Photos by NJinLA.com
Every Friday night, I curl up in bed and gag for an hour straight as I tune into the latest episode of RuPaul's Drag Race, a reality TV competition, now in its 9th season, to find "America's next drag superstar." I've always been one to rave about how Drag Race is the best reality show on TV because, well, IT IS! In addition to serving as a platform for the LGBT community, the show features allies like Lady Gaga trolling as a contestant on this season's premiere, and addresses pertinent gay issues like coming out, mental health, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and HIV—conversations that drive gay culture positively forward into the mainstream.
As a die hard Drag Race fan, I immediately death-dropped to the floor when I heard that RuPaul would be bringing DragCon—a self-described celebration of "the art of drag, queer culture, and self expression"—back to Los Angeles for its third year. I began to fantasize about being inside the world of drag I'd only been able to experience from my TV screen, and the possibility of finally meeting my favorite drag queens in person.
Upon arriving to the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday, I couldn't help but chortle at the sight of three very distinct groups of people jumbled in the same place. Latino families just leaving Catholic mass and nerdy teen boys toting around thick binders for a Yu-Gi-Yoh! card tournament stared shocked and confused as they encountered a bunch of loud, colorful drag queens, towering over the crowd in their colossal wigs and high heels as they strutted their way onto the pink carpet of DragCon.
As I entered the West Hall, a massive 210,000 square foot expo space, I was overcome with complete sensory overload and a sharp "YASSSSSS!" blurted out of my mouth at the roaring sight before me. This year drew the largest crowd of more than 40,000 guests over the weekend, and over 200 vendor booths selling a plethora of gay and drag-related products lined the hall in rows, with clever names referencing catchphrases from the show (Dropdead Gorgeous Ave, Realness Rd, Sissy That Walkway).
Amidst all the hair and makeup booths, headlined by MySpace celeb turned YouTube vlogger turned cosmetics mogul Jeffree Star, attendees could buy items ranging from Swarovski crystal headpieces to vegan-friendly bondage wear, or get gems put on their teeth decoratively and sign up for pole dancing classes.
At the very end of the mainline of the hall on Glamazon Blvd was a display of RuPaul's most iconic fashions, worn on mannequins hanging from the ceiling, including a black and yellow SpongeBob looking number and flouncy pastel striped Flamenco dress. Adjacent was a merch front selling rare one-of-a-kind RuPaul barbie dolls and china plates. I considered taking home a RuPaul dinner set, but my appetite was satiated off all the severe looks the drag queens were serving.
In every shape, size, and color, the drag queens at DragCon gleamed from the crowd like a box of sparkling gems. From campy comedy queens (several dressed like junk food) to conceptual art queens, every type of drag was in the house. The queens that stood out the most however, had achieved a beautifully juxtaposed mashup of styles. Near the entrance of the convention, I met queens serving "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence meets The Flying Nun" and "Chola Sailor Moon Princess."
While I thought I was stunned at the outfits I watched on TV, they didn't compare to the level of detail that I saw at the convention, which can only be appreciated with one's own eyes. I was slayed by what the human body is capable of achieving through costume and makeup alone, and began to wonder why my own face was not covered in gems.
Then, there were opportunities to be "learned." The weekend's programming included beauty tutorials and speaker panels touching on a variety of topics from drag "herstory" ("90's Realness Revisited"), health ("Workouts A Drag"), entertainment ("LGBT As Seen On TV"), social media ("America's Top Beauty Bloggers"), and politics ("What Is Drag In Trump's America?"). In addition, non-profits like the ACLU and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence gave attendees an opportunity to get involved in their communities through volunteering, protesting, and #resistance toward our current state of politics.
Standing as their own micro universes, former Drag Race contestants curated elaborate booths that fully encapsulated their aesthetics. I was particularly enamored by Korean art queen Kim Chi from Season 8, whose booth was entirely covered in tiny hand-cut pastel purple paper butterflies, and retro Latina queen Valentina from Season 9's booth, dressed in velvet curtains and roses like the Palace of Versailles.
Drag Race rears overnight celebrities, which couldn't be more exemplified by the long lines of loyal fans waiting hours just to meet their drag idols, especially teenagers who aren't old enough to go to the nightclubs the drag queens perform at. With the minimum purchase of a $5 headshot, fans secured their place in line to get an autograph and do a personal meet-and-greet.
"It grows so much every year," explained Bang, a drag queen who believes drag's current wave of popularity has garnered a new generation of fans—the drag queens of the future. "Drag was always going to be big even if Drag Race wasn't around, but the show definitely made it more friendly to people who wouldn't've known about it before."
For every smile, laugh, sequin, and feather, DragCon proved to be the happiest place on the planet. And with the announcement of RuPaul's DragCon traveling to New York City for the first time this coming September, the East Coast will soon get a taste of this sickening experience.
Follow Jazper on Twitter