Shantay this way,” the giant letters read, leading everyone into the Los Angeles Convention Center. As we got off the escalator, more giant letters greeted us, words familiar to anyone who’s ever seen “RuPaul’s Drag Race”: “You’re born naked, and the rest is drag.”
Inside the hall, we spotted “Drag Race” judge Michelle Visage at her booth. A few feet away was Trinity K Bonet from Season 6, talking to fans. Morgan McMichaels (Season 2 and “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” Season 3) posed for photos inside her boxing ring. A pink-haired Adore Delano (Season 6, “All Stars” 2) was greeting a fan warmly, asking where she was from. “Poland? I’ve never been there. Tell them to book me,” she said.
This is RuPaul’s DragCon LA, where, for the fifth year now, drag queens and fans met, mixed and mingled for three glorious days of pictures, panels and performances. It’s the largest event that celebrates drag culture in the world. It’s Disneyland, Coachella, Comic-Con all rolled into one for “Drag Race” fans. And, this time, it was complete with a mascot—a Nina West one who was wearing a dress with the title of the Season 11 queen’s album “Drag is Magic.” We agree. Drag is magic.
Seeing the queens’ booths all decked out was a big part of the fun. Latrice Royale (Season 4, “All Stars” 1 and 4) went for a space theme, Kameron Michaels (Season 10) sat on a postapocalyptic throne while Aquaria’s (Season 10 winner) futuristic setup was a sight to behold.
Raja (Season 3 winner) paid tribute to her Indonesian heritage with beautiful fabrics while Mimi Imfurst (Season 3, All Stars 1) celebrated Christmas in May. Peppermint (Season 9) had a diner, Silky Nutmeg Ganache (Season 11) opened a snack shack while Shuga Cain (Season 11) ran a sweet shop.
The booth of Monét X Change (Season 10 Miss Congeniality and “All Stars” 4 winner) looked like a painting, as did Manila Luzon’s. Manila (Season 3, “All Stars” 1 and 4) wore her famous spaghetti dress on the first day but on the last day, she was dressed as a painter. “A little Bob Ross action,” she said. “I wanted to be a famous painter but I became a famous drag artist instead… this is me going back to my roots.” She raffled off the painting she did upside down in the first episode of “All Stars” 4.
Tea Renee, who won Manila’s masterpiece, said, “I’ve been a fan of Manila since forever. She’s creative and fun and just really humble. To say that I got the actual painting is mind-blowing. Amazing.”
‘Best day of my life’
Gia Gunn (Season 6, “All Stars” 4) had set up a garden, with rose petals all over and giant butterfly wings that served as a backdrop for photos. We snapped a picture of Gia with a fan who turned out to be half-Filipino. “My mom’s from Baguio,” Nicole Van Bebber told us, exclaiming, “This is the best day of my life!”
We knew the feeling. Our head was spinning from being surrounded by so many of the queens who had us riveted when we watched “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It was so overwhelming that we had to send a quick voice message to a friend, squealing (and unwittingly quoting RuPaul’s latest single), “There are queens everywhere!”
Queens were everywhere. Soju. Scarlet Envy. “All Stars” 2 winner Alaska. “All Stars” 4 winner Trinity the Tuck. A’keria Chanel Davenport. Darienne Lake. Ariel Versace. Detox. Eureka O’Hara. Honey Davenport. Rajah O’Hara. Naomi Smalls. TaMMie Brown. Milk. So many more.
Friday was just the preview day but already, the line to meet fan favorite Trixie Mattel (Season 7 and winner of “All Stars” 3) was crazy long. She sat on a giant coin-operated mechanical lipstick —the perfect way to announce the launch of her makeup line Trixie Cosmetics at DragCon. There were long lines for beloved Nina and her fellow Season 11 queen Yvie Oddly, too.
“Drag Race” queens aren’t the only queens you’ll meet at DragCon. Many go as exhibitors and attendees.
We ran into a queen who was gold from head to toe—even her face was covered in gold glitter—and we were surprised to hear her speak Filipino. Her name? Bombalicious Eklaver. “I’m Princess Golda today,” she said, telling us she’s been doing drag in Virginia and Washington DC for three years now. In the next days of DragCon, she channeled her Filipino roots by wearing a terno and then going dressed as a sarimanok.
Queen of the North
Brooke Lynn Hytes, Queen of the North and Drag Race season 11 runner-up, was snacking on M&Ms in between posing for photos with fans. When it was our turn, we asked her, “How are you so gorgeous in and out of drag?”
She smiled sweetly and said, “Jesus.”
Just before DragCon closed for the day, we spotted our favorite Miss Vanjie (Seasons 10 and 11) out of drag at her booth, an all-red laundromat. “I’ll be here tomorrow, I promise,” she told excited fans.
We wondered that first day: Would we really spend three days at DragCon? Wouldn’t we get tired of it? The answer was yes, halleloo, we would, and no, hell no, henny.
