sparkle and shade at the first drag convention in herstory
"I'm so happy for the kids who are going to come here and find their tribe!" RuPaul's booming voice announced. He was dressed in a gray-blue plaid suit, giant scissors in hand. It was the ribbon cutting ceremony for RuPaul's DragCon, billed as the "first Drag Convention in Herstory."
"Yes, we're selling merchandise," continued Ru, "but this is really all about the children who are going to come and meet their idols." He finished his speech and cut into the giant, red velvet ribbon. Thousands of eager drag queens, faux queens, and casual fans of RuPaul's Drag Race flocked into the L.A. Convention Center this past Saturday.
As queens (including this writer, in glittery silver heels and a blonde lace-front wig) cat-walked down the long, carpeted runway into the convention hall, they were met with catcalls and "YASSS! WORK DIVA!". Inside, it was exactly like you would imagine. DragCon is essentially Comic Con for RuPaul's Drag Race queens, porn stars and C-list LGBT celebrities. Rows upon rows of vendors lined the halls, selling everything from ostrich feather angel wings to a fully rhinestoned motorcycle jumpsuit and even commemorative RuPaul chinaware.
It was enrapturing. Herstory was being made. It was a place of love and empowerment, and you could feel the positivity. For two days, it was the most magical place in the world — for a drag queen, at least.
One of the weekend's highlights was a panel hosted by the The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in which several drag-nun-clown hybrids discussed political activism. One of the members, Sister Roma, made national headlines late last year when she met with Facebook in an attempt to repeal their "real name" policy. The roundtable was similarly an exercise in community building; the nuns even pulled two audience members on stage and made them honorary Sisters, complete with full clown-face makeovers. With poise, tact and hilarity, the Sisters answered audience questions about their organization and its work promoting human rights and respect for diversity.
As expected, the convention was as much about merch as celebrity. If the long lines to meet some of the silver screen's most famed queens weren't discouraging enough, there was a disturbing trend of notifications that read, "Taking photo requires purchase of merchandise." It wasn't pleasant to see fans get turned away from selfie glory. Some queens used bodyguards to shield themselves from unauthorized fan cameras. Luckily drag queens are not to be messed with and for every selfie miser there was another RuGirl touting a sign saying "Free Selfie" — shade intended.
DragCon wasn't flawless. At times, it felt a little like you'd peeked behind the curtain and seen the man behind Oz. In the end, though, the love and support of the con-goers overcame the event's gaudy, consumerist side. How can it not be a magical experience to spend two days in a windowless room packed with that much sparkle and glam?!
Text Ari Ola
Photography Rachel Stern