UPDATE: I typed the link to Rozz's website wrong. Should work now.
Last weekend I went to Penang, an island on Malaysia's west coast. My editor at TNG gave me the phone number of a guy she's known for a long time who does drag performances at a bar there. I texted him to arrange an interview. Cramming interview requests into single text messages is a skill I did not expect to develop, but I find people here get freaked out if you call them out of the blue, and that texting for work-related reasons is much more common.
I wanted to reproduce the conversation that followed exactly, but my phone appears to have mysteriously erased its messaging history, so this is a rough approximation:
Me: Hi im claire wrkin on a doc abt sxuality in msia jacq gave me ur # wld u do an invu?
Rozz: I don't know how conducive it would be, but you're welcome to come to my show tonight. Starts at 10.
Me: Sounds good ill be there
Rozz: I won't be hard to spot. I'll be the loud obnoxious drag queen.
Me: I like you already.
So I went. The bar was gorgeous - garden out front, arched front porch, retro 70s decor and a fountain off to the side of the dance floor. I was there with a guy I was traveling with doing research on a similar topic for an international gay rights group (long, boring story - in a nutshell, small world). We ordered Blue Hawaiins because they had a half priced student special and drinks at gorgeous retro 70s bungalow lounges on Malaysian islands ain't cheap.
I already knew Rozz had sung in Broadway shows and was likely to be pretty damn good, but was unprepared for what was about to hit me.
Check out his website, a music player will launch. Sort of a cross between Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey, no?
Anyway, Rozz told me to come back two nights later and do the actual interview. "Whatever else you write about me, make sure you tell them the nails are real," he said. I inspected. He spoke the truth.
The interview lasted about half an hour. Then I just sat there and talked to him for about two more. He's hands down the most interesting person I've ever met.
Rozz was born to Muslim parents (but wasn't raised Muslim) and went to high school in Malaysia. I asked when he started doing drag performances. "Well, I guess it was when I did my first performance." He said no one ever bullied him in high school, and no one's ever harassed him in Malaysia or tried to raid the bar he sings at in Penang.
I asked him why he thinks that is, and he basically attributed it to having a loud mouth - he said the jocks in high school were more afraid of him than he was of them.
So many people I meet in Malaysia seem to have this paralyzing fear of rocking the boat. Of course, there's a lot to be afraid of - detention under the ISA, for one thing. But the more I learn and the more people I talk to, the more it's clear that fear of what family and peers will think is a bigger factor keeping LGBT people quiet than the fear of being arrested and charged.
Rozz doesn't just rock the boat. He decided this boat sucks, is cramped and smells funny and has a poorly lit makeup mirror. So he jumped out a long time ago, and prefers to swim.