Drag Queen Story Hour Branches Out
Groundbreaking Program Expands Its Outreach in Tolerance and Diversity
A hundred community members crowded my local library's public meeting space. Thirty or so toddlers nestled in the laps of their moms and dads in the rows of folding chairs. Teachers and administrators from local schools sat front row center.
A man in tattered clothing and a ragged cap appeared on a makeshift stage. He gave his name as "Jim Crow." His white face was covered with black paint. A large circle of white paint surrounded his mouth, making his lips look twice their size. "Jim" arched his back so that his buttocks protruded; in fact, his buttocks appeared to be padded with pillows worn under his colorfully patched and threadbare trousers. He waved his hands about wildly – "jazz hands." The children in the audience laughed with delight at Jim's screwball antics. Moms and dads smiled indulgently. School administrators took notes on their cell phones. I could just tell that some were already planning to book Jim for their next school assembly. Heather Truwright, our librarian and hostess, wore a triumphant grin.
Next. Mr. Bones and Mr. Interlocutor entered. Whereas Jim wore the rags of a plantation slave, Bones and Interlocutor wore exaggerated suits, with wildly colored, outsized, and clashing vests, jackets, hats, and gloves. They were clearly costumed as the flashy nouveau riche, too gauche and ignorant to know how to dress properly. Like Jim, their faces were covered with black paint, except for the exaggerated lips. In their case, they used red to emphasize their lip size.
Next appeared perhaps the most beloved character of all: Mammy, a very fat woman (pillows tied under the costume contributed to Mammy's huge breasts, buttocks, and hips) wearing a red-and-white rag on her head, a red and black wool blanket as a shawl, and a white apron. Following on Mammy's heels were picaninnies, amusingly costumed children, each carrying his or her own slice of watermelon while being chased by a puppet alligator. The picaninnies ran and screamed comically.
The toddlers in the library audience were fascinated by the visual stimulation and the broad comedy in this presentation, and their attention never flagged. The older kids improved their reading skills. The performance troupe read aloud from the children's classic Little Black Sambo, and then aided the children in making their own picaninny costumes out of construction paper, crayons, and Scotch tape. There was a supply of black face make-up, and white for wide lips. Kids had a grand old time blackening each other's faces and looking at their own minstrel show faces in a mirror.
I congratulated Heather on a successful program. She glowed. The troupe, though exhausted, and sweating under their black greasepaint, beamed.
"Folks," I said, "You've got a smash success here. And you're really teaching a very important lesson while having fun, aren't you? These kids have been exposed to tolerance and diversity."
"Jim" became excited. "Yes!" he agreed. "Tolerance and diversity is the whole point of our show. After all, here we are, a bunch of privileged white people, and we are, through the magic of costume and theater, showing kids how 'dress-up' can give you the chance to be something you are not."
"Exactly," I concurred, nodding at Jim's sage point. "Kids love dress-up, costumes, and make believe, and you are using the tools and activities kids love to teach them that race doesn't really matter. We can all be any race we choose to be. We can choose the racial identity we feel inside."
"Yes!" Jim concurred.
"Color doesn't matter," Heather intoned. "It's what's inside that counts."
"Amen to that," I said. "Listen. I understand that there has been some controversy around Minstrel Show Story Hour. Some bitter, hateful, fundamentalist Christians have protested."
"Some people are back in the last century," Heather said. "They don't understand diversity and tolerance."
"They call themselves Christians, but they preach only hate," said Jim.
We all nodded and paused to look sad.
Jim pulled at his ragged shirt. "See this? It's just a costume. This on my face? It's just makeup. Underneath my costume and the black greasepaint, I have a soul like everyone else. Why can't they understand that?"
"Hate and intolerance blinds them," I said.
Jim continued. "I follow a tradition that is centuries old. Mark Twain was a huge fan of minstrelsy. The Christian protesters don't respect art! What kind of society would we have without art, without dress-up, without make-believe?"
"A very bleak and lifeless society," Heather said.
A five-year-old girl burst into our interview. "When I grow up," she said, "I want to be a Mammy."
We all smiled.
