Over the last year, a debate has been ignited.
A video of a drag show aimed at children in Texas went viral, and we’ve since seen protests outside similar shows and legislation banning drag shows for children.
One artist I follow posted a harrowing account of men with guns storming a Drag Queen Story Hour.
This debate has spilled over into the UK, and the usual Twitter controversy chasers have got involved. This feels even more bizarre here, because unlike in the US, the UK has a long history of drag-as-family-entertainment – panto.
It’s one of the things I love about doing drag here – most people have been exposed to it before so there’s often a higher baseline of acceptance and understanding in the general public of what drag is all about.
People in the UK tend to understand that it is not inherently sexual or dangerous, and it is broadly seen as something more akin to clowning than to anything necessarily lascivious.
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However, I’ll be honest – I didn’t get into drag to entertain children. A lot of MY performances are lewd, suggestive or downright filthy.
I love performing for adults, particularly queer adults, because it feels like we’re speaking the same language and have the same references. I love coming up with ways to startle or surprise that audience or to make them laugh.
That said, I am perfectly capable of toning down my performances to suit all ages audiences – I’ve done it before and will again.
Fundamentally, when I perform for children, there is no real difference to taking a kid to a musical – big costumes, fun music and lots of playful self expression.
Performing for children has its own magic, and it is very heartwarming that a generation of kids will grow up having been exposed to different identities and lifestyles.
Hopefully performing for audiences like this is helping LGBT+ kids grow up without shame and straight kids grow up without bias.
Society does not struggle with ideas of ‘appropriateness’ when we’re discussing other art forms. There is no difference between a drag artist performing for an all-ages audience, and an actor who typically makes action movies making a movie aimed at children.
I believe in the safeguarding of children, but I do not see anything inherently dangerous about a man in a dress or a woman in a suit.
If you do, there are much bigger bigotries at play which need a bigger conversation. (Clothing has no gender, and besides, gender roles and norms are grossly overrated.)
Of course parents are free to make decisions they feel are best for their children – but what parent doesn’t want to encourage creativity, self-expression and joy in their children?
Calling drag artists ‘groomers’ is just recycled homophobia for a transphobic era. There is a long history of calling members of the LGBT+ community dangers to children.
Any parent should know, however, that there are no external forces that will change a child’s sexuality or gender expression. If I could have changed my sexuality as an unhappy teen, I would have done.
If external forces could ‘groom’ your sexuality or gender expression, a childhood of heteronormative Disney films would have made me straight. The idea that watching a drag performance is going to turn a child queer is laughable.
In a world where transphobia is on the rise, where groups of armed men attempt to storm Pride parades, let’s call this moral panic what it really is – the latest opportunity for homophobes to dress up their bigotry as an attempt to ‘protect the children’ and to distract the public from all the REAL issues affecting children.
Poverty, homelessness and, in the US, gun violence are issues that policy makers should surely be focusing on, instead of worrying about the ‘danger’ posed by a man in a dress reading children a fairytale.
I think the timing of this manufactured outrage is incredibly curious – 19 children were murdered in the US and gun reform was a real topic in the news, and suddenly the conversation pivots to DRAG as a danger to children?
I recognise that the UK does not have the same gun problem as the US, but right wing talking points in the US quickly make their way to us – it’s important to question the motives of these topics, and especially, what they’re looking to distract from.
Finally, I would of course encourage parents thinking of bringing children to drag events to make sure it’s suitable for them.
There are certainly instances where an excited parent makes a misjudgment about appropriateness – if you’re thinking of bringing a child to a drag brunch, consider contacting the organiser to check if the content will be appropriate for children, just like you would with any other form of entertainment.
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