I’m trying to imagine why a person would look around in this particular moment and decide that drag queens reading storybooks to children are a menace that must be thwarted.
I know the mind reels at the number of ways and places our kids can be harmed: Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for American children; COVID-19 variants continue to evolve; the American West is running out of water and kids are choking on wildfire smoke; close to half of all Americans live in areas with hazardous air quality levels; the proportion of high school students reporting persistent sadness or hopelessness increased by 40% over the last decade.
Persistent sadness or hopelessness.
I know some of the scariest and hard-to-pin-down threats live terrifyingly close, but they’re infuriatingly out of parental reach — and on the phones and other devices that are rarely more than a few inches from our kids’ fingertips.
I know our hearts are stretched and weary and sad.
But drag queens? Reading storybooks? And playing bingo? And creating balloon animals, along with joy and laughter and levity and a spark plus kindling for the imagination and curiosity and openheartedness and flexible thinking that will serve young people in every one of their endeavors?
Not a menace. If anything, a balm.
And yet. All around Illinois, libraries and cafes and other venues that host family-friendly drag events have been fielding threats and canceling shows and even cleaning up from vandalism. UpRising Bakery and Cafe in Lake in the Hills had its windows smashed in and hateful messages sprayed on its walls before it was scheduled to host “Starry Night Brunch Drag,” a sold-out event for families.
Similar threats and cancellations are taking place across the United States and the United Kingdom. In Florida, state Rep. Anthony Sabatini called for legislation that would terminate the parental rights of adults who take their kids to drag events.
“There seems to be a lot of confusion as to, like, drag has to be sexual,” performer Ginger Forest told the Chicago Tribune. “And that is not true at all. Our show specifically, we don’t wear revealing clothing. We don’t use profanity. We don’t do songs that are not children-appropriate. So, basically, what I would say is, go experience a show and see for yourself, how magical it can be.”
Magic like a certain kingdom in Florida? Where millions upon millions of parents bring their kids each year to delight in the company of grown-ups dressed as mice and ducks and chipmunks and princesses and whatever Goofy is?
Children don’t need everything to fit neatly into socially constructed rows. They need love. And wonder. And hope. And new experiences. And stories. And radical acts of kindness.
So do adults. Including the adults doing the performing.
Life is not an old-timey carnival, where the dominant culture gets to subjugate the folks they’ve deemed misfits or less than, and then charge admission for the crowds to point and gawk.
It’s reprehensible that people who set out to bring some joy and inclusivity and a sense of belonging to kids would be on the receiving end of threats. It’s ridiculous that policymakers would dream up ways to penalize parents who want their kids to take part in that joy and inclusivity and sense of belonging, parents who want their kids to know the full, three-dimensional humanity and range and experiences of the people with whom they share this Earth.
I don’t know how to make the world less scary to raise kids. I don’t know how to curb gun violence or solve the water crisis or even log in to Snapchat, which maybe isn’t even the thing kids use anymore.
I know we can love our kids through it all. And I know we can teach them humanity and curiosity and kindness toward others. And I know we can protect and cherish all the individuals who help us teach them humanity and curiosity and kindness toward others — no matter what those individuals are wearing.
If drag queen brunch is not your jam, you are perfectly welcome to sit it out. Drag queens will not hunt you down and force you to join their joyful reverie. They are busy enjoying life and, besides, your scowls would probably scare the children.
If drag queen brunch is your jam — or, just as importantly, if your jam is a world where drag queen brunch is open and available and safe for anyone who would like to partake — then now is a good time to show up.
Show up for brunch. Show up for bingo. Show up to counterprotest. Show up with a letter to the editor or a supportive post on social media or a voice of sanity and reason at a dinner party. Show up at the polls in November.
The fear and the hate are loud and organized right now. I suppose they always have been. That doesn’t mean they have to win.
Heidi Stevens is a Tribune News Service columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, find her on Twitter @heidistevens13 or join her Heidi Stevens’ Balancing Act Facebook group.
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