Part 3: Parody, Realness, and Tales from the First Drag Con

Shyness in the company of queens is real.  One way to combat such Drag Con anxiety is to take a seat in the audience for live tapings of “Wait a Minute" with TS Madison and “Alyssa’s Secret,” held consecutively on the first day of Drag Con. 

Drag is steeped in humor and fans seem to love a queen who can make them laugh.  “Wait a Minute” is a World of Wonder-produced web series featuring transgender queen TS Madison.  As the title suggests, Ms. Madison interrupts the cultural conversation to make observations and to serve up advice in a thrillingly truthful and sexually explicit fashion.  A transgender black woman who has been a sex worker is likely to be verbally attacked—if not worse—in our culture.  TS Madison uses her superpowers to combat such evils.  Like so many others who have been on the fringes of society and managed to survive and even thrive, she uses humor to fight back.  She delivers honest social observations without (serious) rancor and manages simultaneously to be self-deprecating and self-loving yet never self-pitying.

The highlight of the TS Madison taping came when the cameras were shut off.  Audience members were invited to ask Ms. Madison questions.  After several predictable questions such as how to perform fellatio on a well-endowed recipient without gagging, someone asked another (predictable) question that Madison answered unpredictably, “How old were you when you realized you were transgender?”  To which TS Madison replied, “Look. There are some people who know from a young age that they were born in the wrong bodies and I respect that experience but it’s not my experience.  I chose this body.  I started out as a cross-dresser and then I had different surgeries and decided to be the way I am.”

In an era where some highly visible transgender women essentialize womanhood to being “born this way” without considering how environment affects a brain’s development to inform gender or even allowing for choice, TS Madison is a true feminist.  My esteem and respect for this potty-mouthed, subversive sweetheart shot up.  [See Elinor Burkett’s 6/7/15 NY Times op-ed piece, “What Makes a Woman?”

At the end of the hour-long “Wait a Minute” taping, the lovable Ms. Madison sat two seats away from me to watch “Alyssa’s Secret,” which was to be filmed next.  It was 2:00 in the afternoon and Alyssa Edwards was running late.  When Ms. Madison said she was hungry, I offered her one of the dark chocolate snack bars in my bag and we bonded over treats and dirty jokes.  In the end, Alyssa was running too late for Ms. Madison’s appetite.

TS Madison and me
Cozying up with America's sweetheart, TS Madison

Alyssa Edwards is an altogether different sort of queen.  Unlike Ms. Madison who switched between onscreen and offscreen personas during the taping, there seemed to be no discernible difference between any version of Alyssa Edwards that I encountered at Drag Con.  Several days later, at the Drag Race Finale taping, Bianca Del Rio observed that Alyssa Edwards’ lack of comedic intention is precisely what makes her so funny.  In and out of drag, Alyssa Edwards appears to lack self-consciousness and conveys an earnest, almost innocent air.  A wise person does not torture others by going through life only ever “being themselves”—no one should be subjected to the unadulterated you though TS Madison’s advice to “Be yourself, bitch!” is duly noted and more a matter of authenticity than operating on the id.  And yet, there are a chosen few who, in concentrate, are a delight. 

Alyssa Edwards prepares for taping
A producer fits Alyssa Edwards with a microphone

Mind you, Alyssa Edwards is not entirely in on the joke.  As she observed at the end of the taping, “I used to think you all were laughing at me but now I figure if you’re having a good time, that’s ok.”  Eliminated in episode 9 of season 5, Alyssa Edwards is certainly one of the show’s commercial success stories.  With her own web series, gifs, and catch-phrases printed on merchandise, she has achieved a level of recognition surpassing that of some drag winners and most runners-up.  Alyssa’s charming lack of self-awareness makes her one of the most authentically camp queens in RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory.

Camp—not to be confused with kitsch though there can be overlap—is often a matter of perception and the camp object, if a person, frequently doesn’t have a clue it is the object of laughter.  Alyssa has learned that trying to be funny doesn’t work for her so savvy queen that she is, she’s made a career out of being herself, which is more than most of us can hope for. Yet Alyssa Edwards is no dummy.  She’s been quick to capitalize on what the fans like and made a point during the taping to draw attention to the various humiliations she suffered during Drag Race season 5.  Like TS Madison, she steers clear of self-pity and instead jokes about her flaws, “Back rolls?”  If you can’t laugh at yourself, how in the hell are you gonna laugh at somebody else?  Maybe that’s Alyssa’s secret . . .

Back rolls?
Souvenir postcard from Drag Con


Check back soon for more tales from Drag Con and don't forget to read Parts 1 and 2:

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