Culture Wars /

OPINION: Drag Queens Are Not an LGBT Rights Issue

Drag queens aren't being used to elevate communities, they're being sent to destroy them

The rise of the drag queen has left some earnest do-gooders feeling as though they are obligated to include them in their considerations of the LGBT community — they shouldn’t.

The philosopher Marshall McLuhan theorized that the “medium is the message.” Understood correctly, McLuhan’s argument is that the medium — not the content — plays the primary role in an audience’s interpretation. If that’s at all confusing, it might be helpful to consider a particular member of Congress who misunderstood his theory. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a dress with the words “tax the rich” emblazoned on the backside, she responded to criticism by arguing that the medium was the message.  The medium, however, was that she wore a designer dress (from a store where sandals cost $400) to an event that cost $35,000 for a single seat. The content (“tax the rich”) may have proposed lofty progressive ideals, but the message received by many Americans — from Black Lives Matter chapters to conservative commentators — was one of shameless hypocrisy. 

The message to children at a Drag Queen Story Hour performance is that femininity, womanhood, and gender are all performative. The term “drag queen” is neither a gender identity nor a sexual orientation. Drag is a caricature.

While academics have noted that the public often confuses drag queens with transgender people, the vast majority of drag participants are gay men who only dress as women when performing a show. Ironically, in their private lives, these individuals adhere to typical gender norms and often have a concrete understanding of their own gender.

And, since drag is not an identity or orientation, opposition to Drag Queen Story Hour cannot be framed as an opposition to LGBT rights. Transgender people — perhaps more than any group other than parents — should oppose Drag Queen Story Hour since it diminishes their self-perception to little more than a disposable and meaningless costume. With many having undergone the pain and permanence of body-altering surgery, drag’s trivial approach to gender ought to evoke more condemnation.

Libraries, legislators, and city governments have all stressed that Drag Queen Story Hour is just a harmless event where age-appropriate books are read to children by an interesting character that will spark their creativity. Some of that is true at least part of the time. Often it’s not true at all. But, McLuhan cautioned observers to distance themselves from interpreting media through the lens of its content, going so far as to refer to this as the “numb stance of the technological idiot.”

“For the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind,” he writes in Understanding Media: The Extension of Man. Just as Ocasio-Cortez found herself caught up in the content of her own message, so too have millions of Americans been persuaded that the content of Drag Queen Story Hour is where they should focus.

It’s important to note that this message is often independent of the creator’s intentions. Ocasio-Cortez never intended to convey a tone-deaf-and-gilded persona; similarly, drag queens are likely motivated by various aspirations. In fact, some would likely oppose the core message — if only because it runs contrary to the self-interest of individual performers.

When drag queens started migrating from San Francisco, where the events first occurred in 2015, naive town administrators blithely repeated the organization’s description of what a story hour entailed. “DQSH captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models,” their website explains.

In 2018, the town of Colchester, Vermont, opted to reiterate the gender fluidity comments but struck from their newsletter any mention of glamorous queer role models. Later, cities like Bisbee, Arizona, omitted any mention of gender fluidity and described the events as celebrations of diversity instead.

But drag queens aren’t anything of the sort and the way they describe their performances is demonstrative of this. Some call it an art and others see it as a route to stardom, but what they don’t describe it as — except in disgust at how others perceive them — is a lifestyle. Their message is not one that celebrates feminity nor one that celebrates transgender people. The reality is, at its core, drag queens create a mockery of both.

In most cases, transgender men who identify as women, make earnest efforts to appear as the sex they say is more comfortable to them. The goal, however unsuccessful their attempts may be, is to ultimately pass as the opposite gender — not to stand out. In contrast, drag queens take the opposite approach, and often their costumes are outlandish, sexual in nature, or include lurid and unnatural elements. While the former may view womanhood and femininity as their identity, the latter sees it merely as a costume.

In essence, these costumes transmit a series of concerning opinions to young audiences who are subjected to them. The outlandish drag queen displays womanhood and femininity as a comical absurdity and the sexualized costume of another embeds the objectification of womanhood. But, the lurid and unnatural costumes some drag queens don present the most debased portrayal of all: womanhood is just a monstrous fiction.

In the recently released documentary, What Is A Womancreator Matt Walsh is shown traveling the world in search of an answer to the titular question that was once self-evident to everyone regardless of their political ideology. But in his effort to pry a simple explanation from activists, professors, and transgender people, he came up decidedly short. Most of his interlocutors fumbled with the definition, resorting to the circular logic that, “a woman is a woman.”

Tautology is the point. The absence of a definition creates a denial of the term’s very existence. In a way, this line of thinking surpasses arguments that place gender in the category of social constructs and instead relegate it to anachronism. Currency is a social construct, but generally, it’s one where a consensus on its definition has been reached.

By their very nature, drag queens argue that gender is an abomination, and as townships, public libraries, and military bases invite them into their communities, they aren’t celebrating diversity. Like a minstrel show caricature in black face, the parody of womanhood is a humiliating force. This is a confusing and dangerous message for children that at its best normalizes perversion and at its worst promotes nihilism. It’s a message being delivered at a time when governments around the world are shocked by and unable to explain the dramatic increase in gender non-conforming children.

Drag has nothing to do with gay or lesbian rights. It certainly has nothing to do with transgenders. The truth is, drag queens aren’t being used to elevate these or any other community; they’re being sent to destroy them.

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