"My life transformed around five years ago on Halloween when I opened my front door in downtown Helsinki and walked out for the first time in my life dressed as a woman. I wore a cheap wig and dreadful heels. That's how it started. I had found myself.
Now I'm creating a career as the drag queen Betty Fvck. Helsinki gave me the push to embark on my artistic path. I'm 30 years old and also a researcher. I'm currently working on my PhD in Marketing.
I moved to study in Finland from Vietnam in 2010. The first six months I lived and studied business in Lahti, about 100 kilometres north of the capital.
I was 19 years old and came from Saigon, a city of 10 million inhabitants. The city was too big for me. When I moved from Lahti to Helsinki, my dream came true. Helsinki is a beautiful city with lots of opportunities and cultural diversity and many people speak English here.
I was in love with the American TV show RuPaul's Drag Race, which features drag queens who compete against one another. I was astonished because I had the experience that men dressing up as women was stigmatised. How could they be on television? A few years ago I was in New York as an exchange student. I hung out at gay clubs that had free drag shows every night. When I got back to Finland, there was nothing of the sort.
I took part in New York Pride in 2015, the year that the US legalised gay marriage. It was a fine moment. I was there when Violet Chachki was crowned the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race. Her track Bettie inspired my own drag name. Another inspiration was the bar Betty F*** in Berlin. I wanted my drag name to be as liberal as Berlin. That's how Betty Fvck was born."
Helsinki made it easy to let loose
"When I graduated from Aalto University, I was unemployed for a year and very anxious. Life was just one disappointment after another. I decided that I will light up my inner spark through art. So, I participated in the Helsinki Drag Battle contest, its producers were also on the look-out for beginners.
When Helsinki's Pride parade was organised a year later, I came out as a 100% drag queen. I had a character and a lot more confidence. I realised it was ok to show my feminine sides and attach them to art, make-up, role play, and putting on a good show.
Drag brought out my artistic self. That wouldn't have happened had I not lived in Helsinki and taken part in the contest. I would not have dared to let loose if Helsinkians hadn't been so open-minded.
Practical help from the city
"The deeper I have entered into the world of drag, the more I have gotten to know people in the scene: cultural workers, stage professionals and members of the LGBTIQ+ community.
The City of Helsinki supports arts in a very tangible way. There are free workshops, and stages to show work on. Many volunteers also participate in cultural activities and receive guidance from professionals.
Helsinki has plenty of good quality venues that are safe from an artist's perspective. The technical set up and stage need to be in shape, as does the audience's attitude, in order to have a successful show. There are theatres, youth centres, free galleries and cultural centres in different city districts. The city supported me in my project United in Love – The Queerlesque Show that was first organised at the Caisa cultural centre in February 2020. The show combined burlesque, drag and queer content in a pioneering way in Finland. The tickets were quickly sold out. I also invited many international artists to take part. I find it important that they feel safe on stage.
The cultural centre Caisa is very open to different collaborations. They helped me to set up a show and to find partners. We created a specific audience for the Queerlesque event. All kinds of people showed up: old and young. We all spoke the same language of tolerance, respect and the joy of experiencing something together. The show's next edition was held during Pride week."
Freedom to be oneself
"There are many places in the world where a queer person is unable to live a free life that feels like their own. I feel free and safe in Helsinki; anyone is able to be themselves here. I find respect as an artist. My artist colleagues in other cities tell me that they need to take a taxi to a performance venue if they are in costume. In Helsinki, I can freely use the metro, bus or train and nobody bothers me. I might get compliments. The character Betty Fvck seems to be respected, and that's how I feel about other people, too.
The Helsinki drag scene is flourishing. New drag artists pop up all the time. We need more producers now, and I want to do my own part. It's not just about me and who I am anymore, but about what I can do for others. I have my own voice and I have energy. I want to help out the LGBTIQ+ community through my art, and to boost queer wellbeing. I feel like I have climbed further up on the ladder."