Drag Queen Story Time

Here I go again, critically writing about drag. It is a good thing Maddie is on hiatus, or my life would be forfeit.

Today’s homily concerns a story about “Drag Queen Story Hour” I heard on some socialist podcast. The story goes like this:

  • Progressive librarian really wants to signal her virtue and hold a Drag Queen Story Hour for small children in her town. But she can’t find any drag queens!
  • Oh look! She found a drag queen who works as an early childhood educator when he is out of drag. Bonus!
  • The two of them run an event at the local library and it was super-successful! There weren’t even any protestors outside the library!
  • Oh no! The mean old CEO of the library (who is an accountant! Not even a librarian!) sends a scary memo advising the childrens programming not hold controversial events. He even advocates (gasp!) oversight of the children’s programming!
  • This blows up into a controversial issue in the town. Awful bigoted people wonder if this is appropriate for toddlers, and whether strippers and drug addicts will be invited to read stories to children at the library next.
  • Then the organizers hold a second story hour, which is even a bigger success! Even some of the people who were hesitant about the event attend and see it is not so bad.
  • The mean old CEO recants and repents, and everybody lives happily ever after.

What a heartwarming story, right? But there is an interesting rhetorical technique at work here, and I am uncomfortable with it.

Pretend Covid never happened, and I say: “Hey! Jimmy and Deedles and Kato and I are going out to a drag event! Want to come?” What kind of event do you think I am talking about?

Option 1: Some cheerful drag performers dressed in flamboyant yet modest dresses sing childrens songs and read didactic stories about how it is okay if you look different so long as your values strictly conform to those dictated by progressive secular Western norms.

Option 2: Some ribald drag performers dressed in slinky things with deep cleavage lip-sync to sultry torch songs, before making transgressive jokes laced with sexual innuendo and cutting remarks.

You’re all thinking Option 1, right? In these enlightened days of RuPaul’s Drag Race, we all perceive drag to be a cheerful, family-friendly entertainment suitable for toddlers? Oh wait. That has not been my experience at drag shows. The drag shows I have attended have been much more like Option 2, but I guess all the other drag shows are more like Option 1, because when you say the phrase “Drag Queen Story Hour” to a bunch of suburban concerned parents, they are all supposed to understand that Drag Queen Story Hour is Option 1 and in no way Option 2. Because drag has nothing to do with Option 2. Nothing at all. It’s just about dressing up in makeup and wigs that cost more than my monthly rent.

This is an excellent trap. When some parents have thoughts of Option 2 in their heads, and express concerns about a Drag Queen Story Hour happening at their local library, then you can label them ignorant at best and homophobic at worst. Drag Queen Story Hours are innocent! What are you even thinking?

I am assuming, of course, that most of us agree that Option 2 is not a good entertainment choice for toddlers. Drag has traditionally been subversive, and although there are many drag cultures, many of them remain transgressive and sexually charged. I am sure that there are some people who think that kind of grownup entertainment is appropriate for toddlers, but I do not think that the Overton Window has shifted that far yet. (And if the intent of Drag Queen Story Hour is to push the window in that direction, then I am on the side of the Concerned Parents.) As far as I know Drag Queen Story Hours have remained age-appropriate, but I am not surprised that there are lots of people who don’t know that.

Is it okay for parents to be apprehensive about Drag Queen Story Hour? Is it okay if they would prefer their children not attend such events? Does that mark them as bigots? The tone of the socialist podcast certainly seems to imply this, although the librarians interviewed insist that this is an optional program, and different families can make different options. Fine. Great. What about when entrprising schoolteachers want to virtue signal by bringing Drag Queen Story Hour into their classrooms. What then? Unlike a library storytime program, schooling is mandatory. What happens to parents who do not feel comfortable with their children attending such events?

There is a motte-and-bailey style attack going on here. I do not know that every Drag Queen Story Organizer has this in mind, but I think someone along the way realized that organizing Drag Queen Story Hours would be provocative, and that it would be a great way to stick it to the conservatives.

