I Met My Idols at the Biggest Drag Convention in America
Over 40,000 people attended RuPaul’s Drag Con this year, and every single one of them was in my personal space.
Naomi Smalls / Instagram
This article was originally published on VICE Canada.
All illustrations by the author.
So I went to RuPaul's Drag Con last weekend in LA. Never having been to a convention in general, never mind Drag Con, I really didn't know what to expect. My goal was to track down a few of my favorite drag queens from Drag Race and ask them what it's like to be a famous reality TV drag queen.
Walking up to the convention center, I saw a long line of people snaked out the door, waiting to pick up their passes. I saw one queen in a full body latex suit panting and swaying in the direct sunlight. Another complained about the fucked up tan lines they were going to get if the line didn't start moving faster. Overall, everyone's excitement seemed to outweigh the setbacks, and there was a buoyant charm in the air. Once I realized I didn't have to wait in that line, I shed a single tear of happiness and picked up my press pass. This caper definitely relied on me pretending I'm a real journalist.
The security was remarkably lax. No pat downs or bag checks. If I wasn't sober I definitely would have snuck in liquor and coke and been getting fucked up in a bathroom stall. [Drag Con organizers: if you just read that, disregard it. Security was perfect, great job, don't change a thing].
Once I was inside, I quickly realized how fucking insane it was going to be. I don't do well in crowds or in heat, so I was already at a disadvantage. I was sweating like a hog and looking significantly less cute than most of the people there. You get a sense of the fandom surrounding these queens from their platforms on social media, but seeing it represented as actual physical bodies is staggering. A train of screaming fans would follow the more popular queens wherever they went, with their escorts trying to assuage the congestion by smiling and declining photos. It was so crowded at some points over the weekend that I was stuck standing in one spot for twenty minutes on the verge of a panic attack. Over 40,000 people attended Drag Con this year, and every single one of them was in my personal space.
It seemed like a lot of Drag Con consists of waiting in lines for the opportunity to meet your idols. Fans patiently stood, some excitedly giddy, some shaking and crying. It was like watching the fervor of Beatlemania, but with more wigs and tucked dicks. I understand their commitment. I love drag queens. They're one of my favorite subjects to draw. I was nervous to interview them, but as the self-designated Erin Brockovich of Drag Con, it was my duty to ask them the hard-hitting questions, and get to the bottom of this mystery. I'm just kidding. There's no mystery—all of these queens are very deservedly famous. (Except notoriously problematic makeup icon and non drag queen, Jeffree Star, whose line was just as long, and whose handlers wouldn't let me get an ironic photo with him, which is probably for the best.)
(Okay maybe I was salty about it.)
I put a lot (probably an unhealthy amount) of thought into what it would be like to be a famous drag queen. So I knew what I wanted to ask them. I asked them the few questions that I ask myself when I am having an imaginary, delusional interview in the mirror with lipstick on.
Talking with Sasha Velour, a clear frontrunner (and my favorite) contestant on the current season of Drag Race, was easy. She's articulate and kind natured. I ask her something I often wonder: "Do you feel a loss of identity as your Self when you're getting so much recognition performing as a persona? Do you feel the need to keep both sides segregated?"
"It's early in my journey, but I don't feel a loss of identity because drag is who I am," she says. "Blending personas is what I am about."
She's right. There aren't very many bald queens, and her drag is stunning performance art. Good answer, Sasha Velour. Next I go hunting for Naomi Smalls, my favorite queen from season eight of Drag Race. Good god, pretend journalism is exhausting.
I catch up with Naomi backstage between meet and greets while she's touching up her makeup. I invite her to sit, but she says her tuck will pop out if she tries. I ask her one of the burning questions I would ask myself. "Do you feel like fans ever go over the line when they're interacting with you?"
"I'm really lucky. My fan base is mostly teenage girls, so they can't get into the clubs anyway. I don't like it when drunk people grab at me," she says, smiling. I debate grabbing a slice of sweaty cheese from the platter that's clearly been sitting backstage since the morning, but don't want to look like the greaseball that I truly am inside in front of a stunning icon.
That question is funny coming from me, who's literally stalking them at a convention for this interview. Next I find my ultimate favorite (don't tell Sasha and Naomi). Violet Chachki won season seven, and is heavily influenced by vintage erotica and sexual subversion, which is why she snags a special place in my heart.
"What's it like having those sexualized influences and having such young fans? Do you ever feel the need to censor yourself?" I ask her.
"Not at all," she answers curtly. "I mean, I sold ball gags as merch and kids bought them," she laughs. It's true, she did. In all honesty, I knew she was going to say that. It's pretty plainly obvious that she does what she wants. Drag isn't about censorship, it's about self expression.
At the end of the day, Drag Con was a fucking blast. It's so great to see that much queer camaraderie united under a giant roof. I'm already trying to figure out how to weasel my way into the one they just announced in New York this fall.