Dressing in drag’s a big draw for many gays, while for others – mostly conservative types – it’s seen as dragging the image down. But for Siem Reap’s high profile gay entrepreneur Adam Rodwell, it’s simply a case of don’t be a drag, get on with the show.
Rodwell reckons dressing in drag is fun and he should know, because he’s one of the organisers of tonight’s ‘Absolutely Dragulous’ extravaganza in Siem Reap. He hopes to allay fears that the event, launched last year, creates incorrect stereotype thinking about gay men.
“This can be a common feeling amongst members of the LGBT+ community,” he says. “Pride events sometimes feature aesthetics or elements that make some uncomfortable.
“But for me personally, drag is a powerful statement. I believe that drag can help create a conversation on gender roles and gender identity. An open conversation about what it means to be a man, woman or anything in between needs an open attitude and my experience from last year showed that is what happened.
“Asking about the difference between a transsexual and a drag queen is the most common first question, and I am always happy to answer it.
“Also drag shows are just so much fun. The night is first and foremost one thing. Fun. It is a celebration of expression without negative judgment and last year seeing all different sides of the Siem Reap community come together (both local and foreign) was truly amazing to experience.”
As with last year, Dragulous happens at the Hangout Bar and marks the opening of Pride Cambodia, kicking off three days of “love and celebration” throughout Temple Town.
Hangout Bar owner Jana Walter launched the idea last year as a fundraiser for A Place to Be Yourself, Siem Reap’s first dedicated NGO to the Cambodian LGBT+ community.
A mixed bag of about three hundred gay, lesbian, trans, bi, queer, questioning, straight, unsure and-or intersex people attended last year’s Dragulous, raising over $1,700 to help set up a drop-in venue for gay Cambodians.
The celebration also reinforces what’s obvious in Siem Reap – that the gay community, in whatever form it takes, has made a mark because many adherents either manage or own successful businesses that boost the local economy.
Coffee obsessive Rodwell, an Australian hospitality worker and barista and his partner, hair stylist David Stirling are good examples.
The dynamic duo holidayed in Siem Reap in late 2013 and returned to stay in 2014, setting up in a shophouse in Siem Reap’s chi chi Kandal Village, with a hair salon on the upper floor and a café, The Little Red Fox Espresso, on ground level. Those enterprises were instant successes, which Rodwell partly puts down to local energy.
“David and I have been lucky enough to have had some success here in Cambodia and we are eternally grateful as foreigners to be able to live and work here,” he says. “There is a certain kind of energy that Cambodia radiates, in Siem Reap particularly. That energy attracts all kinds of characters from across the world and that, alongside several morning coffees, is one of the main forces I work off.” But once the cafe was up and running smoothly, excess possibly-caffeine-fuelled energy prompted expansion.
“As the Little Red Fox has grown and our team has strengthened we found ourselves with a little extra time,” Rodwell says.
“Rather than sit around and drink coffee (which is lovely) we decided to put our time into events and community causes.
“It all began accidentally with being offered to organize the ‘First They Killed My Father’ movie wrap party in Battambang over two years ago. We had five days to plan a party for hundreds of people. I learnt a lot in the process and discovered I love the buzz and anxiety of event organising.
“It led to me being on the organizing committee of ChubMet in 2017, plus the first Absolutely Dragulous fundraiser at The Hangout, and working with Phare to bring the Male Apsara show to Siem Reap.
“There was also a TEDtalk-style event with the former president of East Timor, and finally the Lotus Gala fundraiser for the Cambodia Peace Museum at Malis Siem Reap, featuring Laura Mam and some of the amazing Phare artists.”
Now Rodwell’s main focus is on the grand opening later this year of the Cambodia Peace Museum in Battambang, but he and his partner have also been busy on the commercial front.
“We recently entered into a business partnership with a company from Thailand called Lub d. They are expanding their brand of upmarket flash-packing hostels and we were approached to be the food and beverage partner for Cambodia.
“An exciting step for us as a small business. And also symbolic of Cambodia being a viable country for foreign investment.
“Also we have just joined with creative and talented chef Sopheak Sao as our executive chef, who we will be doing some exciting things with. Watch this space!”
Disclosure: Peter Olszewski is so straight he has never dressed in drag although he did once wear his ex-wife’s high heel shoes to the local pub.