s a tangible feeling. Now you have these people who have never been to a show but they know the names of the local queens. There are also these people who are making an effort to see these local queens… I’m just happy that it’s happening here in the Philippines. Kasi matagal nang hinihintay ‘to. And you have performers like Alpha who are really stepping out of their shell, and showing the Philippines that we have such a diverse range of drag acts and performers here.

Alpha Venti: I do love [that] given the intense spotlight on the Philippines [with] the current run of “Drag Race Philippines,” siyempre it’s gonna encourage a lot of people to try [drag], see a live show outside of “Drag Race.” Pero, given na my kind of drag is so rare — there are only a handful of us in the scene. Literally only three of us.

Who are the other ones?

Alpha Venti: Si Samael Says and si Inah Demons. The added thing is, we have to be critical about this heightened exposure to Filipino drag. If we consider people who don’t do drag, and they don’t have the initiative to research other drag artists outside of “Drag Race,” they limit what they know only to what they see on [the show]. Beyond, let’s say, drag kings like me, maybe there are other queens who do styles of drag that will never make it to the show… I want that to be their push to explore outside the confines of “Drag Race.” Lalo na in the Philippines, kasi marami talagang sobrang galing.

"The spotlight is on the drag scene now," says drag queen Naia. "It’s a tangible feeling. Now you have these people who have never been to a show but they know the names of the local queens." Photo by JL JAVIER

What’s one thing people, especially those just starting to consume drag, ought to know about drag queens and drag kings?

Naia: I think that one of the most important things they should keep in mind is that drag queens and drag kings, they are their own people. You could compare them to other queens, sure, whatever, but we don’t exactly appreciate those gestures. Nawawala ‘yung individuality namin sa art namin. I think if you are a new fan of drag, you should really just support drag queens and drag kings by going to their shows, following their socials. You know, just overall enjoying and admiring us. Really! That’s enough to make our day.

Alpha Venti: Like I said, a lot of people’s first exposure, before any local queens, is just “Drag Race.” And the thing with that is they project a lot of their expectations of the show onto the performers, without considering the context [that] a “Drag Race” outfit is not practical in this set-up. So they have to be mindful that there are differences and there are things that will not be seen on [this] show.

People can have their opinions about [“Drag Race”] and be kind of catty about it, be really shady about it. I want them to learn not to bring that here. Kasi, again, everyone’s an individual artist in their own right. There is no room for comparison saying, “Oh my god, you look like Kim Chi! You look like Trixie Mattel!” No, I’m Alpha Venti, and I’m right here. I want people to maintain a good amount of respect. Kasi drag artists — queens, kings, whatever — we deserve respect just as much as the next person.


Drag Brunch and Meriendrag are held every Saturday at Butterboy. For ticket information, follow Butterboy on Instagram at @butterboyph.