From the Far East to the Big Apple: A Talk with Yuhua Hamasaki

I’m very excited to be sitting down today with the fabulous Yuhua Hamasaki. Every time I’ve been on Instagram lately, it seems like I have seen gorgeous costume after gorgeous costume created by Yuhua and that inspired me to reach out to her for a little gurl talk. In addition to being a drag fashion maven in the Big Apple, Yuhua is one of the best and busiest queens in the city! Let’s get to WERRRK, shall we?

Photo by Boris KJ
Photo by Boris KJ

Hi there Yuhua! Thank you from taking a little time off from making costumes for basically the entire city of New York to talk with me! How are you doing this evening?

Hi hi!!!!! I’m great!! How are you?!

I’m doing surprisingly okay for someone who had to change a flat tire in full drag at 4am this weekend.

So butch of you!!! And I’m glad we finally get to catch each other now!

It was 4am and I was beat gurl! I didn’t want to wait for AAA. I just wanted my bed! But yes, it wonderful to talk to you as well. I’m sad we haven’t crossed paths yet in the city but I will remedy that soon.

If you order Chinese take out, I might show up at your front door delivering the food!

With the amount of times I order Chinese, you would have thought that would have happened already! So although I haven’t met you in person yet, we have spent some quality time together already. I did watch that epic 45 minute makeup and hair transformation video you did last fall. How did that come about?

I was getting ready for The Annual Glam Awards last year, and I was able to do a different look that night. So I was like, why not film it?

I was there as well! Cough best nightlife writer nominee cough. I can’t believe I missed you. But that really was a fabulous beat do you did and hair for days!

Thank you! I grew the hair myself!

LOL! So let’s go back in time a bit, shall we? Where are from originally?

I am originally from China, I moved here when I was 7 years old. When my family and I first arrived in NYC in the winter, I saw snow for the first time in my life outside the airplane window. When I first heard that we were moving, I did not want to move. But eventually, I learned to love NYC and every part of it!

If I saw one of these recent winters we’ve had here, I would have gotten right back on that plane!

*Laughs* I don’t think I had a choice. Plus, the life style of New York City made me a better person than if I were to have grew up in China. It was a very conservative lifestyle. We had to wake up super early for school, wear uniforms, the whole nine yards.

What made your family decide to move here?

My grandmother from my dad’s side was already here, and so were most of the family members. We had the opportunity to move here before I was born, but my parents wanted my sister and I to learn the Chinese language first before moving here.

How big was the culture shock for you considering you were only seven years old?

I didn’t have much culture shock actually. I was young, I just kind of did what my parents told me to do like I was doing in China. I also grew up in Chinatown and went to bilingual class for the first two years, so there was not much difference from China. When I went to class for the first few weeks in the city, I thought the kids were all speaking fluently in English, but it was just different languages. But I did pick up the language pretty quickly, I read a lot of English books, audio books, movies, music, television shows, and spoke in English as much as possible to adapt to the culture and language.

 

Photo by Ames Beckerman
Photo by Ames Beckerman

 

What was the first exposure to the world of drag that you can remember, not counting Bugs Bunny cartoons of course?

I don’t quit remember actually. I was pretty young, but I did not know they were called drag queens or that there was even a term for them. I just thought that they were scary and mentally ill because of how the media and the people that grew up around me portrayed them. But the first time I remember seeing drag queens and thought they were cool was on MySpace, when I saw gender bending people and gender illusionist put on make up, clothes, shoes, hair, and accessories. That was around 2002/2003-ish.

What made you think that drag was something you wanted to try?

I wanted to try drag because it was different from the norm. I knew I was different but just didn’t know what type of “different” category I was meant to be. I did not know what gay was at the time, but I knew i was different. I knew I did not enjoy wearing the clothes the rest of the boys were wearing, the haircut the boys were wearing, the behavior and sports the rest of the boys were doing. I wanted to be different so I gave drag a try. I’ve always enjoyed acting and sometimes I would pretend I was the female character in a movie or television show. When I was in my bedroom singing, I would pretend I was Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears, never N’Sync or Backstreet Boys. So I guess when you combine all those elements together, a drag queen would be it!

Photo by Preston Burford
Photo by Preston Burford

Considering you came from a conservative background, how difficult was that for you to decide to try drag?

It was very difficult. When I was really young, I would wear my sister’s dresses, play with my mom’s make up and heels. But that was okay back then because I was young and it looked like I was just playing around. But as I got to be 14 and 15, it was more and more not okay so I had to do it secretly. When everyone was out of the home, I would play with make up and play dress up at home and take pictures. Everything had to be very discreet.

Plus it had to be hard to get bookings at 14!

Yes! But I did enjoy dressing up at home and playing around with make up. Eventually, I did go out in drag for the first time when I was 15 for Halloween. I went to school in full drag and everyone was shocked but nobody said anything to me about the obvious. I started going out to the clubs and bars more and more in drag, because I felt like I fit in and felt unjudged when I was with the gay community. I also went out in drag because I was underage and I was using someone else’s ID, and when you’re in drag, it’s easier to get away with getting in. I did eventually end up getting my first gig at 17. I was the door hostess at a lounge in Chelsea called Ultra, which sadly is no longer there, working for Drew Zailen.

Going out in drag is always a great equalizer when it comes to IDs! That is still pretty young to have gotten started though. Did you have to sneak out or did your family know what was going on?

