“Our families didn’t give us pressure. The pressure came from ourselves, as we worried that our being drag queens would bring trouble to our families,” he said, adding: “Performing in drag often leads to the sensitive issue of homosexuality.”
In 2006, immediately after the show that celebrated the troupe’s 10th anniversary, a member of the troupe came to Chien and told him that he had a special guest. He looked up and saw his mother.
“I was startled — as if I was caught doing something I was not supposed to do,” Chien recalled.
It was the first time that Chien’s mother had come to one of his shows. Eventually, he said, the entire family watched a performance and took great pride in his achievement.
“They liked it. With so many entertainers like Tai Chih-yuan (邰智源) and Chen Han-tien (陳漢典) performing in drag, people don’t think it’s weird,” Hsieh said.
Though drag is a part of gay culture in the West, Snow White audiences see a closer connection to the Taiwanese operatic tradition, which calls for female performers playing male roles. The most devoted fans for both theatrical styles are middle-aged women, especially mothers and wives.
Chien said the similarities lie partly in their gender-mixing practice.
“Like at the backstage of Gezai opera (歌仔戲), those mothers and wives always bring us gifts. They are our fans and also friends,” he said. “They don’t care whether I am a man or a woman. They just like me as Sung Tien Wan Tzu.”
When asked whether drag shows are related to gay culture in Taiwan, Chien chose to remain ambiguous on the topic as he said he didn’t want to contribute to stereotypes about drag queens.
“I don’t want to create an impression that drag queens equals homosexuality. I am not denying that there is a strong connection between the two. But to me, each individual is different and has his or her unique expression of self,” Chien said.
Prima Donna (當家花旦), a documentary about the Snow White Entertaining Troupe, is currently playing in theaters.