Some Republicans are trying to foment a moral panic about LGBTQ people supposedly “grooming” children for sexual exploitation, and they have made drag shows a centerpiece of their arguments.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has been particularly outspoken — he threatened to have child protective services investigate parents who take their children to drag shows, and he is trying to yank the alcohol license of a Miami restaurant that hosts drag shows with children in attendance. Republican legislators in states including Florida, Texas and Arizona are trying to ban minors from attending drag shows — as if that were the biggest threat facing America’s children. Some drag events have been interrupted by protesters and others have been canceled because of threats of violence.
So it was probably not surprising that my stepfather, Washington Post columnist Max Boot, struck a nerve with an article last week in which he celebrated the American values exemplified by such liberal havens as Provincetown, Mass., where our family spent a couple of weeks in August riding bikes, kayaking and going to the beach. “I even took my step-kids to a drag show,” he wrote.
This prompted an incredulous and acerbic monologue on Thursday night from Tucker Carlson on his top-rated Fox News Channel show, punctuated by his trademark sarcastic laugh.
“So,” Carlson said, “if there’s one sentence that kind of sums up the NPR revolution we’re living through and we’re going to say it again, ‘I took my stepkids to a drag show.’ Unfortunately, the stepkids were not interviewed about their perceptions of the drag show, but ‘I took my stepkids to a drag show’ has got to be the greatest boast of all time. Can you say that? Have you taken your stepkids to a drag show? Probably not. … They’re not taking their stepkids to drag shows at the Rust Belt diners, I’ll tell you that, but they will when we’re done with them.”
Carlson’s viewers echoed his outrage online. “Your kids are going to talk about you bringing them to a drag show to their therapist 15 years from now,” one person tweeted. Another wrote to my stepfather, “You dragged your kids to a drag show? Hilarious and creepy.” Other emails were full of abuse and even threats.
This outrage seems to be premised on the fallacious assumption that drag shows are strip shows or sex shows. I can’t speak for all drag shows — I’ve only seen one — but the one we went to recently was clean, wholesome, innocuous fun.
The star of the show was Kevin Levesque, a Canadian performer whose stage persona is Miss Conception. The show consisted of Miss Conception rapidly changing wigs and outfits to play villains from popular movies — the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz,” Cruella de Vil from “101 Dalmatians,” Annie Wilkes from “Misery” and the Stay Puft-Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters,” among others — while singing parody songs and telling jokes.
The audience was full of people of all ages, including many kids younger than me (I’m 16 years old). Miss Conception had great dramatic energy and flair. At one point she led a group of men and women, boys and girls from the audience in a conga line around the theater. There were a few mildly risqué double entendres, but there was nothing sexually suggestive or obscene in the whole act. It was billed as family entertainment — and it was. Any kid can find far more salacious and offensive material in 15 seconds online. (Trust me.)
I’m a debater, and I’m used to looking at both sides of an argument. I’m willing to concede that perhaps there are more sexually suggestive drag shows out there that would be inappropriate for young children. But, as I’ve learned, drag shows also have a long, storied pedigree.
Men were performing in women’s clothing in ancient Greece and Elizabethan England. Historians point to pioneering drag queens such as William Dorsey Swann, a Black, openly gay man who performed around Washington in the late 19th century, and Julian Eltinge, a vaudeville performer of the early 20th century who sang as a female impersonator. In the mid-20th century, mainstream television comedians like Milton Berle and Flip Wilson put on dresses for laughs.
Drag shows have become more popular and more widespread in recent years as LGBTQ rights have become more openly accepted. This has led to irresponsible accusations, with no factual basis, that drag queens “groom” children, preparing them to be victims of pedophiles. The assumption of many seems to be that taking minors to a drag show constitutes child abuse. But I wasn’t abused or traumatized at the drag show in Provincetown. I was entertained.
Those who criticize drag shows should go to one — and take their kids. They will probably be pleasantly surprised by what they find.
Alexander Vidra is a high school junior in New York City.