Cowley: Drag is not Harmful

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By Elle Cowley, Opinion Writer, Audio Producer

 

A couple of years ago, I had my first experience with a vehemently anti-drag person. From ages 15 to 18, I lifeguarded for my hometown’s public pool. During one of my shifts, a coworker got out of the water to come talk to me. As I was stuck sitting in the guard chair, he began to rant to me about an experience his sister had. While downtown in Powell’s City of Books, she witnessed a drag queen story hour.

“I can’t believe they’re allowed to do that around children, you know?” he huffed. “They shouldn’t be exposed to things like that.”

Unfortunately, since I was on watch, I could not politely excuse myself. Trapped and uncomfortable, I listened to him go on and on about how disgusted he was by an event that did not affect him in the slightest.

Recently, I have seen a steady increase in people talking about drag like that coworker did, calling drag performers things like pedophiles and groomers. Any drag related content online will inevitably have someone in the comments saying something along the lines of “this person should be jailed.” But in reality, drag is not the harmful thing some people would like you to think it is. Anti-drag rhetoric is often just an excuse to be hateful towards the LGBT community.

What is Happening

Today, most people are aware of drag’s existence, but with heightened awareness comes greater scrutiny. Many people don’t quite understand what drag performers are or what they represent, and so choose to bash things that make them uncomfortable.

As of late, we have seen multiple instances of backlash to local drag shows. In St. George, Utah, a city manager resigned after receiving backlash for approving a drag show performance on public property. In September, an all-ages drag queen tea time event in Salt Lake created a wave of hate and backlash against the business and the performers.

These instances are not isolated. More and more anti-drag displays have popped up as time has gone on. Anti-drag protesting and backlash do nothing but perpetuate harmful misinformation about drag as an art form and puts drag performers in danger. Being baselessly accused of pedophilia is no small form of harassment, and yet we’ve seen such language pervade in reference to the queer community.

Anti-Drag is Anti-LGBT

Common pieces of anti-LGBT rhetoric appear in anti-drag discussions. “They are grooming our children,” for instance, is a repeated phrase used by politicians to describe drag events. Hate against drag is a thinly veiled excuse to perpetuate harmful stereotypes against LGBT people.

Drag as an art form and an outlet for self-expression is intertwined with the LGBT community. Drag serves as an outlet for many gender-nonconforming people to have a space to explore their identity. In Salt Lake City, the drag scene offers a space for people from all different backgrounds to come together and perform. Having a space where people feel comfortable to express themselves and perform is so important, especially while bigotry rages so intensely against the community. To protest drag events and call drag performers pedophiles is to blatantly hate on people in the LGBT community under the guise of protecting children. Attacking drag spaces means attacking safe spaces for queer people.

Common Anti-Drag Talking Rebuttal

I shouldn’t have to say this, but being gender non-conforming does not make someone a pedophile or a groomer. No evidence exists that even suggests that drag turns your kids gay. To push that narrative is to knowingly spread false information. There is nothing wrong with introducing kids to new forms of gender identity. If anything, kid-friendly drag spaces offer a space for kids to explore all facets of gender expression. Exploring gender identity can help kids discover new interests and find new ways to express themselves.

Surveys conducted of families who visited drag queen story times in public libraries show an overwhelmingly positive reception. LGBT families noted that they felt the drag queen story times created representation and an inclusive environment for them. Creating a safe space for children to explore their gender identity results in nothing but positive impact.

 

People get upset by things they don’t understand. Instead, we should all recognize drag as an art form that allows people to have an outlet to express themselves. How people choose to express themselves creatively does not hurt anyone. As drag enters more and more into the mainstream, more performers will face scrutiny from people who don’t understand the art form and don’t care to. Drag provides a safe space for LGBT people to perform and find community. To represent it as anything else is blatant homophobia.

 

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@elle_cowley_