Children celebrate at RuPaul’s DragCon



Drag kid Desmond Is Amazing (11) does Nicholas’ (7) make-up at RuPaul’s DragCon NYC 2018. Photo: Janet Lie.

Nikki Goodman and her 8-year old daughter Danica are pleasantly surprised when drag queen and TV show host RuPaul invites the child on stage. Wearing a cream-colored gown that matches her mother’s, Danica gets the chance to walk the runway with her idol.

”When we heard DragCon was coming to New York, we knew we had to go,” says Goodman, who is visiting from New Jersey. ”It’s a fun and family-friendly event. Trying to shelter your children from drag culture will make it seem like it’s wrong – that’s where a lot of the stigma comes in.”

Goodman is one of the many parents who brought their children to the second edition of RuPaul’s DragCon NYC – the drag world’s answer to ComicCon. The all-ages event is based on RuPaul’s Drag Race, a multiple Emmy-award-winning reality TV show where drag queens compete for a cash prize and the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar. The convention is held twice a year – in New York and Los Angeles – having debuted three years ago in L.A.

More than 50,000 attendees, many dressed in high heels and colorful wigs, explored the 270,000 square foot Javits Convention Center in Midtown. The late September weekend was filled with makeup tutorials, fashion shows, and panels. Visitors waited hours in line to meet former Drag Race contestants and bought merchandise such as posters, pins, and t-shirts.

While a regular day ticket cost $40, the convention was free for kids under the age of 10.

At the Manic Panic booth, 7-year-old Nicholas got a free makeover from 11-year old Desmond Is Amazing, an award-winning LGBTQ activist and drag kid with a huge online following. Their parents looked fondly at the two boys having fun with make-up.

”He likes being fancy and fabulous,” says Nicholas’ adoptive father Leo Frias.  Nicholas wore a multi-colored sequined pantsuit, a bright pink backpack, and golden sneakers. He has been doing drag since he was four years old, after he made his grandmother buy him a tutu in the thrift store. ”He has a hard time at school because the other kids don’t understand. They think he’s transgender or gay, but he actually has a girlfriend.”

Frias is a single gay parent with five adopted children between the ages of 7 and 16 — which can be difficult, he says, because some people assume he convinced Nicholas to do drag. “Before I adopted him, his biological father would call him a sissy or pussy,” Frias says. “When he came to me as a foster child, he was able to do what he wanted. He was actually the one who got the whole family into watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Another young drag kid roaming DragCon is 13-year-old E! The Dragnificent. He wore a purple sequined dress with a purple diamond studded headpiece. “I love drag because I can create my own self and have a fabulous time,” he says., but his mother, Andrea Valera, does not want her child’s name to be published, in fear of online bullying.

E! started putting on her stilettos when he was a toddler, Valera says. “I’m a burlesque performer, so he met a lot of drag queens while growing up. It happened organically. He never told me he wanted to do drag – I just knew.”

The new generation is more open to different types of gender expression at a much younger age, according to Dr. Thomas A. Vance, a postdoctoral clinical and research fellow at the Gender Identity Program at Columbia University Medical Center. He has seen a wave of families with transgender and gender non-conforming children who are already aware of the wide variety of identities. ”Especially in New York, where the exposure level to different cultures is much higher and accessible,” he says. ”It gives kids and families the advantage to ask questions.”

The organization behind DragCon created the Kid Zone in 2017 – an interactive space with a bouncy castle, arts and crafts, and face painting.

Drag queen Mz B performs a lipsync show in the Kid Zone, after finishing reading a story. Photo: Janet Lie.

Small children gather around drag queen Mz B, who wears a long brown wig, shiny caramel-colored leotard and thigh high boots and reads them a story about the importance of self-love. Mz B is part of the non-profit initiative Drag Queen Story Hour – drag queens all over the U.S. read to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores, so kids can have queer role models and learn how to express themselves.

But there have been protests, including from right-wing radio show host Alex Jones, who said that drag queens “want to have their way with your children.”

Mrs. Kasha Davis, a contestant on Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, wasn’t fazed by the comment. The story hour isn’t about gender and sexuality, she says, but if children ask, the queens will answer those questions. ”Our main message is about treating other kids who are different with kindness. It’s that simple. We always say, ‘our gender is kindness.’ What do critics have to say about that?”

Mor Erlich has a booth at the Kids Zone to promote his web-series Sez Me, an educational children’s show about gender fluidity. “Kids don’t care if a drag queen, a clown or Mickey Mouse is on stage. They’ll understand a new idea in three minutes,” he says.

Most followers of Sez Me are LGBTQ parents, and straight parents with gender non-conforming children. But there is a growing demographic of heteronormative families who just want to learn about the LGBTQ community. “They’re open-minded and want to prevent their kids from becoming bullies,” Erlich says.

Three-year-old Lana listened to Mz B’s story, while her father, Chuck Markakis, stood by the side with the stroller, checking his phone. ”Lana loves Drag Race. We watch it as a family,” he says. Markakis has been to every DragCon in Los Angeles and New York with his wife. Since the birth of their daughter, they’ve attended three conventions as a family. Though the couple hasn’t explained to their daughter what the LGBTQ community is yet, they’ll happily explain if she brings it up. “But she doesn’t flinch when she sees men here kissing other men.”

Family is also a big theme for former contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race. DragCon dedicated the panel A Family That Drags Together to how they balance their family life and their drag life. Nicole Paige Brooks, an alumna from Season 2, is one of the few contestants with children. Her son is 13 years old now. When he was little, she would do her make-up and put her wig while he was in the house. ”I never put any shame on it, never hid it,” she said during the panel. Brooks never had a real conversation about drag, because her son always knew. “At some point, he probably thought all dads wore dresses, but they don’t talk about it as often.”

Mrs. Kasha Davis, who has two children in their twenties, joins in. ”They don’t care. When I’m in full drag, all they say now is ‘nice job, Ed’.”