EXPLAINER: Drag queens and how they got dragged into politics
Lately the drag has been dragged through the mud.
The art form has been cast in the wrong light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the ‘sexualisation’ or ‘grooming’ of children. Opponents often coordinate protests at drag events that feature or target children, sometimes showing up with guns. Some politicians have proposed banning children from drag events and even criminally charging parents who take their children there.
Artists and organizers of events, such as story hours where brightly dressed drag queens read books to children, say protesters are the ones who terrorize and hurt children and turn them into political pawns – just as they have done in other campaigns around access to toilets and educational materials.
Recent headlines about the disruption of drag events and their portrayal as sexual and harmful to children may obscure the art form and its rich history.
WHAT IS DRAG?
Drag is the art of dressing and acting exaggeratedly like another genre, usually for entertainment such as comedy, singing, dancing, lip-syncing, or all of the above.
Drag may have its roots in the days of William Shakespeare, when female roles were played by men. The origin of the term is debated, but it is possible that it was coined after someone noticed that the dresses or petticoats that male actors wore on stage were dragging on the floor. Another presents it as an acronym – an unproven notion that notes in scripts use “DRAG” to indicate that the actor should “dress as a girl”.
Drag performances could later be seen on the vaudeville circuit and during the Harlem Renaissance. They became a mainstay of gay bars throughout the 20th century and remain so.
RuPaul went one step further with his reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which became an award-winning hit and helped drag explode in popularity — and into the mainstream.
IS DRAG SEXUAL?
Many opponents of drag cite nudity in their objections. Each performer makes different choices, but drag queens often wear more, not less, clothing than what you’d see on a typical 21st-century American woman on a public beach or on network television.
Their costumes tend towards extravagant, sometimes long dresses. Drag queens may use fake breasts, wear see-through costumes, and use makeup or other means to show off cleavage and appear overly feminine.
The difference, interpreters note, is that opponents of flirting see sexual deviance in the aspect of cross-dressing.
Drag usually does not involve nudity or stripping, which are more common in burlesque, a distinct form of entertainment. Explicitly sexual and profane language is common in shows aimed at adult audiences. Such routines can consist of stand-up comedy that can be raunchy – or can pale in comparison to some traditional comedians.
SHOULD CHILDREN SEE OR DRESS IN DRAG?
That’s up to parents and guardians to decide, just like they decide whether their children should be exposed to or participate in certain music, TV shows, movies, beauty contests, concerts or other forms of entertainment, parenting experts say. .
Shows at nightclubs and adult-oriented brunches may not be suitable for children, while other events, such as story times, are child-friendly and therefore contain softer language and dress.
Drag performers and the venues that book them typically don’t allow children if a performance has risky content, or require children to be accompanied by a parent or guardian — basically how movies rated R are managed by theatres.
Story hours, in which interpreters read to children in libraries, bookstores or other venues, have become popular in recent years. The events use an engaging character to grab their child’s attention – any parent whose child can’t take Elsa’s eyes off “Frozen” has the idea. The difference here is that the goal is to get kids interested in reading.
Some children have performed cruising at age-appropriate events. An 11-year-old who dons a princess dress and tiara was recently scheduled to perform at a story-and-singing event at an Oregon pub – but was downgraded to ‘guest of honor’ after protests outside erupted into fighting.
“Part of keeping our kids safe is allowing them to be kids, to be playful, to take risks, and to be silly, without that necessarily meaning anything deeper or more permanent,” explains Amber Trueblood, a family therapist. “A lot of parents are OK with kids dressing up as assassins, villains or reapers, but they rarely take the choice of costume to mean anything other than playful and fun.
THREATS AND POILING
Opponents of drag story hours and other drag events for children’s audiences often claim that they “groom” children, which involves attempts to sexually abuse them or otherwise influence them. another their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The term “grooming” in the sexual sense describes how child molesters trick and abuse their victims. Its use by opponents of dating, as well as protesters in other areas of LGBTQ opposition, seeks to falsely equate it with pedophilia and other forms of child abuse.
The authors of the false rhetoric may then present themselves as child saviors and try to present anyone who disagrees – a political opponent, for example – as siding with the child molesters.
Objections are often religious in nature, with some opponents citing the devil at work. Threats to drag out events, and story times in particular, have increased along with the rhetoric. In addition to the protest in Oregon which failed to quell such an event, organizers of a recent event in Florida canceled theirs after what they said were threats from hate groups.
The threats are likely an attempt to scare parents into not taking their children to such events, causing them to collapse and push the drag back into the closet, observers said. Some organizers, parents and performers have dug their heels in, insisting they won’t back down.
In another tactic to discourage attendance, stragglers have been known to attend shows, take and post a video that lacks context, then troll or “dox” the artist or venue.
One such video clip showed an act of profane dragging in front of a young child and presented it as abuse – despite the child being with adults and the venue informing attendees of the rude content, suggesting parental discretion and requiring that all children are accompanied by their parents.
Other undermining efforts include a false claim that an artist flashed children in a Minnesota library and another false claim that the head of the Drag Queen Story Hour organization was arrested for child pornography.
Despite claims by some naysayers, drag cannot “transform” a gay or transgender child, although its playful use of gender can reassure children who are already questioning their identity. That way, therapist Joe Kort wrote in a blog post in Psychology Today, gender nonconforming children may have “other role models as they begin to sort out their feelings about who they authentically are.”