"So, Heather, what's next? I know you have another innovation up your sleeve."
Heather winked. I was breathless with anticipation.
"We need something that will attract the boys, and, you know, boys just love uniforms, toy guns, rousing singalongs."
"Of course! And?"
"Wehrmacht story hour!"
And then I woke from this nightmare.
Drag Queen Story Hour was created in 2015 by Michelle Tea, winner of the PEN / Diamondstein-Spielvogel Award. Drag performers read stories to children in public libraries. They then engage in craft activities, for example making a paper crown.
If you google "Drag Queen Story Hour," you can see photos. Biological males wear high, exaggerated wigs, with blonde, blue, pink, purple, and chrome yellow hair. Some of the drag performers sport heavy beards. One of the drag performers has five, sharp, red-tipped horns coming out of his head. Horns sprouting from the head is often seen in images of Satan; five is the number of points on a pentagram. The beard on one drag performer is made of glitter glued to his face. All of the drag performers wear heavy, opaque eye-shadow. Another drag performer features teeth covered in glitter. His makeup, like that of many others, is so extreme it verges on the clown-like, specifically the kind of clown encountered in horror films. Of course all the drag performers wear artificial breasts, some enhanced with plastic googly eyes or clam shells. In some photos, you can view toddlers pressed against a supine drag performer, groin-to-groin, fondling the performer's fake breasts. The so-called "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence," a group of men who vilify Catholic nuns by dressing in sexually explicit, S&M nun costumes, read to children at the Boston Public Library.
In May, 2019, conservative author Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian-born convert to Catholicism, protested against DQSH in a much discussed First Things essay. On August 17, 2019, Dorre Love, a YouTube evangelist, posted a video of himself protesting a DQSH event. One does not have to share the above gentlemen's Christianity to see problems with DQSH. In fact atheists and at least one left-leaning lesbian can and do protest drag.
Why protest? Well, first, of course, there is the hypocrisy.
"They're just costumes." "What's important is what's inside." The same folks saying this about DQSH would call out Antifa if a costumed troupe showed up at a library to read for Minstrel Show Story Hour. Costumes matter, as do pieces of cloth, as all those who faint at the sight of a Confederate Flag would have you know.
Proponents of DQSH insist that it is all about "diversity," "tolerance," "artistic expression" and "the kids love it."
As mentioned above, minstrelsy is also very much an art form with a long history. Minstrelsy was indeed favored by no less an authority than Mark Twain. Minstrelsy was "one of the central events in the culture of the Democratic party." Respected entertainers from Bing Crosby to Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg to Bob Dylan have had some relationship to minstrelsy. The web is full of agonized confessions by blacks and whites admitting that they find Amos n Andy funny – though they know they should not. So, just because something is art, or traditional, or appreciated by its audiences, does not mean that it is appropriate for children at a taxpayer-funded institution. I am strongly in favor of Holocaust education, rape education, and finance education, but I wouldn't support any of these being presented to toddlers.
Kids love DQSH? I'll be they do. Kids also love candy, playing with their own snot and pooh, and punching each other. Maturity grants its possessor the ability to recognize that what kids love and what is good for kids are often two different things. Exploiting toddlers to make some political or cultural point is abuse.
Someone needs to ask one of the brainwashed nincompoops mindlessly spouting prepackaged soundbites the following question. What is the ethical valence of the terms "diversity" and "tolerance"? In fact, "diversity" and "tolerance" are both entirely ethically neutral. One can tolerate a neighbor loudly beating his wife and children. There's nothing ethical about that tolerance. Leftists celebrated the election of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to Congress. I asked them why. Only one attempted to answer. "Their presence increases Congress' diversity." "So what?" I responded. "If we elect a Nazi or a serial killer, would that not increase diversity, too?" I received no reply.
