From Wheels to Heels
Story By: Paula Kiley
Photos By: Diana Martinez
The stage lights up as the titillating bass to Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” echoes through the room. Her perfectly carved lips mouth the sexually charged lyrics as her body moves with the slow-burning ballad.
Side to side. Her hips swing in a little black dress as she bats her eyes. The clicking of her heels sync with the beat in a tantalizing manner. Everyone’s eyes are on her and she knows it.
Suddenly, the rock anthem chorus kicks in, booming through the speakers and she strikes a pose. Her long, black hair fans out in an explosion of allure.
And the crowd goes wild.
Her name is Yakisoba. And just like the instant noodle, she’s spicy. She’s salty. She’s bad for you when consumed in large quantities.
At least that’s how she’s described by Brandon Ha, the man behind the wig, high heels, lipstick and false lashes.
But it wasn’t always glitz and glamour for the 21-year-old. Thirteen years ago, the Fountain Valley native would often be seen donned in roller skates instead of heels. Shoulder pads instead of bra inserts. A thick helmet in place of a silky black wig.
Ha played roller hockey since he was eight years old, playing for three professional teams— Team USA, Team California and Team Columbia, over the span of 10 years. His incredible speed in the rink made him a successful winger and a strong asset, clocking in at a personal record of 500 meters per 48 seconds.
“People loved it,” Ha said. “People cheered for me. And this is how it transcends into drag, because people are cheering for me all the time. But this is the shit that I love. This is what gets me going.”
Growing up in what Ha described as a very hyper masculine environment, he concealed a lot of his true personality and character whenever he played on the rink. His natural gravitation to dressing up in heels and playing with his sister’s Polly Pockets were suppressed for years while he played for several hockey teams.
“Everyone on the team told me not to act gay, that this was my team and I had to represent it in a certain way,” Ha said.
Despite the pressure from his team to remain closeted on the rink, Ha began coming out to his friends and family at the age of 11. It was around this time that Ha began to deal with body image issues and eating disorders, a problem that transcended into high school.
“I didn’t feel attractive throughout my coming out experience,” Ha said. “I was trying to find myself through prepubescent times and having to figure out who I am as a person. Doing that layered on being gay layered on being a hockey player, it was a lot for me.”
In 2015, Ha began attending school at Long Beach State to major in human development. After navigating through the endless rows of organizations and clubs at Week of Welcome, Ha found solace at a booth adorned with a vibrant rainbow flag and sparkly green Greek letters. Ha found Delta Lambda Phi, the LGBT fraternity on campus and a group he would later call his second family. Ha rushed for Delta Lambda Phi that semester.
Every year, Delta Lambda Phi hosts an annual charity drag show, “Dragalicious.” It was at this show in 2015 where Ha put on the iconic black Yakisoba wig and experimented with drag for the very first time.
Close friend and pledge brother Tyler Cobb remembers Ha’s first drag performance. Dressed in a stiff black wig and what Cobb referred to as a “sufficient” makeup job, Ha competed in six performances five of which he lost in.
Though Ha recalls his “Dragalicious” performance as a laughable start to his career as a drag queen, his interest in performing took off and since then he has worked on improving his craft. According to Cobb, Ha dedicated himself to becoming a better drag performer, learning how to apply makeup, practicing dance routines, buying new outfits and going to drag performances to learn from the best.
“When he puts on Yakisoba's outfit, it shines,” Cobb said. “I feel like drag is a conduit for [Ha] to go beyond his self-perception, self-esteem issues and anxiety.”
Now in his senior year at Long Beach State, Ha utilizes Yakisoba as a persona to educate campus groups on LGBT disparities and identities. In addition, Ha has taken on leadership positions on campus, serving as Cultural Greek Council President among a coalition of multicultural fraternities and sororities on campus and Sergeant at Arms for Delta Lambda Phi.
Professor of human development, Erylene Piper-Mandy , has invited Ha to speak to her culture foundations courses as Yakisoba to discuss LGBT identity and body image.
“Brandon is just so engaging and so good to be with,” Piper-Mandy said. “You’re willing to take him anyway he comes, whether it be as Yakisoba or as Brandon. You’re delighted to take him and I think that helps people to get used to ideas that used to be challenging before.”
In addition to his educational work on campus, Yakisoba strictly performs in charity shows such as OC Pride and Long Beach Pride where he hopes to be a positive role model for LGBT youth.
“I want Yakisoba to be an example to others that if you want to do something, do it,” Ha said. “Why should anyone stop you? We’re in a political climate where people are going back into the closet, which is why I think that message is more important now than ever.”