Drag Race Philippines runner-up Marina Summers first lip-synced for her life when she was 14 years old.
Her mother had scolded her for hosting a school event wearing clothes traditionally worn by women. “Don’t do that again,” Marina tells Teen Vogue, recalling her mother’s words. “It’s okay that you’re gay, just don’t wear women’s clothing.” The world wasn’t ready to be her runway. But it was in the safety of the shower — hot water raining from the showerhead, an audience of soap and shampoo, those silent keepers of secrets — that she found her stage.
Marina’s shower setlist was a carousel of 2010s chart-topping artists. She pictured herself lip-syncing in Gaga’s armadillo heels from “Bad Romance,” and Beyoncé’s yellow Emilio Pucci dress with thigh-length slits from “Run the World (Girls),” the latter of which was the first rap she ever memorized. These women showed Marina, as a young boy growing up in small town Bambang, the thrill of performing before a crowd. This was who she could be in private.
When Marina appears over Zoom, it’s three weeks on from the finale of Drag Race Philippines, in which she lip-synced for a global audience, placing second to Precious Paula Nicole. In a few hours, she’ll drop the music video for her new single “Divine.” She’s gracious, thanking me for rescheduling our chat; a week prior, as a storm swept through Manila, she’d camped out at her building’s fire escape, the only place with a decent signal to send her apologies. Marina is bright and bubbly; apparently summer lasts year round.
Last August, the Drag Race franchise’s Philippines variant was announced, but the timing was all wrong for Marina. She had a new home, a new job, and a savings account to fill, not to mention shouldering the exorbitant cost of doing drag. Financially and mentally, she was spread thin. But it was Marina’s mother who convinced her to audition. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing. It’s the first season, you have to be there,” her mother had said. She just needed that extra push. It’s a far cry from the mother-son relationship of Marina’s childhood.
Marina can see how conservative culture and traditions shaped her mother’s perspective on dressing up. “It comes from a place of love, in a sense,” she says. “She didn’t want my siblings to get bullied because of me doing that, so maybe that’s just it. But it digs deeper than that.” She’s come around, and in meaningful ways. When virtual drag became the sole avenue of performing in the pandemic, she became Marina’s offscreen zipper-upper and hair-fixer; while preparing for Drag Race Philippines, she drove Marina from province to province for designer fittings; and when money was tight, she loaned Marina funds to get what she needed.
Femininity seemed to taunt young Marina; dressing in women’s clothing, living her full Beyoncé fantasy — all impossible, forbidden. “The notion was, when you’re gay, if you wanted to dress up as a girl, you wanted to be a girl. But that's not the case for me,” Marina says. She only settled in her sexuality, and discovered the fullest extent of her self expression, once she found her place in the queer community and amongst Manila’s nightlife. That’s when she fell in love with the art of drag.