“We are here to entertain, to celebrate and to spread the love!” So proclaimed the namesake creator of RuPaul’s DragCon, as he (out of drag) cut the official ribbon during the ceremonial kick off event at the L.A. Convention Center. Celebrating all things drag, the con (which just finished its fifth year in Los Angeles this past Memorial Day weekend) was bursting with queens, vendors, artists and fans, all coming together to celebrate creative dress up, the LGBTQ community, art and love. Though still in its infancy as a convention, the growing pains are obviously being worked out, and all in all, 2019’s DragCon had many incredible moments.
But before you take my word for it, let’s check in with three of the queens themselves, each coming to this year’s DragCon at a different point in their career. First up we have a DragCon virgin from the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Shuga Cain. “It has been absolutely amazing. It is just overwhelming, there’s so many amazing queens here and vendors,” she says. “It’s amazing just meeting everyone and having these moments. It’s what I live for.”
Season seven and All Stars 2 queen Katya Zamolodchikova is a seasoned vet of DragCon. So has this year been any different for her? “This year I have a stalker, so that’s been exciting, a little legal drama. And I also have not used the bathroom. I’m unable to go to the bathroom during the day at all so that’s a fun physical challenge,” Katya jokes. “And then I just finally signed some guy’s ass. I have to tell you, I’m an ass person and on a scale of one to ten, it was a 26. I’m still having to process. It almost got a little bit sexual assault-y but thank God it didn’t!”
Gia Gunn has also attended many DragCons since her first appearance on season six, but this year was her first DragCon since her season of All Stars 4 aired earlier this year, and her second DragCon since revealing she was transitioning to become a woman. Gia definitely used her platform to support her community. “This has been the best DragCon that I’ve had in about three years. I’m here living my truth, I’m here supported by the Trans Wellness Center and I’m serving my community,” she says. “I mean what more could we possibly be doing at a time like right now? I’m absolutely delighted to be here, I’m embracing everybody’s energy and everybody’s great feedback, it’s really, really inspiring for me.”
Gia wasn’t the only one using DragCon to help inspire change. Many queens were there to comment on the current political landscape. One of the most powerful commentaries came from Biqtch Puddin’, the winner of season of two of The Boulet Brothers’ TV competition Dragula. At the Boulet Brothers’ unofficial Friday night Monster Ball party, Biqtch performed a lip-sync to the abortion song from Bojack Horseman which has lyrics like, “Kill that fetus/From the womb to the tomb.”
At the end of the performance, she held up a giant flag with the words, “Women should have a choice.” This performance harkened back to the very roots of drag being a political, in your face, controversial art form and it was amazing to see. In addition to the queens themselves, many nonprofits had booths at the event, including the Human Rights Campaign, and volunteers were going around registering people to vote. There were also signs on display such as, “Hey Kitty Girl, do you know who your representative and senators are?” with info on how to find out.
But enough with the heavy stuff. At DragCon, the queens’ booths were as usual, the most popular. It’s pretty standard for queens to have a minimum merch purchase that gets access to a meet and greet. Most of the queens went all out with their booths so the fan photos were artistic and fun. Unfortunately, some queens were being a little more greedy than others in terms of their merchandise minimum (although some changed their minimum over the course of the weekend based on demand).
Manila Luzon, for example, fresh off her popularity from this last season of All Stars had a $50 minimum on Friday night. $50 seems a little steep to me, especially for young fans, and it also seemed a little questionable to be charging so much on the night that arguably had the most die-hard fans in attendance. Individual day passes could be purchased for Saturday and Sunday, but fans could only attend Friday night with a VIP or full weekend badge. Note to fans for next year: although a handful of queens did not arrive until Saturday, Friday night is the night to go to avoid the massive lines on Saturday and Sunday … if you can afford it.
RuPaul himself also seemed to make some changes this year. He did two DJ sets on the main stage, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, and drastically scaled down his booth. Every past year, it had dresses he wore on display but this year’s booth was extremely small. He also did not offer any meet and greets this year, which he had previously done as well. Perhaps he’s getting a little sick of doing them every year, but here’s hoping he does them again in 2020 because I really think that fans should have the chance to meet the ultimate RuPaul’s DragCon royal.
He also did away with his annual Keynote panel at the end of the day Sunday, which was replaced by two “RuTalks,” one on Saturday with the Pit Crew from Drag Race and one on Sunday with comedian Nicole Byer. In this respect, I really think the “RuTalks” worked a lot better as panels than his keynotes did.
Ru was able to play off his guest’s energies, and especially with a comedian as funny as Buyer, it really set them up for some candidly funny moments. The “RuTalk” also balanced out the humor with some real talk as well, exploring subjects like implicit bias and black rage. This seemed to keep the audience more engaged than the keynote lectures did in the past.
In terms of the rest of the panels, they seemed to be overall slightly lackluster compared to recent years. Sure, there were the staples like the special DragCon editions of Fashion Photo Ruview, Alyssa’s Secret and Katya and Trixie’s UNHhhh, but there have been more monumental panels in the past like Sasha Velour talking about the resistance or a bunch Miss Congenialities coming together to discuss their title. The Comedy Queen panel on Friday night was a hilarious breath of fresh air, however, especially when the queens had a little fun with the sign language interpreters at the front of the panel, making him sign words like “vagina.” Season two queen Pandora Boxx and season 11’s Nina West even jokingly made out during the panel twice!
And finally, what about the afterparties? While there were many unofficial events going on throughout the city over the weekend, such as Queen of Angels L.A.’s nightly afterparties or Alaska’s Drag Queen of the Year pageant on Sunday night, I attended DragCon’s two official parties at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel, both produced by Voss Events, the team behind the official tour of Drag Race, Werq The World. Saturday night was “World of Queens,” which featured some of the most popular Drag Race alums including Kameron Michaels and Asia O’Hara, who also served as hostess. Season eight winner Bob The Drag Queen showed off some killer dance moves and did some quick stand up, while Detox also had some amazing moves during her neon-centric performance and season ten winner Aquaria flew high in the air like Elphaba in Wicked.
Sunday night not only marked the end of the convention, it was the kick off of the official Season 11 Tour, hosted by Drag Race judge Michelle Visage and featuring performances from every queen on the current season. The night was definitely stolen by Yvie Oddly, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Shuga Cain and Nina West. Based on the performances from this show alone, they should have definitely been the top four (we find out who wins the season this Thursday, with the final four being Yvie, Brooke Lynn, Silky Ganache, who sang “At Last” live for her performance and A’Keria C. Davenport, who showed off some great twerking).
Overall, despite a few hiccups here and there, DragCon is a history-making event that has become important for the LGBTQ community in general. Every year numerous children are in attendance, from 12-year-olds asking questions in panels, to the tiny ones playing around in the interactive Kids Zone, which includes “Drag Queen Story Hour.” As RuPaul himself said, “Five years in, RuPaul’s DragCon has become the most inclusive party on earth — a safe place to laugh, dance and celebrate every color of the rainbow.” He definitely gets an amen up in here for making it so.