Aleksa Manila (she/they)

by John Emerton

A drawing of a painting palette with the colors of the genderqueer flag, purple, white, and green. A paintbrush lays along the bottom.
“Genderqueer Palette” by Anika Gopez.


Aleksa Manila grew up in Manila in the Philippines during the seventies and eighties. Their mother was single with four children and was a survivor of domestic violence. She lived through the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II. Manila recalls their mother bringing them into the kitchen to explain the political situation of the Ferdinand Marcos regime of the late seventies and early eighties. Though just a child, Manila soon understood the consequences of political awareness under Philippine martial law imposed on the country. Manila often cites their mother’s strength and resilience when reflecting on their activism, and in 1995 they came to join their family near Seattle, Washington.

Although there is a social stigma around mental health in the Filipinx community, Manila has been persistent in their efforts to destigmatize mental and sexual health. In the late 90s, Mx. Manila joined the Young Asian Mens Study (YAMS) team to help gay Asian men talk about self-esteem and racial identity, which later transitioned into a program encouraging safe sex practices and HIV prevention. Through this program, she met a dance group who encouraged her to participate in Miss Gay Filipino in 2001 and offered to be her backup dancers. With just a few years of drag experience, Manila won her first drag title as Miss Gay Filipino and won every category, aside from Miss Congeniality. Just a few years later, Manila was elected and crowned the Empress of Seattle in 2006 – one of the oldest drag pageants in the country.

Through her deep connections to her community, Manila weaves together her drag and their career in social work to extend services to the LGBTQ+ community. She describes drag as a “visual voice” and utilizes the publics’ fascination with drag to share a message with her audience. Through her work in HIV counseling, she has found that drag makes the conversation more approachable. She has been the face of HIV education in Seattle for many years as part of the Seattle Counseling Service and now works in drug counseling. Mx. Manila was the coordinator of the Needle and sex Education Outreach Network (Project NEON), a groundbreaking harm reduction program that supports gay, bi, and trans people experiencing addiction to methamphetamines, for almost two decades. When in drag, Aleksa Manila uses the medium to destigmatize drug and alcohol addiction, which disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ community, and to help people to seek aid for their addiction.

In 2012, she founded Pride ASIA in Seattle, an organization centering queer Asian Pacific Islander voices. In 2023, the organization will host the 11th annual Pride ASIA Fest. Manila supports other drag artists through the House of Manila, her drag family with over 40 “children”. She describes her motivation for activism as the pursuit of happiness, and the goal of aligning her personal and professional life. Manila is also an outspoken activist for trans rights and identifies with the Filipinx identity of the Babaylan, an indigenous identity outside the binary of male or female. They have traveled across the USA as a speaker, a panelist, a performer, and a beloved advocate.


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Badass Womxn and Enbies in the Pacific Northwest Volume 2 Copyright © 2023 by Badass Zine Machine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.