At RuPaul's DragCon, the first convention dedicated to RuPaul's Drag Race, the exhibit hall sparkled with glitter makeup and rhinestone-encrusted clothing. Fans of Logo's hit reality competition show swarmed overwhelmingly dressed for the occasion, some in full drag, others in fashionable attire better suited for a night at a club than a day at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The guests, most of whom were contestants on Drag Race, often towered above the crowd in spectacularly high heels and even bigger hair. They were instantly recognizable, even in a crowded room, and were frequently swarmed by fans requesting a moment for a selfie as onlookers shouted their names. Names like Latrice Royale, Alyssa Edwards and Mrs. Kasha Davis might be relatively obscure to those outside of the Drag Race fandom. Here, though, they are treated with the same kind of adoration and fanaticism tht one might expect for Beyoncé or Rihanna.
Outside the exhibit hall, fans had the chance to check out panels on everything from drag how-tos to LGBT issues. Beneath the glamorous makeup and extravagant outfits that have lured viewers to the show are stories about people who have struggled to come out of the closet, to live life on their own terms and to raise families of their own. This weekend was a chance for Drag Race fans to learn more about their favorite queens.
On Saturday morning, shortly after the convention center opened its doors for Drag Race fans, a small crowd gathered to hear seventh-season contestants Mrs. Kasha Davis and Tempest DuJour, along with second-season champion Tyra Sanchez, talk about life with their kids. Often funny, and sometimes heartbreaking, "Drag Daddies: The Secrets of Fierce Fatherhood," moderated by actor Alec Mapa, delved into the various issues that come into play as LGBT rights are increasing in some parts of the nation and drag queens are gaining mainstream visibility.
Each person has a different story. Tyra Sanchez fathered a child while still in high school. Mrs. Kasha Davis became a stepparent to two girls who are now young adults. Tempest DuJour and husband went through a foster-to-adopt program with two children. The latter, DuJour explained, was an alternative to the hardships the couple faced while trying to adopt in their Arizona home county, where they often were passed over in favor of heterosexual couples.
Talking about their lives as dads led to reflections on other aspects of their life experiences. Davis talked about being disowned at the age of 28, after marrying and divorcing a woman, before later finding acceptance in the drag community in Rochester, New York. DuJour, who is a costume design professor at University of Arizona, grew up Mormon and went through years of reparative therapy before coming out as gay.
But times are changing, they noted. DuJour mentioned leaving drag supplies out for a home inspection during the adoption process. It did not become an issue. As for the kids, DuJour says that having one dad who performs in drag is "their normal." Everyone on the panel appeared to agree that kids don't have the same views about gender and sexuality that adults do.
"Drag Daddies" showed how increased visibility of drag can help change the perception of homosexuality in the mainstream. "Drag performers have always been role models within the LGBT community," says Sister Leigh Viticus of Sisters of Perpetual indulgence, the long-running activist group that uses drag to help raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and other issues. "Now, they're open to a much wider audience."
The Drag Race contestants are finding out just how much of an impact their appearances on the show can make as fans look to them for inspiration. Speaking with L.A. Weekly, DuJour mentions hearing from other people struggling with issues such as reparative therapy, and who also come from religious backgrounds that frown upon homosexuality. "It's been almost overwhelming and amazing to think that I could reach out and help people that way," DuJour says. "It sounds so cliché to say that it's a blessing, but I feel like it's a real blessing in my life that drag could be bigger for me than just performing."
DuJour adds, "I know how hard it was for me and my generation to struggle being gay and coming out. It's a lot easier in some ways now, but the internal struggle is the same for everyone."
Meanwhile, Davis has noticed just how much times have changed while meeting fans who are children and teenagers at the convention with their parents. Davis tells L.A. Weekly, "That's the world that I wanted to see and I'm so proud to be a part of it."
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