The Boy(s) Who Cried Pedo
Children, drag queens, and where to draw the line
For the past week and a half or so, there’s been a moral panic on Twitter about children and drag queens. I don’t know when or how it started, but I first learned about it when a series of images came up on my timeline of underage children attending a drag show; the back wall had a bright neon sign proclaiming “It’s not gonna lick itself!”
At first, because of the neon sign, I presumed that this was taking place at an adult venue, like a bar or a strip club, and while I was ambiguous about kids attending drag shows more broadly, I was outright concerned in this specific case. I later learned, however, that the show was taking place at an ice cream shop—probably one of the most child-safe places you can think of. The hosts could easily have covered up the neon sign for the sake of PR, but ultimately there was no nefarious plot to groom the children to be taken advantage of.
Ever since then, though, there’s hardly been a day where I didn’t hear or read something about the Very Important Topic of whether drag is an inherently adult form of entertainment. Frankly though, the answer to that question is both simple and complex—it depends.
Any performance that features a man in women’s clothing—and adopting the stereotypical mannerisms of a woman as well—can be considered a drag performance. What makes the performance sexual or not is dependent on the actions taken by the performer and how those actions are usually looked at by society. For example, I’d say there’s a strong consensus that rubbing your body up and down on a pole is sexually explicit, and probably isn’t taking place at a venue that children should find themselves in.
But there are other actions that are merely flirtatious and not age-inappropriate—assuming they’re not directed at underage kids, at least. Otherwise, why would the scene of a princess flirting with a power-hungry sorcerer (albeit with no intent other than keeping him distracted) be featured in a classic family-friendly Disney movie? Why is the act of kissing seen in, well, basically every other movie not aimed exclusively at babies and toddlers?
There’s a simple rule of thumb that should be established regarding childhood exposure to LGBT-related things—if straight people are allowed to say and do certain things in front of kids, LGBT+ people should be able to do it in front of kids too. This is the same logic that’s at the root of why I believe gay marriage is morally okay and should remain legalized, and it’s also why drag queens should be able to do things like read books to kids—if it were anyone other than a drag queen, it would be a non-issue. (Or maybe it would just be a different issue dependent on the contents of the book. But that’s better than having the issue be about the person reading the book!)
The whole reason there’s a backlash against LGBT+ advancements in the mainstream culture is because of the relative newness of it all. It’s new, therefore it’s scary, and people work their way backwards to justify their fear of this strange new thing—whether those justifications are valid or not. And that’s how you end up with Proud Boys barging into reading sessions and shouting slurs—ironically, with no regard for the fear and trauma they’re inflicting on the children present in doing so.
Of course, this shouldn’t need to be said, but because there’s a surfeit of overgrown children on the internet,1 I’m going to say it anyway—if a drag queen reading books to kids does turn out to be a pedophile, then he should be condemned. If a drag queen performs in a manner that’s sexually explicit in front of kids, that too should be condemned. But this should be decided on a case-by-case basis. The only thing that makes a pedophile a pedophile is what they do to kids. What they’re wearing while they’re doing it, or what their profession is, is completely irrelevant.
Across the political spectrum, there’s an increasing tendency not only to jump at your own shadow, but also to jump at other people’s shadows—and then provide the post-hoc rationalization that jumping at other people’s shadows is a good thing, if it means there’s a slight chance that the shadow is being cast by the real thing that you should fear. For the left, that thing is racism, or bigotry more broadly. And for the right, that thing is pedophilia. One prominent right-wing activist is even working to relabel “drag queens” as “trans strippers”—not because that’s remotely true to reality, but because it paints the entire drag queen profession as explicitly sexual, and thus ensures that any sort of interaction between a drag queen and an underage kid can result in grooming accusations, no matter how implausible they are. This, even though right-wing activists routinely accuse the left of expanding the definition of racism to absurd levels with the goal of tarring their political opponents as such. As with everything else, hypocrisy abounds.
I don’t know what else there is to say that I haven’t said in other posts. There’s no singular thing that will mitigate the culture war, but social media is fanning the flames to dangerous levels, and the companies that run the websites will likely do nothing about it. Engagement is engagement after all; so long as they’re making a profit and performing their obligatory gestures toward diversity and tolerance, who cares? Certainly not the culture warriors. The best thing that everyone else can do is speak up, and speak honestly, and uphold their integrity—even if their “side” throws them to the wolves for it.