RuPaul’s DragCon: A Herstory Lesson for the Masses
DragCon was an event years in the making. The drag community has been producing world class talent on a regional level for decades, and after seven seasons of Drag Race and an ever increasing (now international) fanbase, DragCon was the next logical chapter in RuPaul’s herstory textbook; a place where queens and fans could step out from behind their computers and geek out over each others’ charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent face to fishy face.
Day One started with a ribbon cutting, classic in nature, oversized scissors and all. The Los Angeles Convention Center has all the charm of an ‘80s-era office, with gray-teal rugs adorning the cement floors and cold fluorescent lighting (for ambience!). But the lackluster backdrop did nothing to dull the event’s glitter-laden guests. Mama Ru and her family of drag queens gathered just outside the entryway for a quick photo-op and a few words to kick things off. Ru’s speech was short, but his # message was clear: that DragCon was a place for fans to find their tribe and enjoy themselves. And with a light joke regarding some nips and (permanent) tucks to be performed with his giant scissors, Ru cut the ribbon, and the event was underway.
The main draw of the convention was the opportunity for fans to mingle with their favorite queens and celebrity guests, because in the famous words of Drag Race season 5 contestant, Alyssa Edwards, “You gotta feel the fantasy!”#
The queen at the top of my list was season seven’s Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova (or more simply, Katya). When the doors opened, I made a beeline for her booth and ambushed her with an incoherent jumble of praises. She was far sweeter than any person faced with such a maniac should be, and she made me feel like it was a meaningful moment for her too. # I gave her a little button I’d made and she let me fix it to her shirt, where the small token struggled to compete with the mosaic of dog faces making up the fabric. I was stricken by how totally casual about everything she was; here I was, hyperventilating in the presence of a Famous Person, and she was acting as warm and welcoming as an old friend. That’s drag, in essence: come one, come all, bring us your nervous and embarrassing masses and we will take them in as family.
I watched this same interaction play out repeatedly throughout the weekend. There was no shortage of admiration (or handmade gifts), and while the fanaticism was, of course, coming from the fans, the love poured out in both directions. Queens mirrored fans’ enthusiasm and expressed genuine appreciation to those who’d waited in hour long lines for minute long interactions. It was obvious that everyone was getting what they needed, whether that was entertainment, or community, or just plain attention, the love-fest almost outshined the colorful wigs and sequin dresses. Almost.
The event wasn’t just a way to showcase the herstory of Drag, but also a platform on which the future of drag could be built. Young fans (and I mean young, like, there were elementary school aged children at this event) could fall even more in love with their favorite queens, while up and coming Drag Race hopefuls could meet their peers and attempt to expand their fan base beyond that of their local clubs back home.
It might sound silly, but I didn’t think too much about how short you end up feeling when you are surrounded by drag queens. By and large, drag performers tower above the six-foot range, and so I felt even more out of my element than any suburban bred girl at a drag convention would already feel.
The weekend was full of unforgettable eleganza, but the very best moment arrived with only ten minutes left on the convention’s first day. After staying hopeful in line while the day’s final minutes ticked by, I was shuffled past a curtain, and seated there in front of me was the divine gift that is RuPaul. We had a lovely little chat. Ru even complimented my lipstick, which will forever rank as the coolest moment of my life. He asked about where I was from, and upon learning that I had moved to California from Massachusetts last year, escaping the hellish winter of 2015, said, “Congratulations, you are the winner of this year’s challenge.” And hearing those words, from Ru’s lips to my ears, it felt absolutely true. I was a winner. We shared a hug, and I mumbled the words, “Thank you, for…everything.”
Having met my two favorite queens on day one, I shifted gears a little bit for day two and turned my focus to the vendors, and to RuPaul’s much-anticipated keynote address. I stopped by Boobs for Queens, the makers of silicone breast plates often used by contestants on Drag Race. A model at the table was offering free squeezes to passersby, so I copped a feel — she told me the breast plate goes on like a bib. An unintended advantage to using one: it covers the user’s entire chest, the perfect tool for the drag queen who doesn’t feel like shaving. I want three.
DragCon was the perfect opportunity for queens, seasoned and inexperienced, to interact with industry professionals from all facets of the community. Anything a queen could need to complete her look was available – make-up, wigs, eyelashes, bedazzled purses, feather head pieces, crystal encrusted cat-suits.
After my trip down Breast Envy Lane, I talked to Terry Blas, an artist who creates vibrant illustrations of Drag Race contestants.
When I asked him how he’d started drawing queens, he said he’d had the opportunity to collaborate with season one contestant Ongina a few years back and simply decided to keep going after that. This relationship of artist and subject, maker and model, was visible all over DragCon — what I took away was that drag fans and queens are invested in every creative aspect of their community (and that I should definitely get a vendor booth next year). After talking to Terry and a few other artists at the convention, it was clear that they feel the same way I do, which is that drag is fun and drawing queens is fun and nothing on this blessed earth is better than fun.
People had been lining up at the door for hours prior to RuPaul’s address, dreaming that someday they could tell their grandkids about the inaugural DragCon keynote. Once the masses were seated (and then standing again for Ru’s entrance, and seated once more), the speech was underway. Charming and humble as ever, Ru delivered a down-to-earth speech, talking about family and growing up with sisters who knew he was destined to be anything but ordinary. But he also spoke sincerely on the history of drag, not forgetting those who made an event like this a possibility. “We come from a long line of people whose blood was spilled to make sure we could have this convention today,” said Ru. And while the weekend was about having fun, it was also about paying respect to a community whose fight is still not over.
Ru pointed to the number of occasions on Drag Race where contestants revealed their personal hardships of growing up gay in less-than-welcoming environments, and how those contestants represent any number of members of the gay and drag community. This leaves Drag Race fans with comrades, people to look up to when feeling lonely; and now, with the creation of DragCon, a place to meet those idols and say thank you.
With this, Ru reminded the audience how special they were, that people who love drag “think outside the box” and appreciate joy and color and beauty and life. And RuPaul is the physical embodiment of those things. If it wasn’t apparent before this weekend, it’s certainly clear now that Mama Ru is devoted to creating a positive environment in which the drag community can continue to grow and flourish in all its sparkly wonder.
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