Take, for example, the slippery slope argument some opponents made: “What’s next? Strippers?” Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? Except that here in Lurkville drag shows are frequently held together with burlesque performances, and what is burlesque but pretentious stripping? (Hoo boy it is fortunate that Maddie is on hiatus.) Maybe it is the same in other places. Of course nobody would ever subject toddlers to burlesque, but why? Where is the line? Social conservatives (especially Christian ones) mistrust all of secular society, and feel that progressives are out to sexualize more and more of the public sphere. How do you explain the line between drag queens reading children stories and burlesque performers reading children’s stories to somebody who worries about that kind of sexualization?

Furthermore, I think this is about more than just diversity and inclusion. These are not “Storytime with a diverse LGBTQ+ person” sessions. These are Drag Queen Story Hours, and that comes with particular connotations. Drag is a form of performance. It is not “diversity” as we think of diversity in daily life. (Whoo boy. Cue the “drag is transphobia” culture wars here.) Unless you are Coco Peru, you aren’t going to the grocery store dressed up in drag. There are lots of ways to showcase diversity without turning to a deliberately transgressive art form. Yet, Drag Queen Story Hour is what took off. Why? It is difficult for me not to see an agenda at work here.

I realize this makes me look like one of those bigots, and that is fine. If drag queens want to hold story hours and parents want their toddlers to attend, who am I to complain? But I have some definite apprehensions.

The first is that didactic children’s literature is usually pretty boring.

The second is that what constitutes “diversity” in progressive circles is pretty damn limited. It’s fine if you look different, and maybe even if you talk with a funny accent. It is fine if you eat weird foods (but not shark fins, of course, because sharks are endangered) and great if you show off your funny dances. But if you actually live by any cultural values that are incompatible with those dictated by progressive secular Western norms, then watch out! If you want to be one of them Hindus then that is great, but you had better leave the caste system at home. You can wear that cute hijab if you want, but burkas are oppressive, and you had better not believe that claptrap about the Quran’s view of gender roles. Progressive secular Western ideologues use no true Scotsman to explain away these incogruities.

How does this relate to drag queens? Do all of the habits of drag queens (or the homosexuals portraying them) fall so conveniently into progressive secular Western norms? They certainly did not used to, before we whitewashed gay people into being “just like everybody else, except who they choose to love”. Drag queens at Drag Queen Story Hour are just like everybody else, except they dress up funny. Right?

My third objection has to do with the infantilization of drag culture. I know I will get in even more trouble for writing this, but in some ways drag queens remind me of clowns. The reasons clowns seem scary is because they are scary; they represent humans we perceive(d?) as monstrous, with deformities and physical mannerisms that scare us. But clowns have a superpower: they can say the things we cannot say out loud — think jesters at court. Similarly, drag queens (which represent a different kind of scariness, namely gender transgression) say the transgressive things we are supposed to keep to ourselves in polite company.

Yet somehow we have redefined clowns as children’s entertainment, and now we are doing the same to drag queens. It is so strange, and it robs clowns (and possibly drag queens) of those superpowers. I am under no illusions that all of drag will become Option 1 family-friendly, but it is definitely weird to see drag become children’s entertainment.

You are probably right: there is no conceivable way Drag Queen Story Hour could be misinterpreted, and anybody who does so is clearly either ignorant, bigoted, or both. Once again, I am making a big deal out of nothing. But if this really had been a rhetorical trick intended to make parents with legitimate concerns look bad, then that would be reprehensible. I do not like it when people use reprehensible tactics against each other, even when it is my side who is winning.

24 thoughts on “Drag Queen Story Time

  1. Ohh boy. Madie is gonna be here and I can’t wait to read what she has to say…
    And what are the odds of both of us writing about Drag on a Monday?
    I think the virtue signaling comes from the homophobic, culturally stunted parents who do not want their toddlers exposed to any kind of diversity. That’s the short of it.
    The long of it, it’s not the infantilization of Drag or the mainstreaming of it (yeah, the gays do want their sucking dick in their Banana Republic chinos recognized, but this is not it). It’s mostly the reticence of the Puritan-infused frame of mind that forbids anything transgressive to be normalized. You are right. Drag is sexually charged, gender performance art blown to clown-like proportions by Drag artists. Can that translate into Children’s Reading Hour? Of course ir can. Drag, by virtue of signaling transgression, is a good pedagogical model. Probably not Montessori approved, but as you say, literacy can be boring. What better way to infuse it with some fun than bringing a six-foot-three Drag artist to read Horton Hears a Who?

