Seriously, Christians need to relax about Drag Queen Story Hour.
We have an epidemic of predatory pastors, but, yeah, let’s worry about drag queens reading books to kids at the local library.
Drag is performance, part entertainment, and part social commentary on gender. Sure, we could have a high-level theoretical conversation about performativity, signaling, homonormativity, and gender fluidity, and I have my own critiques of drag, but that’s not the point here.
The point is many Christians are freaked out because they think drag queens care for children simply by being drag queens in a public space with children present.
Drag Queen Story Hour began in San Francisco in 2015 when Michelle Tea took her baby to library story hours, but found them to be quite heteronormative — focusing on and assuming heterosexual families. So she decided to create something more inclusive, especially for LGBTQ families. And Drag Queen Story Hour was born. The concept quickly spread to libraries across the country where it was well received by the children and families who participated.
Of course, not everyone was happy about drag queens reading to kids. A petition to the American Library Association to stop Drag Queen Story Hours garnered 100,000 signatures, but the ALA responded by reaffirming its commitment to freedom of expression and ideas.
“The right is using gender and sexuality fears to recruit new followers and distract from its own current scandals.”
Today tackling the drag queens reading to children is a practical strategy to prevent the politico-religious right from watching its own house. The right is using fears about gender and sexuality to enlist new followers and to distract from its own current scandals, including clergy abuse and insurrection. It’s much easier to play on old stereotypes about predatory homosexuals than to address the beams in their own eyes.
Certainly, sexuality is a component of drag. Many drag performers are gay men. Not all. Drag suggests that queer sexuality is not deviant. It’s not grooming. And, in fact, hearing this message early on may mean that children in the audience who grow up to be gay are better able to accept themselves and less likely to kill themselves, although there seems to be a feeling among many people on the right that it’s “better dead than fag”. Some on the right even want an America where queers are executed.
Now, that’s not to say the drag isn’t a threat. Drag is an incredible threat – to gender norms that subordinate women and vilify LGBTQ people – and that’s what the right is really afraid of, that drag could cause people to rethink gender and sexuality, that they could still lose their grip of power over heterosexual women and gender and sexual minorities.
Children themselves explore gender. Think of how many little boys might want to wear a princess costume before social constraints make them ashamed to do so. Many little girls want to be pirates and play baseball. Drag queens might help them think it’s OK.
“Incarnation is kind of a brake, isn’t it?”
You might be wondering what the Bible has to say about all of this. Well, embodiment is kind of a brake, isn’t it? At the center of our faith is a story of God taking over, fulfilling humanity and thereby redeeming humanity. The incarnation is not “God in a body”. The incarnation is God’s seal of approval on our humanity, a declaration of God’s radical inclusiveness to our humanity. It is a reminder, as our Quaker brothers and sisters would say, that there is God in every person.
Feminist theorists remind us that gender itself is a performance. Within our cultures, we learn to act like the sex we were assigned at birth. After all, there’s no set biological reason why women should wear dresses, paint their nails, carry handbags, and wear pantyhose. Nor is there an innate requirement for men to have every pocket, to have trouser sizes that take height and height into account, or to not have to shave their legs. .
We’re so desperate to strengthen this gender illusion that we distinguish fashion by which side of the shirt buttons are on, we charge women and men different prices for dry cleaning said shirts, and we have a separate bowling alley by gender.
Drag queens turned all that upside down. The same goes for the gospel, really. The good news is that in the community of God, we are all welcome to live as our authentic selves, neither male nor female, male and female.
Susan M. Shaw is Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. She is also an ordained Baptist minister and holds an MA and Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His most recent book is intersectional theology: an introductory guideco-written with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.
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