The next day, after the “Drag Race” stars sashayed down the pink carpet, RuPaul started his first ever DJ set at DragCon with the song “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs. “Feel free to dance,” he said. “There should be more dancing in the world.”
People hit the main stage to dance while Ru vogued, blew kisses and kept the tunes coming from his DJ tower. “All right, y’all, let’s have a disco party in the daytime,” he said.
Were we really watching this drag icon, whose has paved the way for so many of the queens today, dance and groove to Rihanna and Whitney Houston? We felt like pinching ourselves. That’s how DragCon feels—it’s like being in a beautiful dream, a dream where streets are called Death Drop Alley, Backrolls Boulevard, Sissy That Walkway and Tongue Pop Road and rooms are called Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent.
‘Nothing like it’
We saw RuPaul up close during RuTalks: Pit Crew, his panel with “Drag Race” Pit Crew members Jason Carter, Shawn Morales and Bruno Alcantara. Jason said, “‘Drag Race’ has changed so many people’s lives. It brings so many people together. There has been nothing like it ever… I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”
A fan from Seattle told RuPaul she’s at DragCon with her mom and little brother. Ru responded, “I’ve always said, a family that DragCons together, stays together. I think that’s so lovely. I think you’re so lucky to have a mother who’s so smart and so lovely and so open.”
There were a lot of families at DragCon. A young boy in a sequined dress and sneakers and his dad waited in line to meet Nina West. Nina, who we fell in love with even more after seeing how kind and genuine she is (it’s really no surprise that she’s Season 11’s Miss Congeniality), spent time talking to the kid and joking around with him. Nina then hugged his dad, kissed his cheek and she asked one of her booth girls to give them a shirt before saying goodbye. It was just one of many magical moments we witnessed over the weekend.
At the panel WOW Presents Plus: Alyssa’s Secret, a mom said to Alyssa Edwards (Season 5, “All Stars” 2), “I have a 17-year-old daughter who I brought here. She identifies as queer. We live in a very small town like you and as soon as people hear that, that’s how they categorize her. She’s an amazing artist, she’s the kindest person I ever met in my life but (being gay) is all they want to talk to her about. How can I help people see what an interesting person she is?”
Alyssa said, “You’re already doing that by supporting her. Where’s your daughter? Make sure you go to school, make good grades, do all your chores because you are very blessed to have a mother that loves you for who you are… I think people are curious about something they don’t know… All you should do is share your story. My daughter’s artistic, her favorite color is red, on weekends we go bowling… you don’t have to necessarily steer the conversation with ‘she’s gay’… Celebrate your daughter. Because before she took one breath, she lived inside you. Education and knowledge are key and power and just continue that good fight. And thank you, you all applaud her. We need more moms like you.”
“We are here to entertain, to celebrate, and to spread the love,” RuPaul said.
DragCon is not just about being fierce and fabulous—it’s also about being woke. While waiting in line for their queens, people can also register to vote in the US elections. There’s also a booth that encourages attendees to “kiki with your congress members.”
We met Mercedes Iman Diamond (Season 11) at her booth. When we saw that she was selling “Opalence” pins, we knew we had to buy them. (We love a queen with a sense of humor.) That was her viral moment on the show, the acting challenge that launched a million memes: when she had difficulty pronouncing the word “opulence.” Mercedes, who is originally from Kenya, is the first Muslim “Drag Race” contestant. She is such a sweetheart.
“Drag Race” has bagged nine Emmys and spawned so many memes and so many catchphrases that being part of the fandom means sharing inside jokes with millions of people. And being in DragCon is being put in the same room as thousands and thousands of them—and that was absolutely delicious.
We grinned as we heard an attendee say, “Let me feel my oats,” as she walked by Gia’s booth.
“And I oop!” we heard Jasmine Masters (Season 7, “All Stars” 4) say as we approached her booth and we felt like we won the lottery.
For many attendees, DragCon was a chance to walk into the world of “Drag Race,” a world that has brought them so much joy. (You can even Lip Sync For Your Life or pose in the Werk Room.) Yvie Oddly, who was crowned the Season 11 winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” just days after DragCon, said, “I really do love ‘Drag Race’ because it’s given so many girls an opportunity to fight and elbow our way into pop culture whether or not they want us. Bitches are in Starbucks commercials and sh_t. We’re making music, we’re expanding the idea of what it means to be a drag queen and what it means to be a queer person.”
“Are you related to Yvie Oddly?” one attendee asked another while waiting for a panel to start.
“I wish!” was the quick reply.
We watched a girl fall on her knees to worship Sharon Needles (Season 4 winner) as she walked by. Plastique Tiara’s (Season 11) beauty took our breath away. (It’s like she was born with filters.) We got two hugs from Vanjie.
We talked to Brooke again. She looked amazing in her red dress. “It feels crazy, it’s nuts, I’ve been taking pictures for eight hours today. I love it, I’m having so much fun,” she said.