    XOXO

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    1. I think the odds of you writing about drag on any particular Monday are pretty good. I think the odds of me writing on any particular Monday are slim overall.

      The point of the post is that feeling uncomfortable with the idea of DQSH does not necessarily mean that you are homophobic and intolerant of diversity. It might mean you are wary of sexualized entertainment. But that wariness is easily interpreted as homophobia by progressives.

      I claim that this rhetorical trick is real and unfair. I am pretty sure my readership will disagree. Also I am pretty sure Maddie will not weigh in because Maddie is on hiatus, and if Maddie was not on hiatus Maddie would be mad.

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      1. Ok. I see.
        But what I got was mostly that the homogenization of the Drag performer was part of your beef with the Drag queen reading hour? What with the clown and whatnot? Drag queens that read to kids are everything but the sexy vixens we see in the clubs…

        XOXO

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        1. I do have issues with that homogenization, but I am more upset at how this is being used as an attack in the culture wars.

          Are you sure that the drag queens reading to toddlers are not the sexy vixen ones? That is my presumption, but I am not sure. The social conservatives could easily make a “thin edge of the wedge” argument here — first story hour will be hosted by clean and cheerful queens, and then it gets darker.

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  2. Hmmm. A lot to chew on, here. You make some good (or well argued, at least) points. I have nothing to add, but am curious to read the responses you get.

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    1. Not as well-argued as I would have liked. I am pretty sure most people will not see that there is an issue here at all, and they might be right.

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  3. Ooo. What a brilliantly written and thought provoking post. I suspect I know what will be mulling over in the middle of the night.

    In the meantime I’m imagining heading off to a subversive pantomime.

    I’ll be back.

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    1. I had thought that Australia was almost over Covid so you could go to drag shows again, but apparently not.

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    1. How about let’s not? I do not deny for a moment that there is a big problem in the Catholic priesthood, and I do not think that there is any of the accused grooming happening at Drag Queen Story Hour.

      I continue to be curious about how DQSH is being used as a volley in the culture wars, and I am concerned about demonizing parents who would prefer that their kids not participate as homophobic and intolerant.

      Also note that one reason the Catholic priesthood got away with what it did is because it was judged as being above scrutiny. I feel scrutiny is warranted even for our allies.

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  4. I’ve never seen a person in drag show their cleavage while shopping at a grocery store in the day time. I’ve also met drag performers who were not homosexual. All kinds of things go on in a library that doesn’t include actual reading. That is why there are ‘the stacks’ and the reason for sticky floors. Heterosexuals just don’t want to admit it.

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    1. Is it common to see drag queens at the grocery store where you live?

      You are completely correct that drag is not just for cisgendered gay men any more, but I think they still form the majority, and there remain a lot of associations between drag and gay men.

      As for perverted goings-on in libraries: literature does that to some people.

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      1. I would not say it is an everyday occurrence to see a drag queen in the ‘Gay Publix’, but no one would do a double take. Keep in mind, that where I live is a mecca for people who are transgender and/or in the process of transitioning.

        Hey Lurkie, how about some research and a post on some kink. You’ve been around the block a few times and must know about stuff….Give Deedles a thrill!

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        1. Transgender is pretty distinct from drag, in my opinion, although there are transgender people who do drag.

          I have already blogged about my horrifying kinks. This is one of the many reasons my readership is so low.

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  5. Actually your wrong on two accounts. I’m back from hiatus and I’m not mad in the slightest. I found it to be a very thought provoking post also. I can’t say I fully understand DSH myself, as I can’t stand kids, so I would personally never do it. Id be like Karen Walker sitting there with my flask out!!!

    But the libraries doing this, I’m sure research their queens to make sure they are not getting the likes of say a Lady Bunny, a Jackie Beat or a Sherry Vine. Nina West is a perfect queen for DSH and has had much success with it… and the community and parents really seem to like her. But I will say I do like that fact that some parents are open to them, and there kids like them. It shows they can be who they want to be and it’s alright. So, I like it shows it ok to be diverse. They have had them here and no one blinks an eye.