I had to sneak out. I would tell my parents that I was hanging out with my friends and sleeping over because I would get too wasted to go home in drag. I would get ready at my friend’s place in The West Village and we would go out. She was a biological girl, and she loved the gay community. She, herself, was the same age as I was. Eventually, my parents were getting tired of me “sleeping over” two to three times a week, plus they started seeing make up, heels, women’s clothes and jewelries, and even found pictures of me dressed up. They became concerned and brought in psychologists to the apartment to come speak with me, asking if there was anything wrong with me. I was going out a lot because when I was in drag. I felt empowered and fearless. I had so much fun, in contrast to throughout my childhood where I felt trapped and didn’t have much fun. So I channeled all my energy toward the “enjoying life” direction.When I turned 18, I moved out so I could continue doing drag. My parents think I’ve quit dressing up, but I still do it. *laughs*

Photo by Dugaldo Estrada
Photo by Dugaldo Estrada

Well we won’t show them this interview then baby! So it sounds like you experienced something very intoxicating that a lot of queens do in that drag enables you to say and do things that you would never do as a boy?

I don’t think it’s intoxicating. I just think that I didn’t know how to do deal with being “different” when I was younger. They don’t teach that in school nor did my parents teach me that. They teach you how to grow up to be a straight man or woman, but not being anything else that wasn’t considered that. Even when I was teased in elementary school for being too feminine, the teachers would do nothing and ignore it because they didn’t know what to do. So with drag, it has allowed me to have a voice. And eventually over the years, I have also moved that inner confidence and strength that I have in drag to my persona when I’m out of drag. Drag has really saved me and made me a better person.

Where does your drag name come from?

My first name in drag comes from my birth first name which is Yuhua. When I first started going out, I was just dressing up for fun, nothing serious. People just addressed me as Yuhua, I did not have a drag name. Eventually, I started dipping into drag more seriously and thought I needed a drag name, so I woke up hung over one morning and said I needed a last name. I know I wanted something Asian, so that when people hear it, they know it’s an Asian queen. I know I also wanted something fierce and sounds like it’s going to kill you, so I chose Hamasaki, which comes from the Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki, she’s like Madonna in the Asian pop world.

Photo by Boris KJ
Photo by Boris KJ

In a city like New York, gigs and shows are at a premium but you seem get plenty of work. What would you attribute that success to?

Hard work ethic. Don’t be lazy, don’t be late, don’t have a nasty attitude, and always love what you do because there will be ups and downs. If you love what you do, your passion will help you overcome the lows. It is so easy to be jaded, but my thing is always to be positive and if things go wrong, just laugh it off and think of it as another hot mess story to tell your friends. If you sweat, other people will see it and someone else will take your position. Nowadays, with RuPaul’s Drag Race, there are so many more queens out than what it was ten years ago. There were like fifteen or twenty of us working at the time, and now there’s like fifty of them working, and a hundred more of them looking for gigs!

All the more queens for you to outfit though! One of the things I mentioned when I approached you about this interview was how everywhere I looked recently, every sickening outfit I saw turned out to have been made by you, from Judy Darling to Bob the Drag Queen and so many more! How did you learn to become such an incredible designer?

Thank you! I learned how to sew when I was younger from my mom. But I stopped for a while, while growing up because I was told I need to be more masculine, so put it aside. But after I did drag for a few years, I bought myself a sewing machine and relearned it by having my friend Cheng retaught me how to use the updated and modern machines.

Where do you find the inspiration for your designs? What is your favorite piece you’ve made so far?

My inspiration comes from how the future would dress, very “spacey.” My favorite two that I’ve made would be a red over coat for Brita Filter and a blue space leotard with multiple layers of peplum around the waist for Pixie Aventura for The Glam Awards.

Would you mind a bunch of short answer questions?

sure!

Must have makeup item?

Rimmel Eyeliner.

Drag role model?

RuPaul

4am post drag food craving?

Korean Food

Best part of drag

Counting the tips at the end of the night.

Worst part of drag

Padding.

Most surprising thing about you people might not know?

I eat a lot.

Person you most want to work with?

Laverne Cox.

If not for drag, what would you be doing?

Working some boring ass job and hating it.

Guilty pleasure?

Eating a bunch of ice cream cones, one after the other.

Last one, most embarrassing song on your phone?

Everything from Justin Bieber

Ouch! So peering into the future, what goals do you have for yourself as a performer and even as a designer?

Continue performing till my legs break and have a bigger fashion runway show for the outfits.

If you need a not so graceful runway model, I think I could set you up with one!

Yup!!!!! I’ll know to contact Jasmine Rice!

The shade! I meant me!

I know! *Laughs* I was just kidding!

So until that time when your legs break, where can people find you for now so they can stuff money in your panties?

Well, since you asked! Tonight I will be at the Ritz. for a hot body contest at 2am! Then I’m at Boots and Saddle on Fridays at 9pm, Lucky Cheng’s on Fridays and Saturdays and at Island Breeze on Fire Island on Mondays at 9pm. Over Labor day weekend, I will be at The Monster on Saturday for two shows 12am and 2:30am and then back to Island Breeze for a Sunday show at 9pm! Keep tabs on me via my social media too! I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Thank you so much for your time this evening Yuhua. Hopefully we can cross paths soon! I could use a Yuhua Original I think. Do you have any final words of wisdom to leave our readers with?

Always surround yourself with people that love you for you, eff the haters! It’s your journey, not their’s!

Photo by Ames Beckerman
Photo by Ames Beckerman
About Chiffon Dior 468 Articles
Despite being a drag journalist for over five years, Chiffon only recently realized that she missed a golden opportunity back then to change her drag name to Rhoda Story.

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