By Jose Gutierrez
It’s nearly midnight on a Sunday evening in a dimly lit parking lot in North Park. RuPaul’s Battle of the Stars Tour has just finished its San Diego tour date at The Observatory, a venue larger in capacity than the House of Blues where the same event was held a year earlier.
A group of about 20 fans began surrounding a tour bus before security promptly tells the group to move toward the sidewalk.
“Are any of you under 18?” a security guard asks the group.
Nearly half the group raises its hand.
“You guys gotta leave here by 12,” the security guard said to the group, reminding them of the curfew for minors.
It’s nothing new to see passionate young fans eagerly waiting to meet their idols post-concert, but the same dedication now applies to popular drag queens whose performances were typically limited to bars and clubs.
“I don’t want to drink, I just want to enjoy the show,” 16-year-old drag enthusiast Linzy Luu said. “I just want to see them live and be inspired by them.”
The thought of drag queens garnering such a young audience may be confusing at first, but the phenomenon is largely credited to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a competition reality show in search of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.”
When the show debuted in 2009, drag culture was placed on a national platform, taking drag culture from bars and clubs straight to the family living room.
“There was already a well-established drag community, whether it had been underground or out there in the clubs,” Lips Restaurant performer and drag queen Nadja Baskin said. “The show’s timing just skyrocketed drag’s popularity.”
Lips Restaurant, a drag-themed dinner theater in North Park, holds nightly performances six days a week with local drag queens serving as the waiters and the performers.
According to Baskin, it’s not uncommon to see young audience members at Lips.
“I had one mom call and her daughter was turning ten,” Baskin said. “I personally wouldn’t take my 10-year-old child to a drag show, but it’s a new generation of kids.”
While Lips typically discourages those under 12 from attending the nightly shows, it provides one of the few opportunities for those under 21 to see drag up close and personal.
Responding to the demand for more age-accessible drag, there has been a recent flux of all ages events that aims to connect underage fans to their favorite queens. One such event is RuPaul’s Battle of the Stars 2016 Extravaganza Tour.
Eastlake High School senior Abraham Hernandez lined up at The Observatory by 2 p.m., even though the show wouldn’t begin until 8.
His evening took a turn for the better when one of the performers, RuPaul season 8 finalist Ginger Minj, spotted Hernandez and gave him meet-and-greet passes for being lined up so early.
“Now there are a lot of kids who love drag queens and want to meet them but they can’t because they’re under 21,” Hernandez said. “It made my whole year to have the opportunity to meet them.”
Television personality and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” judge Michelle Visage isn’t surprised to see that the show has a notable following among the youth.
“At that age, middle school and high school, everybody’s trying to find their own tribe, something to call their own,” Visage said during the preshow meet and greet. “It makes complete sense.”
At the event, Luu was also able to meet some of her favorite drag queens from the show. She intends on meeting more at RuPaul’s Drag Con at the Los Angeles Convention Center on May 7 and 8.
“Drag shouldn’t have an age limit. It should be open to anyone that’s interested,” Luu said. “Drag Con is a great opportunity for kids out there like me to be in a world like drag and not feel left out because all their shows are 21 and over.”
According to Luu, she is passionate about drag culture because of the creativity that goes into the performances.
Justin Anthony, known as “Gro Tesqua” in San Diego’s drag scene, uses drag as an artistic outlet for his creativity.
“Drag for me is basically self-expression,” Anthony said. “I’m an artist, I’ve always been an artist, and drag is a way to express myself.”
Just moments earlier, Anthony had just won the first round of Dueling Divas, a local drag competition held in Urban MO’s Bar and Grill.
Baskin, a good friend of Anthony, agrees that drag revolves around self-expression. However, she adds that drag doesn’t belonging to any one particular group of people.
“Drag is a world of beauty and embracing all walks of life,” Baskin said. “It’s not necessarily a gay or straight or trans thing. Everybody’s equal.”
Baskin, a transgender woman, identifies as being more female than being a drag queen. Being a woman is a part of her identity, but being in drag entails performance and entertainment, which is why drag is not limited to any particular gender.
Sixteen-year-old Luu plans on participating in drag culture in the near future, although she faces criticism and opposition from her schoolmates.
“They tell me no, you can’t that, drag is for men pretending to be women,” Luu said as she recalled comments from her peers. “But it’s 2016 already. Everyone is really open. The world is changing.”
While drag inspires Luu with creative energy, Hernandez says that drag has helped him feel comfortable in his own skin.
“Drag makes you feel accepted. You learn to love yourself just watching the show,” Hernandez said. “A lot of kids need to learn that now because their parents might not always approve of them.”
As for now, both Hernandez and Luu are anticipating a recently announced all-ages tour being put together by Jasmine Masters, a drag queen who is responding to seeing underage fans waiting outside clubs until the late hours of night.
Masters made the announcement via YouTube, explaining how the tour is specifically for those under 21. The tour is comprised mostly of contestants from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” but it will also team up with local drag queens to introduce fans to their own local drag scene.
Until that tour comes into fruition, however, super fans will have to keep waiting outside venues in hopes of seeing their favorite drag performers.
While Luu is excited about the tour’s announcement, she is most excited about eventually performing drag in the near future.
“At my age, I can’t perform at clubs, but I want do everything,” Luu said. “I want to perform, I want to do make up. I want to meet them, I want to be them.”