Joy in Taiwan – and praise from the president – as Nymphia Wind wins RuPaul’s Drag Race

<span>Nymphia Wind said: ‘Taiwan, this is for you’, when crowned the winner of the 16th edition of RuPaul’s Drag Race.</span><span>Photograph: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for MTV</span>
Nymphia Wind said: ‘Taiwan, this is for you’, when crowned the winner of the 16th edition of RuPaul’s Drag Race.Photograph: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for MTV

A drag queen has sparked national celebration as the “pride of Taiwan” and won praise and congratulations from the island’s president after winning RuPaul’s Drag Race at the weekend.

On Saturday, the long-running, Emmy award-winning US reality show, in which drag queens compete in challenges including lip-sync performances, revealed the winner of its 16th season as Nymphia Wind, the drag personality creation of Leo Tsao, a 28-year-old Taiwanese designer.

Nymphia Wind’s entry in RuPaul’s Drag Race drew massive support from her home country, which is becoming increasingly famous for its vibrant and colourful drag community.

At Taipei’s Ximending Red House complex, the birthplace of the Taiwanese capital’s drag scene, crowds at weekly live screenings grew as she progressed through the rounds.

At the announcement of her win during the show’s finale on Saturday, fans at Red House screamed, hugged, and waved the bananas that Nymphia Wind had made a symbol of her Asian and Taiwanese identity.

The subculture is not often discussed in detail in Taiwan but local media gave her win extensive coverage, saying she had “broken the Asian curse” and “set a record as the first person [from] Taiwan”.

Accepting her win, Nymphia Wind said: “Taiwan, this is for you”, prompting thanks from the president, Tsai Ing-wen, for “living fearlessly”.

“Congratulations to you, Nymphia Wind, for being so accomplished in the difficult art form of drag, and for being the first Taiwanese to take the stage and win on RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Tsai said.

Tsai and her ruling party DPP pushed hard to enhance LGBTQ+ rights in Taiwan, including legalising same-sex marriage in 2019, the first in Asia to do so, and amending the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt children in 2023.

Nymphia Wind, who grew up in Taiwan and Hong Kong, has said that with the support of her mother, who flew to New York for the final episode, she developed a passion for fashion and drag during her studies in London.

Her performances on Drag Race were filled with east Asian and Taiwanese elements – bubble tea, Taiwanese temples and Chinese traditional opera, and the colour yellow – representing her personal background. She became known for her self-created outfits and was nicknamed Banana Buddha, and her fans as Banana Believers.

“Yellow is not just a colour, it is me as an Asian person,” she wrote on her social media. “My existence is yellow. I am always wearing yellow. Through drag it has taught me to appreciate my Asian identity.”

She told Entertainment Weekly her final costume, a boba-tea-themed outfit, was her way of “being camp and still representing my country, and finding a fun way to do this lip-sync … I obviously came here to represent my country, and I’m not going to do it by putting a flag on my dress.”

In November 2023, Nymphia Wind performed at a traditional Taoist temple in Taiwan, subverting the traditional venues of the country’s religions and making drag queen culture more accessible to the public.

“This event is intended for everyone to participate in, breaking the echo chamber by inviting elders and children to come together to enjoy the joy of cross-dressing, putting aside prejudices and enjoying the moment together in the same space,” Nymphia Wind wrote on social media.

• Helen Davidson contributed to this report