Posted May 19th, 2015 12:12 PM by Mark Kernes
LOS ANGELES—Anyone who doubts the popularity of RuPaul Charles—better known to the world simply as "RuPaul"—and his TV shows, RuPaul's Drag Race and RuPaul's Drag Race: Untucked!, need only have passed by the Los Angeles Convention Center this past weekend, where a new convention debuted: RuPaul's DragCon.
The gathering, billed as "The first drag convention in HERstory," opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 16, and by noon, most of the aisles in the convention hall were choked with fans—young fans, old fans, gay fans, drag fans (and practitioners), transgendered fans ... and those who were simply curious as to what all the excitement was about.
They didn't have long to wait to find out. Immediately upon entering the convention hall, the first vendor visible was Crown Brush, a purveyor of fine makeup brushes, and the majority of booths throughout the hall were devoted to the sale of makeup (our fave booth name was "Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics"), brushes, wigs, drag-friendly costumes and clothing, and just about anything else that would be useful to those into drag.
Many of the fans, though, had come to see, speak with and get autographs from the various participants in the RuPaul's Drag Race television show, and much of the area on the right side and back of the hall was roped off into queues, with cards at the entrance to each queue listing the names of the personalities who'd be signing at each particular table. Among those who stood out (to someone who doesn't watch Drag Race) were famed adult director Chi Chi LaRue, adult performer TS Madison, singers/songwriters Faith Evans, Terri Nunn, Jordin Sparks and Jody Watley, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, actress/singer Julie Brown, actress Julie Newmar (of the hit drag movie To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar) ... and latest Vivid Celeb Courtney Stodden. An exception was RuPaul himself, who aside from the ribbon-cutting ceremony that opened the convention, and his keynote address on Sunday, was little seen by the fans.
One attendee who's known RuPaul since the "early days," however, was artist/actress/activist Annie Sprinkle, who explained her connection to the star.
"In the early '80s, AIDS was new and we were all really worried," Sprinkle recalled. "ACT UP was acting up, and we wanted to raise money, and I was brought in from PONY, Prostitutes of New York, and PONY worked with ACT UP [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power] sometimes. I remember when I did a benefit for ACT UP with RuPaul. I walked in the room, this little production meeting in '83 or '4 or '5. There were eight of us and this person introduced me to RuPaul and said, 'RuPaul's gonna be famous one day; he's really talented,' and I said, 'Really?' We all did this big group wedding at some big nightclub; we all wore white and Ru walked out of the dressing room in his white leotard and veil as she, and my jaw dropped to the floor; I was like, 'Oh, look at those legs!' So RuPaul and I walked arm in arm down the aisle with other people dressed as brides and grooms and we all did some kind of group marriage, so RuPaul and I are kind of married, and sure enough, RuPaul got really famous and we're really proud of him.
Recalling PONY's work with ACT UP, Sprinkle added, "We did a piece together at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, a very important museum, and we had a big window on Broadway and Houston with an installation about prostitution and AIDS, and I was in the art installation. My work today with the ecosex movement is directly inspired by ACT UP because at that time we were concerned about AIDS, and today I'm concerned about the environment and the air and the water and the seas, so we're using ACT UP strategies to make the environmental movement more sexy and fun and diverse, Beth and I—so that's my RuPaul story." (For more info on Sprinkle's environmental work, click here.)
Sprinkle's reminiscence brought back some memories of the era from XXX actress Long Jean Silver, who'd accompanied Sprinkle to DragCon after spending the previous evening with her at the Westgate Gallery opening.
"Annie and I are roommates again, for the first time since our arrest in Rhode Island," Silver recalled. "We spent 48 hours in jail together for sodomy, conspiracy to commit sodomy, and conspiracy to circulate pornographic materials, so we're re-creating our 48 hours together, except this time with pillows and a blanket. The arrest was of the Jamestown Eight in Jamestown, Rhode Island, in 1978. We were working on Love/Hate magazine, and apparently the typesetter was an undercover officer, and right when we were getting ready to leave, they arrested all of us. FBI, state police, local police—it was huge."
Since DragCon is basically a mainstream convention, there was little adult industry presence—but famous transgender-oriented Grooby Productions was on the floor with not one but two booths.
"We have the Grooby booth and we're also sharing a booth with Transformation magazine, Jane Starr, Tasha Jones, Spunk and Buck Angel," said Grooby publicist Kristal Penn. "We're here to meet all kinds of different people. We're here to network and show how the Grooby brand is expanding."
But isn't Grooby's forte transgendered people?
"We don't see it as a conflict, because what we do encompasses so many different things," Penn cautioned. "There's room for everybody, so the people that come here may not all be transgendered, but we all can be interested in things that are similar, and we're just promoting the Grooby brand here, which isn't even specific to the adult industry necessarily. A lot of the people here may already be fans of Grooby; you never know."