"Diversity" and "tolerance," when used correctly, are always followed by a noun, stated or implied. Diversity of what? Tolerance of what? That DQSH employs virulently anti-Catholic, S&M-themed bigots, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence reveals that DQSH is not only not tolerant of the diversity represented by Catholics, it contributes to propagandizing that will diminish Catholics and Catholicism in the minds of the vulnerable. Would DQSH employ The Wives of ISIS, a group of gay, white, American men dressed in hyper-sexualized parodies of hijab? The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence give themselves names like "Sister Hysterectoria." Would DQSH employ men who call themselves "Mohammed's Child Bride"? The answer to these questions reveals that DQSH is not about diversity or tolerance at all. It's about indoctrinating children.
"Any insinuation that we have an agenda to indoctrinate children misunderstands LGBTQ experiences and is rooted in homophobia and transphobia," insists the DQSH page. Translation: "You disagree with me? I will not adduce facts to prove you wrong. Rather, I will smear you a hater: racist, sexist, homophobe, transphobe." Christophobia is not a sin in the DQSH handbook. Fans of DQSH are allowed, nay, encouraged, to hate Christians.
Hating Christians is not enough. One must also train guns on them. One DQSH event featured snipers pointing their weapons at Christian protesters. The Daily Caller reported, "A SWAT team of two snipers was stationed on the roof of a public library in Spokane, Washington June 15. Their mission, along with 30-40 police officers, was to defend DQSH from 300 concerned mothers and allies protesting the event." You can just smell the tolerance.
In a June, 2019 First Things article, Ramona Tausz took on the "there's no agenda" comment. "Videos of past story hours reveal pornographic adult entertainment: provocative outfits, sexual dancing, and twerking. Some drag performers even wear clothing used for BDSM, such as dog collars …Two of the 'queens' featured in story hours in Houston … were later exposed as convicted sex offenders and pedophiles."
Tausz cites the research of Lisa Littman. Littman discovered that adolescents are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure to identify as transgender. Many of these adolescents later regret self-identifying as transgender, and "de-transition." De-transitioning is, of course, harder if the child has already been giving puberty blockers, had surgery to have key body parts removed, and taken hormones that have changed the child's body for the rest of her life. Tolerance? Diversity? Littman's work was suppressed. She was speaking truths that run counter to the leftist gender police code. She had to be punished and excluded.
More notes from the tolerance and diversity crowd. St John's library in Portland, Oregon chose to censor photos of a drag performer lying supine on the floor as children lay atop him, groin to groin.
It's always intriguing to watch the left's hierarchy of victimhood laid bare. In 2010, African American journalist Juan Williams humbly confessed that when he sees airline passengers in "Muslim garb," he gets "nervous." NPR fired Williams and NPR's CEO said he needs a psychiatrist. Williams' name was dragged through the mud. Leftists otherwise privilege African Americans, but Muslim identity supersedes black identity.
Leftists have similarly been bashing lesbians who dare to critique men who identify as women. The left is a faithless, fickle, two-timing ally. Men claiming to be women trump real women.
A lesbian in that lefty bastion, western Massachusetts, objected to a drag performance as part of a Pride event. In a June, 2019, Hampshire Gazette essay, J.M. Sorrell identifies as "a feminist first" and as "a social justice and cultural competence trainer." Sorrell's objection to drag has nothing to do with Christianity. She came to western Massachusetts, she writes, "in 1982 as a young lesbian and budding feminist, and I remain in awe of the women who established organizations and safe places long before I arrived … visitors are greeted with the sign: Northampton: 'Where the coffee is strong and so are the women.'" Sorrell's objection to drag: "I have a problem with men ridiculing women as sport."
Just exactly what the left really thinks of "tolerance" and "diversity" is revealed in the comments section. Poor Sorrell is raked over the coals in one fact-free, ad hominem post after another. One accuses her of "vindicating the patriarchy." Another says, "I hope you talk to a therapist." Another, "It is completely unacceptable for a TERF to complain. … You should be ashamed of yourself." TERF is a hate term directed against women who refuse to acknowledge males as women. TERF, of course, sounds like "turf," or dirt. The term "TERF" is often accompanied by threats of rape, assault, and murder. See here and here. One poster responding to Sorrell claims that she supports "Freedom of expression FOR ALL" and then says Sorrell is "asinine" for exercising her freedom of expression. Another calls Sorrell's piece "inflammatory garbage" and accuses her, simply, of being "white." Another poster who celebrates inclusion says, "No to TERFS!" Another makes an economic threat. Another supports this economic threat with "To all others commenting, thank you for brnging [sic] the conversation back towards creating a loving and inclusive local queer commnunity [sic] for all." Yes, loving and inclusive of all, except those with whom we disagree, whom we will turn into non-persons.
