RuPaul Talks About Starting The First Drag Convention in Herstory
A few facts you might not have known about force of nature known as RuPaul: Her favorite meal isn't anything fancy like braised pork loin, chicken cordon bleu or Lobster Thermidor but plain ol' burnt toast and black coffee. Rather than France, the Cayman Islands or the Maldives, her favorite place to take a vacation is San Francisco. And she counts the sassy, no-nonsense and pragmatic Judge Judy as her biggest icon over classic, sultry screen sirens and gay icons such as Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. You're also likely find RuPaul humming along to Rick Astley's 1988 song "Take Me To Your Heart" than any current hit. These are just a few of many examples of how this recording artist, author and all-around legendary drag queen is all about the unexpected.
Not only is RuPaul the host and executive producer of Logo TV's RuPaul's Drag Race, she also just came out with her seventh studio album Realness, hosts the entertaining podcast What's The Tee? and has been accused of being an illuminati lizard. Despite her busy schedule, she still found the time to get behind the debut edition of RuPaul's DragCon, a drag-themed bonanza at the Los Angeles Convention Center May 16-17 from the folks behind Stan Lee's Comikaze. We chased RuPaul down as she was on the hunt for a U.K. ambassador for RuPaul's Drag Race to give us her thoughts about DragCon and the state of drag today. She answered our questions over e-mail.
Born and raised RuPaul Andre Charles in San Diego, California, RuPaul doesn't care which gender-specific pronouns you use to call her—as long as you call her. As a student she studied professional theater, and in 1989 was crowned "The Queen Of Manhattan." RuPaul's act crossed over into the mainstream in 1992 when her song "Supermodel (You Better Work)" hit the dance charts. With all of her accomplishments, she says there's one particularly memorable moment that sticks out: performing at the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993.
"That was a pivotal point in my career and my life. It was huge. I remember standing on that stage, and there was dust in the air from people running toward the stage. During my performance, I saw a plane taking off as the sun was setting. My mother was seriously ill at that time, and it occurred to me, 'That's my mother.' After the performance, I got a message that my sister had called, and I started bawling. When we spoke, she told me my mother had died. I'll never forget that."
Today, RuPaul divides her time living in both New York City and Los Angeles, but the 54-year-old powerhouse admits that one of the challenges of being a pioneering drag queen is staying interested in doing it.
"That's why I'm always trying new things, like producing RuPaul's DragCon, the first drag convention in herstory," she writes. "That's why I decided to produce RuPaul's Drag Race back in 2008: to provide a platform for a new generation of drag queens, and now that show has created millions of drag fans around the world."
Still, RuPaul does say there is a major difference between doing drag back in the '80s and '90s and doing drag today.
"Some of today's drag queens lack a sense of danger. Drag is punk and it's meant to push boundaries. It's great to dress up and pose in front of the mirror, but drag can be and do so much more." In keeping with this philosophy, RuPaul's advice for aspiring drag queens is simply to "know thyself."
Thanks to RuPaul, drag has become increasingly ubiquitous, so it's interesting that something like DragCon hasn't happened until now, but she seems to think otherwise.
"Contrary to what most people believe, drag is still not mainstream and is thought of by most people as subversive. Drag instills fear in most people because it blows the lid on identity and breaks the proverbial fourth wall. Basically, drag scares the crap out of most people."RuPaul's DragCon is working to change that. Led by RuPaul and the production company World of Wonder, the family-friendly drag convention is timed to kick off Gay Pride season, with dozens of exhibitors and vendors offering everything from drag-inspired clothing and shoes to art, makeup and loads of other products. There are Q&As and scheduled special guests such as RuPaul's Drag Race season six winner Bianca del Rio, season seven favorite Ginger Minj, Queen of Bounce Big Freedia and 15-year-old viral sensation Brendan Jordan. Meanwhile, RuPaul herself is expected to deliver the keynote address. Other programming includes panels like Blood, Sweat, and Lashes: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and workshops and tutorials on things such as tucking, wig-styling and how to walk like a supermodel. Screenings include film gems such as Paris is Burning (1990), I Am Divine (2013) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), hosted by season four winner of RuPaul's Drag Race, Sharon Needles.
"RuPaul's DragCon is a chance for us all to get together and fly our freak flags high — now that's going to be interesting," RuPaul says. In particular, she is looking forward to "the fantastical paradigm shift that will follow when all of the participants from around the world meet up and find their tribe."
But what about being a shape-shifting illuminati lizard — is there any truth to that?
"If I told you I'd have to kill you," says RuPaul. "Sorry 'bout it."
RuPaul's DragCon takes place at Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S Figueroa St., Downtown; Sat., May 16, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sun., May 17, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.; tickets start at $30. www.rupaulsdragcon.com