Part 5: Parody, Realness, and Tales from the First Drag Con

By day 2 of Drag Con I was feeling up to the task of meeting queens and exploring the exhibition hall.  The first order of business, however, was to drop into the 10am session, “Face, Face, Face: How to Beat That Mug to Perfection.”  The panelists included queens Tatianna and Trixie Mattel along with makeup artist Kevin James Bennett.  As someone who wears as little makeup as possible, I was curious to learn what sort of advice the panelists would offer.  The room was ¾ full with about 100 in attendance—a good turnout considering that the same panel had been held the previous day. 

"Face, Face, Face"
"Face, Face, Face: How to Beat That Mug to Perfection" (l-r): Trixie Mattel, Tatianna, Kevin James Bennet

Trixie—twice eliminated from season 7—was the panel’s most vocal person, dishing up the occasional shady comment.  She has not yet been “handled” to the point of blandness and so her commentary was refreshing.  She offered practical advice such as urging Tatianna and others not to use inappropriate, toxic adhesives to apply eyelashes.  Tatianna said very little—though she did protest that toxic adhesives are really effective—while Kevin memorably and bitchily noted that Kim Kardashian’s famous contouring techniques have been practiced by drag queens for years. 

At 11:00 I hightailed it over to “Women Who Love Drag: The Biological Perspective.”  I had my doubts about this one.  The panel title struck me as self-helpy but since RuPaul bestie Michelle Visage was the moderator it seemed worthwhile.  Panel guests were legendary actress/singer Sheryl Lee Ralph and the young singer Jordin Sparks.

"Women Who Love Drag"
"Women Who Love Drag" (l-r): Jordin Sparks, Michelle Visage, Sheryl Lee Ralph

With nearly 200 people filling the seats, “Women Who Love Drag” was well attended.  Whether people attended chiefly to see the celebrity panelists or because they were interested in the subject matter is unclear.  Whatever their reasons for attending, the audience responded well to the positive messages of self-love and self-acceptance.  Indeed the tears and smiles I saw confirmed the program’s promise that, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to tuck!”  Michelle Visage and Sheryl Lee Ralph shared stories from their youth about not quite fitting in or otherwise being found undesirable by others.  They steered clear of vapidly promising that “it gets better” and instead talked about how they found their “tribe.” 

"Women Who Love Drag" audience
A full house for the "Women Who Love Drag" panel

In talking with the audience, Michelle Visage described how after graduating from high school in 1986, she moved to New York City to study acting.  She says that because there was no social media or Internet to facilitate meeting people, she had to make friends by going out, which her mother encouraged her to do by getting the young Visage a fake ID that said she was a University of Texas student. 

Meeting Michelle Visage
Enjoying a kiki with Michelle Visage: "Can we please do something about these hideous flourescent lights?  Maybe tent the hall next year?"

“I’m clearly not a Texan.  Not that I don’t love my Texans but I scream New Jersey.” 

Out by herself at The Underground nightclub with her Texas ID, Visage met a young man who took her into a back room where she says she saw:

“twenty to thirty of the freakiest, weirdest group of misfits that I had ever seen.  And I knew at that moment I was home.  [applause]  That was my tribe.  I knew that was where I belonged.  There were all sorts of people there.  There were femme queens and butch queens and drag queens and they were doing something that I had never seen before, which ended up being vogueing.  So a long story really, really short.  That’s how I got involved in the Christopher Street—I was a pure [?] queen—and that’s how I got involved in ball walking and the underground kind of Harlem ballroom scene.  Mine was a different approach but all drag queens and femme queens, we were all involved in that, which is how I became a part of the community.  And I knew instantly that the love was real, it wasn’t manufactured.  I knew I wasn’t being judged for who I was or what I wore or what I could do for somebody.  They loved me because I was me.  These kids were ostracized by their parents.  They were kicked out of their homes.  Mothers and fathers didn’t want them for various reasons, mostly because they were gay.  And that’s when I knew I had a place in society and it was to be . . . to fight for the rights of people who didn’t have a voice, didn’t have a home, were afraid to speak up.  And that’s why I’m where I am.” 

“Drag means freedom for me.  Drag means self-expression and drag means I can be the woman that I am today, all because of drag.”

Visage went on to say that RuPaul is correct in observing “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” 

“It’s all drag.  It’s all the way you look at it.  And when I get dressed, everyday, even in my track mom sweat suits with my hair in a really coiffed bun with some lip gloss, I do it with a drag queen on my mind.  I do it thinking, how will I be judged?  And sometimes harshly but that’s ok.”

As a kind of elder stateswoman, Michelle Visage validated her experience through re-telling a story about personal transformation, through testifying—not unlike the first-encounter-with-RuPaul testimonials that fans had shared with me.  [Coincidentally, Visage has a self-help book due out later this year, The Diva Rules: Ditch the Drama, Find Your Strength, and Sparkle Your Way to the Top.]  Moreover, at the conference and in other contexts Visage presents herself as a role model of self-empowerment, particularly for younger Drag Race fans. Ultimately Drag Con, says Visage, is about creating a place for people to meet their tribe members.  

During the Q&A session one audience member proactively created an opportunity to meet members of his tribe.  He told the panel that he was a straight man who likes to dress in drag. Dating is difficult, he said.  How could he meet someone who would be ok with his cross-dressing?  Visage asked the audience, “How many women here would be into dating a man who cross dresses?”  At least 10 hands shot up.  One hopes he collected a few phone numbers after the session ended.  After all, what better place for a straight cross dresser to meet a potential lover than a panel for “Women Who Love Drag”?

 

Don’t forget to catch up on earlier installments of “Parody, Realness, and Tales from the First Drag Con”:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

 

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