When Josh Roach moved to Hawai‘i, he grew a mustache and by night became Tita Titsling, a drag queen and drag show emcee at Chinatown nightclub Scarlet.
Text by Josh Roach, as told to Andrea Lee
Images courtesy of Molly Caskey and Josh Roach
Tita Titsling is a nightlife personality I developed over time in Chinatown. She’s always getting crazy on the mic, hosting at Scarlet. You never know what’s going to come out of Tita’s mouth. She’s very raunchy and over the top about sexual things, organs of the body. You find her getting wasted at a whiskey bar or partying, that’s just who she is.
I’ve been doing Tita since I was 31, when I moved here [from New York]. I’m from Dallas originally. I moved when I was 18 to New York. I’d never done drag before either, it just randomly happened. I’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Show. Divine is a huge inspiration. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been to clubs and seen shows. I just had never tried drag. So I went on YouTube and watched makeup tutorials like “How to glitter your mustache.” I didn’t have a mustache before I came to Hawai‘i, then I just got too lazy to shave. People told me it wasn’t good, but I thought it looked really cute. People were telling me, “You can’t be a drag queen with a mustache!” It really just drove me to do it harder. I’m Josh Roach! I can do whatever I want!
Tita became a deconstruction of gender-normative expectations, to make people ask themselves, “Why do you expect things to be certain things? Were you conditioned that way?” It’s something very important to me… But also I don’t have to shave my face.
I didn’t have a drag mother or father. I say Tita is an orphan that I adopted. I’m a huge advocate of adoption, because I was adopted [by my parents]. It wasn’t until I started working at Scarlet that I started working with other queens. They gave me a lot of pointers. Tita’s face is a collaboration of YouTube and local queens. I think people definitely recognize mine as artistic expression, not run-of-the-mill trying to be a girl. Chinatown is weird enough that it accepted me as a queen of the Chinatown people.
I was a barista for the past 15 years, and a general manager for 13 years at Bluetree Cafe. I recently gave it up and went a completely different way. I’m now working at a dental office, training to be the office manager. I haven’t made an acai bowl in over a month, and I’m so happy about that. As a barista, I was working 65 hours-plus a week, on top of performances. Now I work four days a week. It’s freed me to live.
Most of my time off, I’m doing laundry. I’m a crazy clothes person, I change my clothes numerous times a day. I have a cat, Ash. She’s more like a dog, she’s very social. I go to the beach. I spend a lot of time reading. I’m obsessed with shows like Game of Thrones. I love hiking. I drink a lot of beer. I dunno, I’m just a normal person.
I have more time to focus on Tita’s development as a character, and I’m thinking about creating new characters, maybe another woman or a man. I want to explore different types of performance. It’s all about identity. Identity is whatever you want to make it. It doesn’t have to fit a mold, it can be completely on a whim, and that’s OK. Everyone’s different. Everyone’s got their own thing.
Josh Roach’s Honolulu recommendations, for night and day:
REAL a gastropub
One of my favorite places for beer is REAL a gastropub. It’s an amazing spot, they have about 30 taps that rotate monthly. I love their lanai in the shade.
1020 Auahi St., Ward Village
Proof Public House
I love Proof, I always go there because it’s right around the corner from Scarlet. It’s a great place to grab pizza and beer. They have great brown ales, I appreciate that.
1154 Fort Street Mall, Chinatown
As far as coffee goes, I would say Manifest, because I like the style of that place during the daytime. People tell me the servers there are so mean, but I’m like, what are you talking about?
32 N. Hotel St., Chinatown
Shopping—Barrio Vintage! Of course I’m going to say that, I’m a Barrio queen. I do literally shop there for Tita and myself. They’re really amazing guys, Jonathan and Bradley. They actually buy and sell vintage. They find the weirdest things. They had this beautiful banana yellow pantsuit with these beautiful hand-painted bands around the sleeves. It was gorgeous, but no one would actually wear it. People would try it on and say, “I look like a giant banana!” Then we put it on Tita, and it looks amazing. It’s one of my favorite outfits she has. They find things that are so bizarre, that a normal person won’t wear.
1161 Nuuanu Ave., Chinatown
Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge Trail
It’s a long hike. If you’re not into hiking, don’t do it. But I love hiking and how the landscape changes. You go all the way to the top and you can see the east side and south side, Waimanalo, Hawai‘i Kai. If you’re not fast, it’s probably three hours or more, up and down. But that’s when you really get to know people, surrounded by nature, no distractions.
End of Kaalau Pl., Hawai‘i Kai
For more information on shows and bookings, visit titatitsling.com.