While we were at the Grooby booth, Buck Angel filled us in on what he's been doing lately.
"I moved back to Los Angeles like six months ago, but I just now found an apartment, so yeah, I'm moving back to Los Angeles for a while," Angel said. "I'm making movies. I don't star in movies anymore; I just produce and direct a line of movies with transsexual men, so it's kind of like docu-porn; it's called Sexing the Transman. Number 4 just came out a couple of months ago, In L.A., I'm mostly filming, and I'm writing my book, my autobiography. Right now it's in the hands of people who are hopefully going to publish it, so I have it in a couple of places, trying to find a publisher. I'm doing a lot of work."
Just down the aisle from Grooby was the Topco Sales booth. "We’re selling lubes today, and we have water-based, we have a silicone, and we're also selling cologne," said Steven Grant for the company. "We have flavored lube here, water based, called Sex Tarts; comes in a tangerine and an apple. We also have a warming lube by Climax; it's warming gel, and we have an anal lube also from Climax, and then there's this water-based lube. Then we have Liquid Sex, which is a strawberry flavored oral sex gel, and then we have our last one here is a pheromone boost cream lube; it actually has the smell of ginger, and has an energy boost to it. Our last product here is our Lure, a unisex cologne. The scent attracts both sexes."
The other adult industry exhibitor was Hustler Hollywood, whose booth sported the large banner, "#ihearthustler."
"We're here with the lovely Miss Ivy Rockafella, and there's fun for all," said Hustler hawker Bernie. "People can take pictures with the star, and they also get to spank me. I didn't agree to it originally, but apparently it's the deal that I get to be spanked for pictures, so my caboose is taking a beating today. I've got a lot of cushioning back there."
Again, merchandise was rather light at the booth, with the only items on sale being Bondage Bears, their Deep Throat Spray, and tubes of anal bleach, because according to Bernie, "You never know when you're going to need that last-minute bleaching."
A couple of non-adult industry booths also caught our eye. One was the booth for Actors Comedy Studio, which seemed a bit out of place, but studio rep Gunnar Rohrbacher set us straight as to the reason they were there.
"Because we like queens, A, and B, because we are the world's only acting studio dedicated exclusively to acting for sitcoms and sitcom audition technique," he said. "A lot of the queens are accredited actors both in drag and out of drag, so I just wanted to send the message that if you need a place to study or hone your craft, we're more than glad to have you."
Another surprise, considering all the bad news we've been hearing about Oklahoma's new "Religious Freedom Act," the state's attempts to replace its schools' Advanced Placement History exam with something more "American exceptional" and its attorney general opining that it's okay for Oklahoma citizens to distribute bibles in public schools, was the Oklahoma State University booth with its "Drag Queen Study."
"We're conducting a research study among drag performers of their self-identity and emotions related to drag, and we actually have an online survey at dragstudy.com," explained grad student Douglas Knutson. "It's a secure online survey, and we're also doing paper copy surveys here that people can respond to, and we have a drawing for a piece of hand-crafted jewelry so people have an incentive to fill that out. The survey is a part of my dissertation, so this is going to allow me to graduate at some point, hopefully. I'm working on a doctorate in counseling psychology."
Of course, the exhibits weren't the only thing at DragCon attracting fans. The convention had panels from opening to closing, covering a wide variety of topics from "How To Be A YouTube Star" to "Women Who Love Drag: The Biological Perspective" to "The Crown and The Glory: Secrets Of a Pageant Queen" to "So You Think You Can Vogue?"—every one of which were reportedly standing room only. DragCon also showed several movies, including fan fave The Rock Horror Picture Show, but also a documentary on John Waters star Divine, I Am Divine; the short film Alaska Is A Drag, about an in-the-closet drag queen working in a fish cannery in the 50th state; and Paris Is Burning, a seminal 1991 film directed by Jennie Livingston that explored "voguing" and the political awakenings of the LGBT subculture in New York City and the various communities—not only gay and transgender but also African-American and Latino—that were involved in it. New York Times critic Jesse Green deemed the film a "critical and financial success," while reviewer Emanuel Levy of Cinema 24/7 stated, "Paris Is Burning is more than a record of spectacle. The interviews [in the film] reveal a whole new way of living, one that's highly structured and self-protective."
After attending the inaugural RuPaul's DragCon, one thing's for sure: There's bound to be a sequel or two—and maybe sooner than anyone expects! (Are you listening, Oklahoma City?)
Pictured: Some of the guests at the Hustler Hollywood booth at RuPaul's DragCon 2015.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service - if this is your content and you're reading it on someone else's site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.