Drag Con. It is, as Alyssa Edwards once said, “the biggest cross-dressing convention of all time.” Well, officially at least. Started in 2015 as an offshoot of RuPaul’s Drag Race (and if you don’t know what that is, get off my lanai), it gets bigger every year. It’s even spawned a sister convention in New York that’s almost as big.
So being the fan of the show that I am, my husband and I decided to give it a go this year. We were in no way prepared for what we encountered. Oh, we knew there would be drag and fabulousness and more glitter than you can shake a sneezing unicorn at, but there’s so much more. As a newly deflowered Drag Con virgin, let me give you a few tips and tricks if you want to attend next year.
To VIP or Not To VIP: This is probably the first thing you’ll encounter when you get your tickets. For a very extra fee, you can get a VIP weekend pass that promises you all sorts of things and mostly delivers on some of them. While the pass does give you a neat swag bag, a commemorative jacket, and an autographed VIP pass, its best function is allowing you extended VIP-only convention hours and access to the fast lane for meeting the queens at their booths. But…well…there’s a catch to that, too.
Queens Ain’t for Free: Regardless of your VIP status, every queen, judge, entertainer, and YouTube star of any fame level in attendance will usually charge for pictures and meet-and-greets. $30 seemed to be the average. This is mostly to pay for their booths, and even then, most guests of honor are happy just to break even. Literally only one drag queen was not charging for the honor of meeting them, and that was season four’s infamous Willam. (Who was super nice, by the way.) And since your favorite queens are everybody else’s favorite queens, the wait may be quite long; Trixie Mattel’s line was so full it took up three booths. But do not lose hope, because…
It’s More Than Just Drag: Drag Con is also a celebration of LGBTQ+ life in general, and you’ll find plenty of booths for great organizations like Lambda Legal, who hosted free meet-and-greets with some of the queens as long as you signed up for their newsletter. You’ll also find plenty of clothing and accessory booths, tons of great art, and all the drag tools you’ll need, from wigs to fans to tucking panties. Of course, you’ll also find plenty of fast-talking salespeople, especially for the super high-end products. Some of them will bring out their hottest gay employees to charm you, sweet talk you, and try to get you to buy $400 eye cream…which means that hot Latinx guy you thought was coming on to you just thinks you look old and tired. That wasn’t my favorite moment. Anyway.
Oh, the Things You’ll See: There is still plenty of amazing on display at the Con, from Drag Race girls to local queens to bulging underwear models to burly bears in heels. Bodies of all shapes and sizes and gender spectrums proudly display themselves, which to me is a testament to the progress the queer community has made. Drag Con isn’t just about celebrating Drag Race but about the individuality of the each member of the community. A lot of the vendors who use models sadly still tend toward using the lighter-skinned boys, but the attendees cover the gamut of skin color, cultures, and expressions. But keep in mind…
Say the Magic Words: Drag/cosplay/costumes are not consent. Ever. If you see someone fabulous — and you will, multiple times — and want a picture, ask politely. The vast majority of people will say yes. After all, a lot of people came to the con specifically to show off their best lurks, whether they’re serving up Hot Dog Eleganza or Power Bottom Cowboy Realness. And a bit of respect is exactly what you’d want, right? Oh, and if you see a queen outside of her booth, do not chase her down and demand a selfie for free. She’s there to werk. Of course, if you approach her casually and respectfully tell her how beautiful and wonderful she is, that seems to be acceptable. (As I did with the lovely Mayhem Miller.)
Put the Bass in Your Walk: Plan your looks well in advance if you plan on serving looks. And you don’t even have to do that at all; plenty of people show up in t-shirts and jeans. Sometimes a look is just the right tank top with the right sneakers. But if you do plan on turning it out, don’t wait until the last minute, and plan something very practical. You’re going to be walking around a convention center all day, and at some point you’re going to have to use the restroom. Trust me, it’s not fun holding it for six hours because you don’t want to readjust your rather particular undergarments.
One Cannot Live on Drag Alone: Don’t forget that you’re at a convention. A dish of nachos is going to cost you at least a hand if not your entire arm. Although this being Drag Con, the big ticket item was an acai bowl that cost about as much as a t-shirt. Packing some protein bars and a bottle of water is essential for getting through the day. And if you run out of supplies, you’re in downtown Los Angeles. You’ve got options.
Let the Music Play: Don’t forget to have fun the whole time, too. There are plenty of things going on beyond meet-and-greets and sell-me-somethings. Panels, fashion shows, photo shoots, dances, contests, and more all demand your attention. Remember what I said about bringing your looks? Some events allow attendees to dance, strut, and lip sync their way onto the main stage to show the whole convention what they can do. But looks or not, everybody is there to celebrate their own expression of self, and just being yourself will get you plenty of applause.
But Don’t Count on Seeing Mother: If you think you’ll run into Ru herself while you’re there…well, re-think that. Hard. Even during the Saturday morning Parade of Queens (yes, that’s a thing and you MUST see it), Ru doesn’t make an appearance. In fact, she watched from a safe, closed-off room above the convention. Completely out of drag. The closest you may get is seeing Ru spin a DJ set or moderate a panel, but even then, she keeps a distance. To be fair, you can’t go anywhere in the convention center without seeing a RuPaul glamour shot of some kind, but the queen herself prefers to watch from her throne.
Just in case it got lost in my rambling memories of a whirlygig of sequins, corsets, heels, and stuffed jockstraps, I want to emphasize that the vibe of the con is very, very welcoming and positive. Drag Con is about celebrating what makes each of us unique and honoring the different ways we express our truths, our passions, and our hearts. Every aspect of the LGBTQ+ spectrum is covered, everyone is welcome to attend, and there’s barely a hint of negativity to be found. It’s like a kind of oasis in a world that’s becoming increasingly hostile to queer expression and diversity.
If you can go, I highly recommend it. You might just walk around the con for a day, but you’ll get a fabulous high that will take a while to come down from. Drag really is a kind of magic, as Nina West says, and Drag Con is the highest-level spell you can imagine.
With glitter. Lots of glitter. Seriously. I’m worried about Tinker Bell.
FBOTU Score: 8 out of 10 / A-