Queens convene at inaugural Aust drag expo

·4-min read

Global drag sensation Detox is back in Australia and revelling in the local scene.

"I come here and I see how over the top and camp and exciting and fun it is, and I just love Australian drag," she squeals.

Originally from Orlando, Florida, Detox is one of the headline attractions at Australia's first drag convention in Melbourne this weekend.

The expo features a queens parade, makeup tutorials, a lip-sync smackdown and even a "training heels" event for beginners.

Speaking to AAP from her hotel room, Detox is wearing a bodysuit with a silver Balenciaga skirt, surrounded by numerous outlandish outfits, at least eight wigs, a substantial makeup kit and her assistant.

According to Detox, a globe-trotting drag performer also requires booze, a hotel bathtub, frequent shopping trips (her most recent at Gucci) and a decent luggage allowance.

"I have a problem, I like to spoil myself but it's all for the work," she says.

Detox has been a professional drag performer for almost 20 years and her 2013 appearance on season five of RuPaul's Drag Race made her a global star, leading to film and TV gigs and, of course, cosmetics campaigns.

But the success of the show, which has propelled drag into the mainstream and generated demand for events like the Melbourne expo, has in some ways blunted the art form's edge, according to Detox.

"It's kind of taken away from the magic of what queer underground art and punk drag is. It's done great things, but there has been a lot of watering down," she says.

Art Simone was the runner-up in the first series of the RuPaul Down Under spin-off in 2021, and says Australian drag queens are louder, camper and more glittery than their US sisters.

"It was really interesting to have that put through the Drag Race machine and then turned around back on us and in some cases, told we're wrong," she says of her time on the show.

She worries what the influence of US drag, with its roots in pageants and perfectionism, might mean for local drag, but she's thrilled Australia is finally hosting its own expo.

Art Simone hails from Geelong, where the drag scene started with a monthly night five years ago, and punters can now find drag events most nights of the week.

She's also spread her glitter across much of regional Victoria, and is well aware she is often her audience's first exposure to drag culture.

"I have only ever been faced by acceptance and love and celebration, it's really wonderful ... regional communities aren't as scary as they were ten to twenty years ago," she says.

Expo host Kane Enable has also helped build a drag scene from the ground up, at Adelaide bar Mary's Poppin, which has been open for the past six years.

The 25-year-old travels Australia to do drag shows but it will likely remain a part-time gig in her home town.

She tells AAP that behind the scenes, being a queen at any level is hard work and expensive, with each performance taking about four hours to prepare, most of it in the makeup chair.

It's a ritual she has come to dread but, in the end, the performance and the community is worth it.

"Every single time without fail, it clicks and I just I don't even remember that feeling. It's very rewarding once everything comes together," she says.

In the three years she has been doing drag, she too has come to see the downside of the RuPaul juggernaut and says it has made audiences into critics.

"Not everything is a TV show, it's not indicative of real world experience. Drag is something to celebrate period, not just as a TV show. It's a real world thing," she says.

So how can drag maintain its outrageousness, its punk and its local flavour in the face of mainstream success?

Detox says the answer might lie in drag that feels authentic regardless of what audiences think.

"Just being uniquely yourself and not buckling to preconceived notions about what drag has to be.There's room for everybody here, you know? Don't be a cookie cutter."

The Melbourne Drag Expo is on at the Melbourne Convention Centre on Saturday and Sunday.

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