Recently, clouds have been dragged through the mud.
This art form has been thrown into a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who have been complaining about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children. Opponents often coordinate protests at drag events that feature or cater to children, sometimes appearing with guns. Some politicians have suggested banning children from drag events and even bringing criminal charges to parents who take their children to one child.
Performers and event organizers, like hours of stories in which colorfully dressed drag queens read books to children, say that it is the protesters who terrorize and hurt children and make them political pawns — just as they have done in other campaigns around bathroom access and educational materials.
Watch: Drag Queen Story Hour offers a different kind of page turner
Recent headlines about the turmoil of drag events and their portrayal as sexual and harmful to children can obscure the art form and its rich history.
What is drag?
Drag is the art of dressing and behaving exaggeratedly as another genre, usually for entertainment such as comedy, singing, dancing, lip syncing or all of the above.
The roots of drag may go back to the era of William Shakespeare, when men performed female roles. The origin of the term has been debated, but one possibility is that it was coined after someone noticed that the dresses or skirts worn by male actors on stage would be dragged on the floor. Another depicts it as an acronym – an unproven idea that notes in scripts would use “DRAG” to indicate that the actor should “dress as a girl”.
Drag shows can be seen later on at the vaudeville circuit and during the Harlem Renaissance. They became a mainstay in gay bars throughout the 20th century, and have remained so.
RuPaul took things a step further with his reality competition show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which became an award-winning success and allowed drag to explode in popularity — and into the mainstream.
Is it sexual drag?
Many opponents of drag cite nudity in their objections. Each artist makes different choices, but drag queens often wear more, not less, than you’d see on a typical American woman in the twenty-first century, at a public beach or on network television.
Their fashion tends toward extravagant gowns, sometimes floor length. Drag queens may use false breasts, wear transparent costumes, and use makeup or other means to show cleavage and appear overly feminine.
The performers note that the difference is that opponents of drag see sexual perversion on the side of cross-dressing.
Drag does not usually include nudity or abstraction, which is more common in comic, and is a separate form of entertainment. Explicitly sexual and abusive language is common in shows intended for an adult audience. These routines can consist of stand-up comedy that may be saucy — or it may pale in comparison to some of the mainstream comedians.
Should children see or wear drag clothes?
Parenting experts say it’s up to parents and guardians to decide, just as they decide whether their children should be exposed to or participate in some music, television, movies, beauty pageants, concerts, or other forms of entertainment.
Performances at nightclubs and adult brunch may not be appropriate for children, while other events, such as story drag hours, are designed for children and therefore have more moderate language and dress.
Drag artists and venues that book them generally either don’t allow children if the performance contains challenging content, or also require children to be accompanied by a parent or guardian—basically, how rated films are handled by theaters.
Story-pulling hours, in which performers read to children in bookstores, bookstores, or other places, have become popular in recent years. The events use a captivating character to capture their children’s attention – any parent whose child can’t take their eyes off Elsa from Frozen gets the idea. The difference here is that the goal is to get children interested in reading.
Some of the children performed the drawing at the age-appropriate events. An 11-year-old girl in a princess dress and tiara was recently scheduled to perform at a story-and-singing event at an Oregon bar — but was demoted to “guest of honor” after protests erupted outside and turned into a fight.
“Part of keeping our kids safe is letting them be kids, have fun, take risks, and be silly, without necessarily meaning anything deeper or more permanent,” says Amber Trueblood, a family therapist. “Many parents are fine with kids who dress up as killers, bad guys, or reapers, yet they rarely make a choice of outfit that means anything more than just play and fun.”
Threats and allegations of “grooming”
Opponents of drag hours and other drag events for children’s audiences often claim that they “look after” children, suggesting attempts to sexually abuse them or in some way influence their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The term “grooming” in a sexual sense describes how pedophiles trap and abuse their victims. Its use by opponents of drag, as well as by protesters in other areas of LGBTQ opposition, seeks to wrongly equate it with pedophilia and other forms of child abuse.
Perpetrators of false rhetoric can then portray themselves as child saviors and attempt to portray anyone who disagrees – eg a political opponent – as standing on the side of child abusers.
Objections are often of a religious nature, with some opponents citing Satan at work. Threats to withdraw events, and hours of story in particular, increased along with the rhetoric. In addition to a protest in Oregon that failed to quell one of these events, organizers of a recent event in Florida called off their protest after what they said were threats from hate groups.
Monitors say the threats are likely an attempt to intimidate parents into not taking their children to such events, leading them to vanish and push them into the closet. Some regulators, parents, and actors dug in their heels, insisting they wouldn’t fall apart.
In another tactic to discourage attendance, drag opponents have been known to attend performances, capture and post a video that lacks context, and then hunt or “dox” the performer or venue.
One of these videos showed a vile dragging in front of a young child and was framed as abuse – even though the child was with adults and the venue had advised attendees about rough content, suggested parental discretion and required any child to be accompanied by parents.
Other troubling efforts include a false claim that an actor lit up children in a library in Minnesota and another false claim that the head of Drag Queen Story Hour has been arrested for child pornography.
Despite claims by some opponents, clouds cannot “transform” a gay or transgender child, although its playful use of sex may be reassuring for children who are already questioning their identity. In this way, therapist Joe Court wrote in a blog post in Psychology Today, gender-nonconforming children can have “other molds as they begin to sort out their feelings about who they originally are.”