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Aleksa Manila: Counselor By Day, Drag Queen By Night

(photo courtesy of Aleksa Manila)

By day he’s Aleks Martin. By night, he transforms into Aleksa Manila. And Aleks and Aleksa have very different careers.

“I’m a drug counselor by day and drag diva by night!”

So when did Aleks Martin become Aleksa Manila?

“Aleksa was born October 9th, 2001. I use that date because that was the first time I officially was crowned Miss Gay Filipino. I did the Miss Gay Filipino pageant and I won every category except Miss Congeniality, and I’ll leave it at that!”

Aleks moved from the Philippines to the United States in 1995. He’s worked as a nurse, as an AIDS and HIV counselor and has settled in at Seattle Counseling Service as a drug and alcohol counselor serving the LGBT community.

“Most people assume that I’m in full drag doing counseling and I’m like, I’m not gonna put on makeup to sit down…That’s going to be a little distracting for my clients.”

Aleks doesn’t tell his clients about his double life.

“You don’t share personal information because it’s not about you, as the counselor, it’s about the client. That could make or break the therapeutic relationship.”

I wondered if Aleksa has ever spotted a client in the audience during a performance.

“I have and I have to maintain confidentiality. The rule is I can’t say hello to any of my clients outside of the clinical setting. That’s back to confidentiality and protecting the client’s identity. I’ve seen clients in the audience. Sometimes I do these sexy, sultry numbers and I’m like, ‘Ohhhh my Goooodddd!’ But it can happen and the show must go on, as they say.”

Aleksa was crowned Seattle’s 40th Miss Gay Seattle in 2003 and, like any self respecting drag queen, she is a vision in sequins, sparkles, big hair, colorful makeup and high heels. How many wigs does she have?

“I have lost count, I don’t know. At least 50. That’s just counting what I have now. I’m sure hundreds upon hundreds over the years.”

Aleksa says she is just an extension of Aleks’ personality

“It’s just a more fabulous version of me, I would say.”

And his strong, independent mother is a huge inspiration.

“She survived the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. When she was little she told me her father dressed her up in boy’s clothes, cut her hair like a boy, just so she could escape being raped by the Japanese soldiers. [He] put her on a train and sent her off to the province to get away from the brutality of the Japanese occupation. And being a survivor herself. She was in a very abusive relationship and coming out of that, rising above that, and raising four children on her own, we all went to college. If anything that serves strength, that kind of personality is what I pull out of her.”

Aleks used to think it was important to keep his drag queen side completely separate from his career, but Aleksa often emcees events for Seattle Counseling Service. He’s learned a way to find the perfect balance between the serious and the ridiculous.

“The gravity of people’s stories. They’re not all sad but when it does get sad it’s quite heart wrenching to hear people’s lives and how it’s afflicted by addiction. How do you maintain balance? How do you maintain self care? Well, drag allows me to do that. Drag can be fun. Drag can be glamorous. It takes you into this other realm. Allows you to appreciate, oh my god, life can be so good too.”

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