How drag queens got involved in politics | WGN 720 Radio

They have been dragging themselves through the mud lately.

In recent months, right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children have cast the art form in a false light. Opponents often coordinate protests at events involving or serving children, sometimes with weapons. Some politicians suggested prohibit children from participating in sports events and even prosecute parents who take their children to such events.

Performers and organizers of events, e.g the history of hours in which colorfully dressed drag queens read books to children, say that protesters are terrorizing and harming children and making them political pawns — just as they have done in other campaigns related to bathroom access and educational materials.

Recent headlines about disrupting drag events and portraying them as sexual and harmful to children can overshadow the art form and its rich history.


Drag is the art of dressing and behaving excessively as a member of the opposite sex, usually for entertainment such as comedy, singing, dancing, lip-syncing, or all of the above.

Drag can trace its roots back to the ages William Shakespeare, when women’s roles were played by men. The origin of the term is debated, but one possibility is that it was coined after someone noticed that the dresses or petticoats worn by male actors on stage dragged across the floor. Another thinks it’s an acronym – an unproven suggestion that the script notes would use the word “DRAG” to mean the actor should “dress up like 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 took it even further with his reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which became a hit and allowed drag programming to explode in popularity – and enter the mainstream.


Many opponents of drag cite nudity in their objections. Each performer makes their own choices, but drag queens often wear more clothing, not less, than you see on the typical 21st century American woman, at a public beach or on television.

Their costumes tend towards extravagant dresses, sometimes floor-length. Drag queens may use breast implants, wear see-through costumes, and use makeup or other means to show cleavage and appear overly feminine.

The difference, the performers note, is that opponents of drag see sexual deviance in the cross-dressing aspect.

Drag usually does not involve nudity or stripping, which is more common in burlesque, a separate form of entertainment. Overtly sexual and profanity are common in plays intended for adult audiences. Such routines may consist of stand-up comedy that may be raunchy — or may pale in comparison to some of the mainstream comedians.


Parents and guardians decide that, just as they decide whether their children should be exposed to certain music, television, movies, beauty pageants, concerts or other forms of entertainment, parenting experts say.

Nightclub performances and brunches designed for adults may not be suitable for children, while other events such as drag story hours are designed for children and therefore contain softer expressions and clothing.

Drag performers and the venues that book them usually either don’t let kids in if the show has risque content, or require kids to be accompanied by a parent or guardian — essentially how theaters treat R-rated movies.

In recent years, drag story hours have become popular, during which performers read to children in libraries, bookstores, or other locations. Events use an immersive nature to capture a child’s attention—any parent whose child can’t take their eyes off Elsa from Frozen will understand this idea. The difference here is that the goal is to get kids interested in reading.

Some children performed drag at age-appropriate activities. One 11-year-old girl, dressed in a princess dress and tiara, was recently scheduled to perform on stage and sing at an Oregon pub, but was downgraded to “guest of honor” protests outside turned into fighting.

“Part of keeping our kids safe is allowing them to be kids and be playful and take risks and be silly without necessarily meaning anything deeper or permanent,” says Amber Trueblood, a family therapist. “Many parents accept children dressing up as assassins, evil villains or grim reapers, but they rarely see choosing a costume as anything more than fun and games.”


Opponents of drag stories and other drag events for children’s audiences often claim that they “groom” children, meaning attempts to sexually abuse them or somehow influence their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The term “grooming” sexually describes how abusers ensnare and abuse their victims. Its use by opponents of drag, as well as protesters in other areas of LGBTQ opposition, tends to falsely equate it with pedophilia and other forms of child abuse.

Those who use false rhetoric may pretend to be saviors of children and try to frame anyone who disagrees – such as a political opponent – on the side of child abusers.

Objections are often religious in nature, and some opponents refer to the devil. Along with the rhetoric, threats to delay events, in particular, story hours, intensified. In addition to the Oregon protest that failed to quell one such event, organizers of a recent one in Florida actually canceled them after what they said were threats from hate groups.

These threats are likely an attempt to scare parents away from taking their children to such events, causing them to get lost and go back into the closet, observers say. Some organizers, parents and performers got drunk, insisting that they would not give in.

As another tactic to discourage attendance, drag opponents have been known to attend performances, shoot and post videos out of context, and then troll or “dox” the artist or venue.

One such video showed indecency being dragged in front of a young child and was framed as abuse – even though the child was with an adult and the venue warned visitors about the crude content, advised parents to exercise caution and require children to be accompanied by their parents .

Other sabotage attempts include a false claim that the performer showed the children in the Minnesota library and another false statement that the head of the Drag Queen Story Hour organization was arrested for child pornography.

Despite​​​​some claims by opponents, drag cannot “turn” a child into gay or transgender, although playful use of gender can be reassuring to children who are already in doubt about their identity. So, therapist Joe Court wrote in his blog In psychology today, gender non-conforming children may have “different patterns as they begin to sort out their feelings about who they really are.”

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