Why rightwingers have a hate-on for drag queens
Every once in a while I look at something I’ve looked at many times, maybe hundreds of times, and it’s like I’ve never really seen it before. Like the other day the Missus and I were strolling the neighborhood and I saw a couple of houses with porch overhangs that — I just then noticed — were held up by miniature Ionic columns. With volutes and everything. Which is funny because D.C., but also, how have I never seen that before?
Similarly I looked at what must be the thousandth grr-death-to-drag-queen-story-hour thing online and it hit me: This is really weird.
I mean, I knew it was sick and hateful and stupid. But perhaps for the first time I also saw how… old-fashioned it was. Even retro. Like, if you were not aware of the whole trend of modern conservatism (and who among us is that lucky), you might think it was a put-on. Drag queens? Really? In 2022? What is this, Footloose?
But it’s no put-on. It’s all over rightwing discourse. In fact, the current Drag Queen Story Hour/Brunch hatefest goes further than previous national panics over drag.
Remember when movies like Outrageous! and Victor/Victoria and performers like Boy George start coming out in the 1980s? There was a lot of furrow-browed discussion on the TV then of this “cross dressing” phenomenon. But drag seemed to have an advantage: A lot of young people didn’t have the automatic revulsion to it that had been bred into older men. I knew guys who weren’t exactly gay-friendly who really loved Dee Snider and Twisted Sister. And Dr. Frank N. Furter!
Of course, being okay with a guy in women’s clothes if the tunes were cool wasn’t necessarily the high road to enlightenment, let alone gender flux. Which is why it’s so weird that drag queens are now apparently the gateway drug for rightwing sex panic. If you want to strike a blow against gender freedom, as we know conservatives do, I can see attacking trans rights and marriage equality — but why would you go after drag queens?
Yet, unlike in the 80s or any subsequent decade I can think of, we now actually have Republican politicians taking explicitly anti-drag-queen positions (“RON DESANTIS FILES COMPLAINT ABOUT DRAG SHOW BRUNCH AND KIDS,” “Anti-drag queen TV journalist Kari Lake wins GOP primary for AZ governor” etc.). It’s easier to know where your average GOP candidate stands on drag queens than on municipal bond issues. I don’t remember Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich getting into the subject.
And their rage against these events has escalated to the point when wingnut goon squads are invading and attacking them. In Texas last week a bunch of anti-fascists stood armed guard to keep the goobers at bay (which was of course portrayed by Fox News as an act of aggression).
It’s impossible to miss that drag has been linked by modern conservatives to the “groomer” accusation they reflexively bring whenever children are put in proximity to gay people, as when their teachers are gay and mention that they have a same-sex spouse. But even on their own bigoted terms that doesn’t make much sense, because the appeal of drag is historical and ecumenical. From Shakespeare to soldiers’ shows to Milton Berle to Mrs. Doubtfire, it’s an accepted part of Western culture. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been on for 14 seasons. It’s not niche entertainment.
Sure, drag is associated with gay life. But so are, I don’t know, disco and Elton John and brush mustaches. I don’t see any of these guys going “How dare you play ‘Hakuna Matata’ around my kids!”
This is about the point where conservatives get all oh you know what we mean. But the fact that they can’t articulate the issue, and need us to project the meaning for them, is itself significant. The general conservative buzzword is that drag is “sexualized.” When called on it, they just go incoherent — take, for instance, this bit from some TERF rag:
Lumped under the LGBTQ umbrella, [Drag Queen Story Hour] claims to “celebrate diversity,” but what are children really being taught to accept? We are talking about adult men performing (really, mocking) femininity — often in provocative, sexualized costumes — the kind women don’t typically wear, certainly not when invited to read to children.
Gettin’ turned on, kids? This “sexualized” behavior wouldn’t give Quagmire on The Family Guy a boner. Also, here’s volume rage vendor Libs of TikTok trying it on:
That’s like how you hand a barista a tip, guys.
So why? This is the best I can come up with: Drag is theatrical. It’s an amplification of attributes and character. (When conservatives attack trans women, whom they consider to be “men dressed as women,” it’s a whole different kind of ugly scene from their drag hard-on.)
Drag is big, and God knows it’s ebullient. That’s really what makes these Story Hours and Brunches so popular with adults as well as children. They bring a spirit of play, friendliness, and invention — re-invention, really, which is probably a spirit a lot of kids (and adults) can use.
Conservatives hate anything that threatens the rigid class and sex structures they’re desperately trying to preserve in the face of growing social change. But the targets they want to attack are getting harder to hit — anyone can be gay, or gay-friendly, or trans, or okay with that and more; they might even find such people in their own families. So their targets have to be cartoons — either made garish by their mockery (though all their tropes for that purpose have gotten pathetically tired over the years) or by the size of their affect. Drag is right there in the spotlight, shining and a center of attention and joy. No wonder they ache to hurt it.