    And I’m not sure that many everyday citizens even know what to expect at a drag show, unless they been to one. Most of the people who would have a problem, with DSH only have seen what was portrayed of one in a movie and mostly likely, never attended one in person for real. But if they did attend one, say a Bunny or one of my old burlesque but pretentious stripping, shows…and your right about that btw, I could totally get why parents could be worried. But like I said, I’m sure the venues where these DSH’S go on, select the most vanilla and gentile of queens. Plus I’m sure the kids must love fun animated personalities and the bright colors.

    So “Is it okay for parents to be apprehensive about Drag Queen Story Hour? Is it okay if they would prefer their children not attend such events? Does that mark them as bigots? Yes, it’s alright if they are apprehensive…but it doesn’t make them a bigot, and nor homophobic. They just aren’t aware that every drag queen isn’t necessary trashy and brawdy. It would be no different then taking your kids to see a clean, decent comic, with simple lame jokes over going to see, say Lisa Lampanelli.

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    1. Oh dear. My life is forfeit. But welcome back! Everybody missed you.

      I do not know that there is much vetting of the performers going on, but maybe that is irrelevant. One of the most touching stories in Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide was a bunch of people protesting a school visit by Coyote on the basis that somebody had found a more adult presentation online. But Ivan Coyote is a professional able to tailor different performances to different audiences.

      Another performer that come to mind is Bob Saget, who is a filthy comedian but a squeaky-clean television star.

      I am not sure I am against Drag Queen Story Hour for those parents who are okay with it. Certainly the events depicted in the podcast were very popular in the community. I do have issues with people being ostracised for feeling discomfort with the concept, and I maintain reservations about the sanitization of drag. But if this G-rated drag culture wants to exist and there is a market for it, then so be it.

      You are going to have to explain the appeal of burlesque to me, because I do not get it at all.

      Also: don’t be seducing the straight lumbersexuals. They are for looking at and feeding coconut cake to, not converting. You probably have several toaster ovens already.

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      1. Bwahahahahahha! I’ll try not to seduce the lumbersexual…for now.

        I also agree with you on the vetting of queens. I don’t know how much research these libraries do. I can only speak of how it went here. But when the library here reached out, the contact person asked her gay friend to recommend a “clean queen”. She ended up going to her show, where she actually sings old swinger and show tune songs, and has a very old Hollywood style.

        And the burlesque thing I only got into before existing drag. I do think most either like it or hate it. The show we did was called Boy-lesque…I just enjoyed it being another facet and outlet of energy for me, but many men enjoyed the garments we wore…audience for everything. I never got nude myself ,with our laws, but once a guy in the audience did pull off my cod piece.

        Just think of the honeymoon night I could have given Steven.

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  6. Personally, I feel that anyone who will allow their children to sit on a strange (and strangely dressed, I might add) man’s lap every year to ask for presents, has no right to bitch about non-touching (I think) men in dresses. It’s not an every day thing, so on that day read to your own frickin’ kids!
    Don’t go by me though. Mr. Rogers always gave me the creeps 😉

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    1. Yes, Santa is another mystery, but at least Santa brings material wealth with him. Surely a little lap-time is worth some presents?

      I also agree that Mr Rogers had an unsettling vibe to him, especially given other children’s shows which amp up the enthusiasm. I have not seen the movie, but it seems that was just his demeanor?

      I missed you, Deedles. As always, I hope you are doing okay.

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      1. So Santa teaching kids how to be hos is okay as long as he is not in drag? I’m getting a little silly here, Lurkster. I blame you! I’m just trying to learn how not to put my two cents in on every topic that comes up. It’s working, but not well 🙂 I missed you too, Lurkster.

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        1. You are always welcome to put as many cents as you would like here. I do not know even one person on the blogosphere who feels you contribute too many cents.

          And yes, I am claiming that it is fine to sell out to Santa because of presents. Drag Queens don’t give you presents, unless you count crabs.

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