At Rupaul’s Drag Con, the Politics are as Fierce as the Death Drops

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My fascination with drag began a few years ago when a before/after transformation photo series was circulating on the internet. Prior to that, I didn’t have much of an interest in fashion – but seeing the stunning differences that these queens could make with carefully applied makeup and dramatic wigs caught my attention in a way that no runway model ever had.

Fast-forward to this weekend, attending my first DragCon (the event is in it’s third year now) with 40,000 other fans, and my awe of these queens and the talent in the scene only continues to grow.

Accompanying me on Saturday was a coworker of mine, a huge fan of Drag Race but a first-time con goer. While both of us had sparkles in our eyes (and not just from being blessed with glitter by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence), the biggest takeaway for us both was how much love and support queens and fans alike shared throughout the day. Con floors can get busy; even at it’s most packed, people apologized for bumping into each other and you could see fans who had never met before freaking out together as one of their favorite queens walked by. The amount of positive energy in the convention was infectious, and made standing in the ridiculously long line at the Jeffree Star booth 100% worth it.

Did I mention that most of the cosmetics were on special sale and that I left that booth alone with four new colors? (I should permanently install the Kristen Wiig *help me, I’m poor* .gif on my phone after this weekend… no regrets!)

One of the first things I noticed walking in was that the harassment policy was upfront: both on the website and on the con floor, it was impossible to miss the signs reminding everyone that Drag Is Not Consent, and to always ask permission before touching or taking pictures of someone. Given the numerous instances of cosplay harassment that have come to light in the past few years, and several conventions that have failed to address harassment concerns or implement harassment policies altogether, it was refreshing to know that Mama Ru prioritized the queens’ safety and comfort above all else, and was going to make sure everyone knew it.

The other topic you couldn’t miss: politics. I had basic knowledge of the role drag played in modern social movements (mostly learnt through the coverage of how inaccurate the 2015 film Stonewall was). Yet until I was listening to these queens talk about their influences, I didn’t realize how entrenched activism was in the drag culture. Throughout the floor were signs reminding attendees to call their representatives in Congress, a message that at least half the speakers echoed in both panels we went to. The ACLU had a booth, and several panels were dedicated to drag as a political statement: “The Art of Resistance”, and Teen Vogue’s “Drag In Trump’s America”.

 

“Call members of congress: calling is the most effective way to have your voice heard.”

 

There was a powerful theme running through both panels: the power of art in it’s many variations, and intersectionality. The cultural shift that began decades ago with John Waters’ introduction of Divine led to a pop culture climate where a show like Drag Race has introduced the largest queer/trans/POC cast in the history of television to a mainstream audience. Much of this audience lives in communities where LGBTQIA+ culture isn’t visible; entertainment acts as the first gateway to a broader understanding. And though this social shift is beginning to take hold, Bob the Drag Queen, Alaska, and Eureka O’Hare all emphasized in the Teen Vogue panel that supporting all voices within our communities is going to be the way we keep the momentum going.

Drag culture is now more on display than it ever has been – a movement that was once based on being almost completely referential now being referenced by mainstream culture. With shows like Lip Sync Battle stemming from the popularity of Drag Race’s “Lip Sync For Your Life” segments and celebrity fashion sometimes lifting directly from an outfit hand-made by a queen, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, younger generations are now more comfortable with LGBTQIA+ people than any time in American history. On the other, this unattributed lifting marginalizes a minority group even further, perpetuating the cycle of invisibility that so many have fought hard to break.

From the atmosphere at DragCon, that fight isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Strolling through crowds of people exuberantly celebrating the unconventional, it’s not hard to believe that despite all the struggle, love will prevail. Perhaps Bob put it best at the end of the Teen Vogue panel: when asked if she agreed with the phrase “In politically treacherous times, drag becomes stronger”, she altered the phrase slightly: “In politically treacherous times, art becomes stronger.”

If that’s the case, in the next few years, art is going to SLAY.

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