Drag royalty fills the Jacob Javits Center
By Olivia Langenberg
Staff Drag Queen
RuPaul is arguably one of the most famous drag queens of all time. Some may know RuPaul due to his reality TV series, RuPaul’s Drag Race, which first aired in 2009. However you may know him, it is certain that RuPaul has introduced many to the art of drag. Due to the massive success of the TV show, DragCon, a convention to celebrate the drag community, came to Los Angeles in 2015. Attendance tripled over the following two years, so RuPaul brought DragCon to New York City this year on September 9 and 10, and I found myself there among 35,000 other attendees.
So what was the atmosphere of DragCon like? DragCon took place at the Jacob Javits Convention Center near Chelsea. Just after stepping off the 7 train, my eyes were greeted by some of the most eclectic individuals I’ve ever seen. People wearing big wigs, high stilettos, intricate makeup, and bright colored outfits lit up the streets. Not everyone came in drag, but those who did took it all the way. DragCon consisted of a 210,000 square foot floor space, complete with plenty of vendors, merchandise, and drag queens that many have grown to love from Drag Race.
DragCon, like most other conventions, featured a variety of panels to attend, where fans could listen to drag queens and other famous guests talk about all sorts of topics. Day One’s panels featured topics such as the drag scene in New York City, the relationship between fashion and drag, music production, and behind the scenes of the judging bench, among others. Day Two featured a Sunday church service, makeup transformations, drag fandom culture, etc. While I myself did not have the opportunity to attend any panels, I was rather impressed with the topics chosen. It goes to show that drag is more than just the look- it’s about the entire persona and all the work associated with it.
What I chose to do at DragCon was experience the convention floor. I spent a good amount of time wandering around the booths with my mouth open, amazed at the space I had found myself in. I’m no expert in the world of drag, and even if I was, I still don’t think I would have been prepared for it. While there was obviously a healthy handful of drag queens’ booths to visit, I was particularly intrigued with vendors not associated with the Drag Race queens. There were people selling items associated with drag, of course, such as corsets, wigs, jewelry, and clothing.
The vendors themselves, though, were such cool people. While I was waiting in line to meet Shea Coulee, Drag Race Season 9 alum, one of the vendors at Venus D Lite’s booth called out in a sultry voice, “Would you like to try out my love potion?” I casually glanced up at them and couldn’t help but admire their Cleopatra-inspired look, complete with glittery eye makeup and the signature headpiece. I nodded and they swiped the so-called ‘potion’ across my wrist. And boy, was I almost persuaded to purchase it, whether or not it would actually attract someone.
I had plenty of other delightful interactions like this with other vendors, which not only opened my eyes to all the other members of the drag community, but made me appreciate the true art of drag itself.
And that’s the thing- drag is an art form. The reason I was so engaged during the entirety of DragCon, despite extremely long lines and overcrowding, is because the people who do drag are extremely talented. Drag queens craft their looks from head-to-toe, spending hours upon hours making sure their visions come to life. It was hard not to just sit back and appreciate that hard work.
While DragCon was an incredible experience, and I would absolutely attend again next year, I think it is important to point out that Drag Race is such a small part of the drag world. The queens that have appeared on the show are phenomenal, and the show brings a certain visibility to the drag community, but it certainly extends past the reality show. The drag queens that were at merchandise booths are just as valuable and talented as the famous ones that fans waited four hours in line to meet.
This is a point that famous queens have brought up as well. Drag Race Season 9 winner, Sasha Velour, told Entertainment Weekly, “[I also want to] use my spotlight and share it with other people in the drag community who maybe don’t have access to RuPaul’s Drag Race, but whose drag I still believe in.” The point is, the drag community is more than what people see on television.
So, appreciate people’s art and when you hear about a drag show at that underground bar in the Village, go to it! Like me, you may find yourself surrounded by people that are uniquely themselves, and you won’t be able to stay away from it.