The funniest gripe: "Sensationalist journalism like this is exactly the reason why Trump got elected." Really? Really? Lesbians objecting to drag in a western Massachusetts Pride event is why Trump got elected? The pundits sure missed that one.
The remarkable, or perhaps not so remarkable thing is that in all this vitriol, there is not one single fact. "Drag is good for a Pride event because … " no one completes that sentence. They just denigrate the woman who dared to point out that "men ridiculing women as sport" is a questionable contribution to a Pride event.
Nothing throws drag's defenders into a tizzy so much as comparing drag to minstrelsy. The comparison is made often. See here, here and here. The reason drag and minstrelsy are compared so frequently is that they have everything in common.
Minstrelsy arose during slavery. Whites, the relatively empowered group, imitated blacks, the disempowered group. In drag, men, who are relatively empowered, imitate women, who are relatively disempowered. No, no one is arguing that women's status is comparable to that of black slaves. Please note use of the word "relative." Whites weren't just more empowered, they were also the ones doing harm to blacks, by enslaving them. Men, relative to women, are the ones more likely to do harm. No, I'm not arguing that all women are saints, and I'm not arguing that women today are treated anything like how slaves were treated, but again please note use of the word "relative." Men are more likely to beat, rape, stalk, and discriminate against women than women are to do any of those things to men.
In both minstrelsy and drag, the empowered person creates an image of a relatively disempowered person that is designed to replace any real image of the disempowered in the viewer's mind. I've never seen a minstrel show, but when I think of enslaved African American women, I don't think of archival photos of real slave women, women looking dignified but thin, worn out, and terribly sad. I think, rather, of Mammy: Mammy in Gone with the Wind, Mammy on Aunt Jemima packages, Mammy-shaped-and-painted ceramic cookie jars. Again, The Mammy image has been jackhammered into my brain by popular culture. You may ask, "So what? So what if you think of that Mammy image? What's the harm? It's a lovely image. She's maternal, caring, and pleasant." She's also always smiling and buffoonish. I reread Gone with the Wind for the third time recently. It's the most seductive book I've ever read – the pages turn themselves. It's also toxic in its depiction of African Americans. Mammy is pleasant and maternal, and Margaret Mitchell, more than once, refers to Mammy as an ape. Thanks to minstrelsy's aesthetics, that is the paramount image of an enslaved woman in my head: a happy, smiling ape, willingly giving over her life to white people's happiness.
Drag performs the same toxic work. Drag, just like porn, teaches the viewer: this is what a woman is. Given the expertly honed and undeniably stunning visual appeal of drag, its powerful images can supersede reality in the viewer's mind.
Minstrelsy wasn't just about entertainment. It was about obviating, for the white audience, any human fellow-feeling they might experience for black slaves. As long as the image in your mind of a black person is a ridiculous stereotype of a shiftless, comical, singing and dancing buffoon, you will not shed any tears over thoughts of those humans being bought and sold. DQSH is propagandizing toddlers just as minstrelsy did. DQSH is teaching vulnerable children that women are exaggerated, comical stereotypes.
Drag and minstrelsy are not the only artforms in which a member of a more empowered group presents an ugly stereotype of a member of a less empowered group. In Poland I witnessed a traditional, folk Christmas play. "The Jew" was played by a Pole. This Polish actor wore a beard, forelocks, yarmulke, caftan and tzitzit. He adopted exaggerated qualities a non-Jew would associate with a Jew. He was crafty, he liked money, and he tricked Polish peasants. At one point in the play, he was kicked in the buttocks and fell flat on his face, to great laughter.