“Toddy? Is that Toddy?” Monét X Change said and we watched her have a mini reunion with “Drag Race” guest judge Todrick Hall.
“Hi! Mabuhay!” said Monique Heart (Season 10, “All Stars” 4) when she heard that we were from the Philippines.
A fan asked Alyssa, “I came all the way from Hong Kong to see you. I would like to know, who is your favorite drag daughter?”
The crowd at the panel ooh-ed and laughed and Alyssa, who stars in the Netflix docuseries “Dancing Queen” and who is the drag mother to a lot of queens including Shangela Laquifa Wadley (Seasons 2 and 3, “All Stars” 3), Laganja Estranja (Season 6) and Plastique, laughed and said in her charming Texan accent, “You traveled all the way from Hong Kong to ask me some bullsh_t? And all of you in this room are so nasty for laughing at that. You are so nasty on the Lord’s Day. Y’all should be ashamed. I can’t say because every story is different. That’s like saying which shade of pink you like the best. I’m proud of all of them… This is my family. I’m very fortunate that I have so many beautiful souls around me.”
Many people do travel a long way to go to DragCon. One fan gave Blair St. Clair (Season 10) a photo collage with the note, “I’m your biggest fan in Japan. I love your fashion, the way you think, everything! I came all the way from Japan to see you again!”
We stopped by Jiggly Caliente’s (Season 4) booth and told her we had been looking for her. Her Tagalog tweets never fail to make us laugh. “Bring ‘Drag Race’ to the Philippines,” she said. “I’ll host it, I’m bilingual. I’ll do it.”
At the wildly popular WOW Presents Plus: UNHhhh panel, a fan asked Trixie and Katya Zamolodchikova (Season 7, “All Stars” 2), “If you can be any kind of soup, what would you be and why?”
“Baby, it’s butternut squash for me, all day long,” Katya said.
Another fan asked them which drag queen they would eat if their private jet crash landed on an island and Trixie said, “I’m a vegeterian and I think if I ate Courtney Act (Season 6), she’s so vegan that if you cut her open it would be just cauliflower… but I would die starving and happy that I was ever on a private jet in the first place.”
The panels were entertaining but they were also a place for serious discussion.
At The Exchange of Pop and Drag panel, Yvie said, “I think a major part of it is understanding the history of where drag, at least in our culture, has come from and it’s come from a lot of gay and trans people, people of color, who didn’t have have other forms of expression and aren’t allowed to be their genuine selves walking down the streets. This is why I think drag is so magical for so many of us, because your first time getting into drag, you feel like you’re allowed to be absolutely anyone.”
Yvie also said, “Drag in society’s eyes is still kind of a joke. When the wider world thinks of drag, they think ‘man in a dress’ and a man in a dress is only something that’s okay for them to process if they’re like, ‘Ho ho! That’s funny! Look at that man in that dress! Robin Williams in a dress! That’s gay, bro, but he’s not gay!’ So for me, part of being a drag queen is realizing that people have always seen me as a little bit of a joke for being effeminate or weird or whatever and embracing that. ‘Well, yes, I am a joke. So I’m just going to take this joke too far.’”
As the last day of RuPaul’s DragCon LA began winding down, we started to feel sad. DragCon had been such a happy, positive, inclusive, warm place and we were going to miss it. We were going to miss being surrounded by towering glamazons, seeing so much color and basking in the freedom of expression. We were even going to miss constantly being surprised by the sound of people thwoorping their fans. But then we remembered the glittery Uber backseat.
After the second day of DragCon, an Uber picked us up and we saw red glitter all over the backseat. “Yeah, she really left a statement,” said the Uber driver, a serious middle-aged man who told us that he had picked up a queen from DragCon the day before. Then he told us about how he had gotten Raja as a passenger during DragCon last year and we ended up having a lovely conversation about drag culture and acceptance.
It was this memory that sent us marching straight to Trixie Mattel’s booth to buy Sparkles and Sprinkles from Trixie Cosmetics. We were going to bring some of the magic home.
“We have no idea what we’re going to do with these. But we thought, why not?” we told the girl ringing up our purchase.
She looked at us, her cheeks streaked with sparkles, and said, “You know what, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Why don’t I wear more glitter?”
Outside, while waiting for our Uber, we spotted Nina West and her team leaving. They were always among the last to close their booth so Nina could meet as many fans as she could. Patricia, one of the people running Nina’s booth, said to us, “I feel like I know you now.”
“You guys worked so hard. You made so many people happy,” we said.
“Oh, we loved it. Nina loved it,” she said.
We were ending our DragCon experience by going to one of the official after parties: the kickoff show of the RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 11 Tour.
As we walked toward The Theatre at Ace Hotel, we looked up to see a rainbow cutting across the gloomy sky. “How apt,” we thought, smiling for the millionth time that DragCon weekend.
RuPaul’s DragCon LA is presented by RuPaul and World of Wonder Productions. RuPaul’s DragCon New York is happening on Sept. 6-8. Visit www.rupaulsdragcon.