LOS ANGELES — For a panel called What Is Drag in Trump's America, the queens who took part in Teen Vogue's discussion event at the third annual RuPaul's DragCon had little interest in talking about Donald Trump.
"Trump is not the problem," RuPaul's Drag Race season 8 winner Bob the Drag Queen said early in the panel. "Trump is a symptom."
Noting that Trump is merely one person, and that "America has gone through way worse," Bob and his fellow Drag Race queens — season 9 contestant Eureka and All Stars season 2 winner Alaska — refocused the discussion on political issues that stem far beyond the threat Trump poses to LGBTQ people in the White House. But, no matter how far they got from talking about who Bob called the "orange man in the White House," the queens kept returning to one key idea: He is not to be forgotten.
Moderator Sandra Song from Teen Vogue started with a thesis statement, "Drag is inherently political," that none of the participating queens disagreed with. The way they express those politics, of course, varied wildly.
Eureka talked extensively about how, as a bigger girl, her mere presence is political. Doing drag while being big challenges expectations of what society thinks is attractive or admirable. To show love for bigger people like her, she noted, is "to show love for people who are different."
She also emphasized the importance of local politics — both in simply urging the audience to call local representatives and "pay attention" to those local races, and in discussing how living in a small town in Tennessee helps affect change.
"Just by being on Drag Race, I'm being political in Johnson City, Tennessee," she said.
Whereas Eureka said she sees drag as a "distraction" from the problems of the world, Alaska's very birth as a queen was caused by anger with the George W. Bush administration. During the panel, she said her frustration with the world — and with feeling lied to by "mass media" — led her to start doing drag. Now, she's feeling the same emotions she did when she first started.
"When Trump was put into the office, that anger was reignited," she said.
Bob did talk some about Trump, but mostly focused his efforts on talking about the impact of this election: that people are being forced to wake up.
"For the first time in the history of America, an overwhelming part of the population feels the administration is against them," he said, noting that for queer people and people of color, that's not anything new.
While the panel hit other subjects, from appropriation of drag culture to Caitlyn Jenner (Alaska even sharing a story of heckling the famous transgender woman), the end of the panel saw the queens searching for ways forward, versus feeling defeated by the present.
"We need to look at the way we take care of our planet," Bob said, expanding the conversation out to environmental issues. "[Otherwise,] there won't even be a planet to be mad on."
Alaska, meanwhile, saw the assemblage of fans in the room — a fully packed space at the Los Angeles Convention Center — as part of the solution. "That's a good thing," she said of the turnout for an important, political conversation. "That's a blessing."
To end the panel, Song asked the queens whether they agreed with the statement that "in politically treacherous times, drag becomes stronger." They all did, but Bob took it one step further.
"In politically treacherous times," he said, "art becomes stronger."
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