In the 1940 film Jud Suss, Ferdinand Marian, a German, non-Jewish actor, played the part of a Jew. He, too, imitated exaggerated qualities Germans would associate with Jews. As with minstrelsy and drag, the goal of Jud Suss was to create in the viewer's mind a stereotypical image of a Jew that would overcome any encounters viewers had with real, live Jews. Joseph Goebbels himself ordered and oversaw the production of this film. Jud Suss was shown to Nazi soldiers before they carried out an aktion, or roundup and deportation of Jews. Jud Suss has been called the most successful Nazi propaganda film.
Members of groups with relatively greater power performing their stereotyped version of members of groups with relatively lesser power is a trend with a very dark history. Why, then, do leftists excoriate blackface and elevate drag? Because blackface was acted out by white men. White men are objects of leftist hatred. Drag is performed by gay men. Gay men, in the leftist victim hierarchy, rank much higher than minstrelsy's presumed-to-be heterosexual white male performers. If the only performers of drag were rich, white, heterosexual, Southern, Christian men, leftists would despise and condemn drag as vehemently as they anathematize minstrelsy.
On those rare occasions when leftists attempt coherent speech, rather than insults, soundbites and threats, to defend DQSH, their defense runs like this: there is this institution called "The Patriarchy." The patriarchy is evil because it assigns greater power, privilege, and prestige to heterosexual men. These men go on to rape and oppress women and destroy the lives of homosexuals. The patriarchy must be destroyed. Drag contributes to the destruction of patriarchy.
Drag's fanatical defenders could not be more wrong. Drag is misogynist and ultimately supportive of the very macho male superiority and female inferiority that it purports to undermine. Mind: when I speak of "macho male superiority" I'm not agreeing with drag's defenders' assessment of men. I don't think all men are macho oppressors and sexual hounds. Rather, I'm writing about how drag's defenders view heterosexual men.
Drag performers take as their starting point, their a priori premise, that macho men matter more than gay men and much more than women. Drag performers rely on presumed, stereotypical macho male contempt for women qua women for the power of their routines. Without this macho-male-on-top, female-on-bottom structure, drag would not make any sense at all.
Some drag performers want to pass as women and employ less exaggerated versions of wigs, costumes, makeup, and prosthetic breasts, buttocks, and hips. Others want to look like hostile parodies of those feminine ideals found in the fashion and cosmetic industries. Drag performers do not choose to look like average women. They choose to look like French maids out of Playboy cartoons rather than real cleaning women, "hot" school teachers rather than real educators, "hot" nurses rather than health care professionals in scrubs and sneakers who save lives, MILFs rather than real mothers, shoulders stooped and eyes baggy from lack of sleep and wearing sweat suits stained with blobs of regurgitated baby food. Drag performers do not choose to use prosthetics that supply them with real women's less than perky or asymmetrical breasts or stubby legs. No. Drag performers want either to look like, or to look like parodies of, young fashion models and actresses who have the visual power to sexually arouse heterosexual men. By insisting on focusing on that tiny percentage of women as the only female model worthy of their attention, drag performers privilege what they see as macho male's presumed sexual fantasies above all other values.
By acting out this sexual fantasy female, drag performers communicate two kinds of contempt: "Heterosexual men, you are so gullible. I am a male. I have a hairy chest, a deep voice, a penis and testicles, and yet I am able to arouse you sexually. What does that say about you? That you are a cheap fool and all your cant about the sacredness of the heterosexual marital bond is hogwash. Oh, and I can lead you around by your dick." Drag similarly insults heterosexual females. The drag performer says to women, as a twist on the old drag joke goes, "I'm more woman than you will ever be, and I've had more men than you will ever get." The ultimate compliment to a drag performer: "He is prettier than, and looks more real than, a real woman." The drag performer's goal is to replace the image of a real woman in the viewer's mind.
Drag performers' privileging of presumed macho male values, and their contempt for female bodies, is reflected in their stage names. Online lists of the best drag names include the following: Farrah Moan, Anna Bortion, Sharon Needles, Trixie Mattel, Avery Goodlay, Malestia Child, Annie B Frank, Phallic C---, Penny Tration, Panti Bliss, Eileen Dover, Lucy Stoole. