You’re one of the tens of thousands of people attending RuPaul’s DragCon in Los Angeles, snaking through the crowds of glittered, sequined, shrieking Drag Race fans, when you finally reach your destination: the meet-and-greet booth for your favorite season 10 queen, Miz Cracker. But then, you notice the line of people to meet her trails down the entire length of the pink carpeted show floor, filled with attendees who have already been waiting their turn to snap a pic with Cracker for at least an hour.
That’s when you see a sign advertising a solution: fast passes. For $35, you can skip that whole line and see Miz Cracker right now. Do you take the bait and pay up? Or would you rather waste hours of your time in line? That’s the question facing attendees this year at RuPaul’s DragCon — a three-day extravaganza for all things Drag Race starting Friday — when the Los Angeles Convention Center opens its doors and becomes, for a short time, infinitely more queer... and a hell of a lot more crowded.
But these new fast passes, sold primarily through a third-party, Elite Queens, simply aren’t a viable option for everyone. DragCon isn’t cheap: You can buy a one-day pass for $40, attend the whole weekend for $70 or get a VIP pass — which includes some merch and other perks — for $250. This is a far cry from the historical roots of drag itself, which, up until recently, was purely a scrappy, political art form for the disenfranchised. In the past few years, though, thanks in no small part to RuPaul and Drag Race, drag has become a much more lucrative industry.
Reddit user trixiespads, who budgeted for a VIP ticket, a hotel room for four nights, food and gas, said she “absolutely did not” buy fast passes, which she called “disrespectful.”
“Why not just ask for my 401K, sis?” trixiespads said over Reddit private message. “DragCon is all ages. What about kids that can’t afford it? What about the parents of those children? I don’t like it. I’m going to DragCon. Not Disneyland.” (For the record, Disneyland actually doesn’t charge extra for its line-skipping fast passes, though it does restrict the number of passes you can have at one time.)
Trixiespads empathizes with the hustle it requires to stay afloat when drag is your full-time gig — she herself is a drag queen — but the idea of paid fast passes just doesn’t sit well with her.
“I get it, but monetize your BRAND,” she said, referring to the music and merch most queens have on display. “Not letting people meet you to tell you how much they love you.”
One defense for these fast passes is that attending DragCon is stressful and costly, and that queens don’t necessarily get paid simply for showing up. In a now-deleted tweet, season four’s Willam Belli — the first and only Drag Race contestant to ever be outright booted from the competition — said she wasn’t paid for appearing on a panel in DragCon’s first year. But that defense of these fast passes — that they’re helping queens pay their bills — doesn’t make sense to everyone.
“I get that the queens need support — and I’m happy to buy music and shirts —but it reaches a point where the queens selling fast passes probably aren’t the ones struggling financially,” one fan, who wished to remain anonymous, said via Twitter private message. “Lemme know when [season four queen] Dida Ritz is selling fast passes. The popular girls are doing just fine financially.”
This is something of a debate happening among the queens of Drag Race themselves. On Twitter, Trixie Mattel — far and away one of the most popular queens Drag Race has ever produced — announced she wouldn’t be partaking in the fast pass trend.
“I will be at LA DragCon,” she tweeted recently. “No fast passes — in God’s eyes, we are all poor.” (When reached by Mic, Trixie Mattel declined to comment further on her decision.)
The same day, Bianca Del Rio, winner of season six, posted on Instagram, saying, “FAST PASS? Most of you bitches ain’t worth the entrance fee #WhoTheFuckDoYouThinkYouAre?”
And in a recent live broadcast, All Stars 3 competitor Morgan McMichaels characterized the fast passes as lacking “ethics” in business.
“Yes this is my business and yes this is my livelihood, but I also feel like there needs to be some sort of ethics involved in business,” Morgan said. “To me, it basically means that you’re kind of telling people that the more money you have the more privilege you have, and I think that love should know no ... monetary value. And [my fans] love me so much so I want to meet everyone and I would never put a price on that ever. ... I’m not villainizing anyone that does that, but that’s just not how I roll.”
What makes this debate particularly difficult to parse is RuPaul’s own shameless love of branding, of selling oneself and profiting off the ongoing mainstreaming of drag. Ru uses the platform of Drag Race to promote every other aspect of his drag empire, including his music, chocolate bars — and, in season 10, DragCon itself. This is a tendency of Ru’s that the queens on Drag Race poke fun at regularly, most recently in All Stars 3. During that season’s Snatch Game challenge, in which the queens impersonate celebrities, All Stars 3 winner Trixie Mattel played Ru.
“Now, RuPaul,” the actual RuPaul asked Trixie-as-RuPaul, “do I call you he or she?”
“You can call me he, she, Regis and Kathie Lee, as long as you buy American on iTunes,” Trixie responded.
So, when Drag Race alumni try to sell their fans fast passes, isn’t this just one step further on a path that RuPaul paved for them? Yes, though arguably Ru is hardly someone to look up to when it comes to modeling the most inclusive of behaviors.
(In the case of Elite Queens, it’s not clear how much money the queens themselves get to keep. Mic has reached out to Elite Queens for comment and will update with any response. Drag Race’s production company, World of Wonder, declined to comment.)
But for many who are attending DragCon, these existential questions surrounding the ethics of fast passes aren’t really at the top of their minds. Their concerns, first and foremost, revolve around minimizing the time they have to waste standing in line, shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers amid the sweaty chaos of DragCon. And a fast pass is a quick solution to exactly that.
“Last year was nuts,” a Reddit user named Joseph said over private message. “I waited for Alyssa [Edwards, who appeared on season five and All Stars 2] for five hours and would pay to cut a crazy line.”
For people like Joseph — who can only attend DragCon for one day this year — these fast passes offer attendees a way to maximize their time, he said.
“This is my first DragCon, but I’ve been going to Comic-Con in San Diego and New York for about 10 years, and I decided to buy the passes based on my experiences there,” Reddit user lil_watermelon said via Reddit private message. “If it’s anything like those ... it’s not always the most organized, and if you’re doing it on the fly it makes planning out the rest of your time at the con more difficult. Cons are fun but can also be really overwhelming and such a time suck, so for me the more I can get sorted out ahead of time the better.”
It’s worth noting here that ReedPop, an organization that puts on numerous conventions, like New York Comic Con and PAX, does not offer fast passes at any of its cons, according to a statement emailed to Mic by a representative for the company. There are some smaller cons, like Denver Comic Con and Rose City Comic Con, that do offer fast passes, but this system is by no means the norm.
Another DragCon attendee, who identified himself as Xavier over Reddit private message, said he recognizes that he’s a little bit “elitist” when it comes to DragCon — he said he spent at least $720 on fast passes and VIP tickets for him and his boyfriend — but he thinks it’s worth it.
“As someone with expendable cash now, I will definitely take advantage of opportunities to make my DragCon experience as fun and stress free as I can for me,” Xavier said. “Is that elitist of me? I can say ‘yes,’ with some shame, but I saved up almost a year for this and I want to make it as unforgettable of an experience as I can. I know when I pass some people who are waiting in the regular line they may give me looks and think of me as a snob, but I know I am just a nurse from Texas that loves drag who is trying to make amazing memories with my boyfriend.”
That was a sentiment echoed by Reddit user no_maj, who identified themselves via Reddit private message as a 32-year-old lawyer. They expect to spend at least $1,250 at DragCon, which includes fast passes for three season 10 queens: Miz Cracker, Monét X Change and Monique Heart. They’re also considering picking up a pass for this season’s resident shit-stirrer, The Vixen, whose fast passes are available for $30 at the time of publishing.
“I understand the frustration [some DragCon attendees feel],” no_maj said of the discussion around fast passes. “[But] these queens have every right to make money as they see fit. If the option to cut my wait time is available, I’m going to take it (within reason — I love Aquaria, but $99... no).”