Part 1: Parody, Realness, and Tales From the First Drag Con

Earlier this month Rupaul’s Drag Con descended upon the Los Angeles Convention Center for the “first drag convention in herstory.”  As a dedicated dress scholar and fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I honored my intellectual responsibilities and purchased a $50 pass for the two day event, held May 16th and 17th.  I planned to engage in serious “deep hanging out” and visit the booths, meet the queens, talk with fans, and attend panels, which had names like “Face, Face, Face: How to Beat That Mug to Perfection.”  As this is the first known drag convention, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I did go in armed with a list of questions:  Who would attend?  How many people would be there?  What would we learn from the panels?  How would drag culture be taught and consumed at the first drag convention? 

Drag Con program
My Drag Con program

On Thursday May 14th I received an email from DragCon producers World of Wonder advising me to pick up my laminated pass as early as Friday 4pm in order to avoid lines on Saturday morning.  Friday afternoon I went to the eerily abandoned West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center where I picked up my pass attached to a black lanyard along with two copies of the DragCon program.  That evening I pored over 21 pages of advertisements, panel descriptions, timetables, and autograph schedules.  The program’s page one welcome letter from RuPaul aimed to set the convention tenor:

"Oh my GAG!

I can’t believe this is really happening!

Flashback to a ‘special’ little boy growing up in San Diego, California.

I felt like an alien, biding my time before I could escape and find my tribe.

Throughout my life and career, in my music and on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I’ve been sending a message to the universe: ‘Is there anybody else out there like me?’

I’m happy to report that this weekend, the universe has answered with a resounding ‘YAAAAAAAAAAS, MAMA!’

I am so humbled and grateful that we have this place where we can all be together.

So, to all the ‘special’ children of the word [sic] I have one thing to say:

Welcome home.

Love,
RuPaul"

 

RuPaul’s letter frames the event as a welcoming and safe environment for “special” people to gather in a single place.  Yet I couldn’t help wondering what “special” meant.  RuPaul gal pal and Drag Race judge, Michelle Visage, describes herself as a bio-woman who dresses in drag.  A daily presence at Drag Con and someone Drag Race contestants often refer to as a drag queen, Michelle Visage is probably one of those “special” people RuPaul has in mind.  After all, Ru often says, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag” and even has a song repeating the catchphrase.  

Drag Con etiquette
A helpful sign at the entrance to the exhibition hall reminds convention-goers to behave respectfully
 

Drag Con, then, is for people who recognize the truthiness of this, whether you dress in high drag or not.  With such a premise, Drag Con aims to be both highly inclusive and subversive.  Though I was soon to learn how consumer oriented the convention would be thus rendering it a commercial enterprise like any other fan convention in the US, Drag Con is distinguished for its heavy use of parody to transform the ways we think about dress and gender.

 

Check back soon for more on parody’s essential place in drag and tales from Drag Con 2015!

 

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