Meet the Fabulous Drag Queen Teaching Math on TikTok

VICE spoke to “Canada’s Drag Race” alum Kyne on growing up Filipino, making math cool, and queer representation in science and tech.

05 January 2022, 7:46am

Many drag queens use social media to teach people how to glue down their eyebrows, blend their contour, and stack their false eyelashes, but Canada’s Drag Race alum Kyne is taking to TikTok to talk about why the Cartesian plane is numbered counterclockwise, share the history of infinity, and explain some of math’s most puzzling riddles. 

The man under the wigs and makeup is Kyne Santos, who was born in Manila, Philippines, and moved to Kitchener, Canada with his family at 5 years old. Having grown up Asian and gay, he’s no stranger to feeling different. But as seen in his run on Canada’s Drag Race and rise to mainstream fame on social media, he’s learned to lean into the things that set him apart.

“I would bring Filipino food to school and everyone would be, like, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ That was the first time I sort of remember being different. In the beginning, I felt almost embarrassed, because I just wanted to fit in and I wanted to be like everyone else, and growing up gay didn’t make it easy either, so it was tough,” Santos told VICE.

When he first found out he was gay, Santos said he was more than ready to hide it and live a “normal” life as a straight person. As a child, he remembers being awkward and quiet while navigating his identity. It was his parents who eventually came seeking him out as he tried to hide in the closet. 

Santos recalled how his Filipino parents called him into their room when he was around 13 years old and asked if he had any secrets he wanted to tell them, anything about himself. He got what they were hinting at, he said, and proceeded to come out

“I’m actually glad they did it, they sort of encouraged me to come out, and from that point it allowed me to be free and feel like I didn’t have to hide anymore. If my parents know the secret, then I might as well tell my friends and just go with it,” said Santos. “I was very lucky that everyone accepted me and people were OK with me being gay. I was able to be more myself.” 

The self Santos was growing into, however, was not free from insecurity, so he started wearing makeup to cover his acne, but also, admittedly, to feminize his appearance even just a little bit. He stuck mostly to “natural men’s makeup” until one Halloween gave him an excuse to wear eyeliner and mascara. 

“I realized I really like eyeliner, and I liked feminizing, and then what I did was I started my YouTube channel,” Santos said, pertaining to where he first started uploading tutorials—not for math, but for makeup. On the channel, he wore looks with lipsticks and eye shadows, and fell in love with the artistry of makeup. Not long after, he started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, and thought that what the queens were doing—performing in high heels, lip-syncing to music—is exactly what he needed to be doing. So that’s what he did, in bars and clubs around Kitchener. Eventually, his makeup tutorials on YouTube became drag makeup tutorials, too.

Other queens credit their drag personas in helping them realize their identities as trans women, but Santos said getting into drag actually helped him discover his masculine side. 

“I wasn’t really comfortable with being a man, wearing boys’ clothes. Of course, I would tell people I was just being artistic, but maybe it was a little bit of both the insecurity and the artistry,” he said. “Once I started doing drag—now that’s about as feminine as you can get—so after I had an outlet to put all my femininity on the stage, I think that allowed me to explore the more masculine side of me.” (Santos uses she/her pronouns in drag and he/him pronouns when out of drag.)

Santos did not fare too well on the first season of Canada’s Drag Race, from which he was eliminated second, putting his drag persona “Kyne” at 11th place out of 12 queens. Still, Santos said he’s happy he did it.

“It was lots of fun, I’m really glad I did it, and it was very different from how I expected. I didn’t expect to go home really early, and I didn’t expect to have our season debut in the middle of the pandemic, where we wouldn’t be working and traveling. But it sort of worked out in my favor.”

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Santos, who had already been making makeup tutorials before appearing on Canada’s Drag Race, said he had grown tired of the usual content, and needed something to jolt his creative juices to keep making videos after the show aired.

“That’s when I started making the math videos, which I only started out as a one-time thing on TikTok, and then I realized people really love these, and I can combine these two passions that I have,” Santos said. 

Dressed in full drag, Santos carefully walks viewers through esoteric concepts like the Möbius strip and the friendship paradox, tells the histories of things like calculators and the number zero, explains why people use “x” to represent unknown numbers, and gives helpful tips to understand inflation and stocks. He also features “riddles” that are reminiscent of math quiz questions from school. His explanations—or tutorials, if you will—are casual but informative, and, perhaps most relevantly on the platform, come in short, digestible episodes. 

Santos said he was always good with numbers as a kid and was in the middle of getting a bachelor's degree in mathematics when he got cast for Canada’s Drag Race, and despite the expected glitz and glamour of post-reality television show fame, he proceeded to complete the degree after leaving the show. 

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“I always knew that if I had the chance to be famous, whether on YouTube or TV, that everybody just gets 15 minutes of fame. And I always thought that having a degree was the more stable thing to lean back on, so I always said I’m going to get this degree and whether I get a job out of it now or I wait 10 years from now, this is a valuable thing to have.” 

“If it weren’t for that chain of events, I wouldn’t have done math videos on TikTok, which turned out to be the thing that made me very unique, so I’m very thankful for it.” Santos now has around 1.2 million followers on TikTok, with videos regularly getting hundreds of thousands, if not a couple of million, views. 

The success of these math videos came as a shock to Santos. 

“Everyone told me that nobody wanted to watch math videos because they’re so nerdy,” he said. “I thought that it would just appeal to such a niche audience, and I thought I was doing it ironically. I didn’t actually think people would be listening to the math. I thought people would say, ‘Oh, it’s a drag queen talking about math, that’s funny.’”

When people started telling him that they never really understood the concepts he was talking about until he explained them the way he did, or that they never really appreciated math until his videos, he knew he was onto something. 

“Where I feel like lots of other math communicators talk to people who already love math, my audience is people who don’t really love math but maybe they can take it in small bite-sized chunks, and I’m sort of introducing to them that math isn’t so terrible, math isn’t so hard like you remember in school, math can be interesting and fun.”

Santos merges the art of drag with mathematics, serving as another example of how drag queens can lead the way for queer representation in different industries.

“It’s really important for me not just to have queer representation in STEM, but to have STEM representation in queerness. I want to also show people that gay people are not just all comedians or actresses, we’re not just there to be the butt of the joke,” he said. 

“We’re humans too, and we can have serious thoughts, and we have fears, just like everyone else, and all we want is to live our lives happy and free.”

Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.

Tagged:

Filipino, drag queens, TikTok

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