Drag queens take over the Javits Center



A drag queen poses on the red carpet at RuPaul’s DragCon convention at the Javits Center. Photo: Tamara Saade.


DragCon creates a Kid Zone with everything from hair and make-up booths to drag queens reading stories about tolerance : read more here.

But some convention visitors feel less welcome than they’d like to be: read about diversity here

Royal protocol prohibits women from wearing dresses above the knee, loud nail polish, and tiaras, if they’re not married. For drag queens’ protocol, on the other hand, rules are meant to be broken.

RuPaul, one of the most famous drag queens in America, hosted the second annual RuPaul’s DragCon NYC, a massive convention at the Javits Center, which this year, welcomed 50,000 attendees from September 28-30. Inspired by RuPaul’s hit show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, where drag queens compete to become America’s next Drag Superstar, the same contestants strolled down a pink carpet in 10-inch stillettos at the Javits Center, to mingle with fans and celebrate drag queens.

The success of RuPaul’s show, which has received several Emmy awards, and the abundance of drag queens working as fashion ambassadors for labels like Marc Jacobs and L’Oreal, signals the importance of drag in popular culture and its impact on the LGBTQ community. During New York’s 2018 Fashion Week, Sasha Velour, season 9 winner of RuPaul’s Drag show, modeled in a runway show for Opening Ceremony, a fashion brand.

Fans and friends dressed in everyday clothes took photographs of the drag queens, who —wearing exaggerated contouring makeup and shiny lip gloss — greeted each other saying, “Sis, you look gorgeous!”

Convention attendees included children, young adults and seniors. Janet Brone, who’s in her 60s, is a RuPaul fan and has followed his show for several years. She flew out from Illinois to attend the three-day conference. Drag is “the acceptance that any sort of gender that people want to be, they should be,” she said, adding that people should also be able to “dress up however they want to; it promotes acceptance of humanity.”

Several stars from RuPaul’s show sat in customized booths where fans could meet them and take photos. During the convention, more than 300 exhibitors presented their latest merchandise, including wigs of all shapes and colors, fake lashes made of feathers, and lace corsets to pair with latex or leather outfits. The attendees could try on colorful headpieces and glittery dresses, while the New York City Department of Health gave out condoms, lubricant and HIV self test kits for free.

Eddie Warner, a first year college student also known as Queeny, is relatively young to the drag industry. For his first New York DragCon, he wore a tight, purple and black jumpsuit with platform boots. “I think drag is important because it’s kind of a big middle finger to any kind of gender norm and any stereotype that gay men face,” he said. “It just gives the entire LGBTQ community confidence, just a way to be yourself and have a blast while you’re doing what you love.”

Dressed in a black satin dress and golden robe, Alexis Michelle, a season 9 contestant on RuPaul’s show, said drag influences today’s society. “Drag has definitely helped our community in seeing and expressing different expressions of identity, of gender, of style, even,” said Michelle. “But I think we still have further to go as a community of embracing each other.”

As drag queens become more accepted by mainstream society, there are ongoing issues of violence towards LGBTQ people and riffs in the drag community itself.

Hate crimes towards the LGBTQ doubled in the past few years from 25 homicides in 2012 to 52 in 2017, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an organization for the prevention of violence against the LGBTQ community. And among LGBTQ homicides in 2017, 71 percent of the victims were people of color.

“In the current political climate hate has been made much more acceptable,” said Audacia Ray, the director of community organizing and public advocacy at NCAVP. “After the 2016 elections, we’ve definitely seen a spike in numbers,” adding that, “because of intersectional vulnerability, people of color are targeted, but it’s sometimes even harder to determine what the cause of the violence actually is.”

With her infamous headpiece in the form of a head itself, season 6 contestant Vivacious is one of the 34 African American drag queens who’ve competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race. “Look at Kennedy Davenport,” said Vivacious, about another black contestant on the show. “She can out dance every single drag queen girl that’s been on the show so far, but she’s not even getting the love and respect as she should.”

As some fandoms on the internet point out, society might favor white drag queens over those of color. According to a survey from LGBTQ friendly website Pride, the average number of followers for drag queens is 550,000, but the average for white ones exceeds 600,000, whereas African-American drag queens hover around 400,000.

Miss Fame, who competed in the show’s seventh season, appreciates the changes drag brings to society, including the Emmy awards that RuPaul’s show won. “That’s a huge accomplishment for the queer community, for queer-relating people.”

But she’s still aware of the challenges drag queens and fellow members of the LGBT community face.

“Just because we’re having a breakthrough now — maybe some companies might find it trendy to hire queer people or drag people  — I would say support beyond the trend,” she said, adding that people should do this “not because this year is the cool year, or this decade was all about the drag. It needs to be part of the story line of humanity.”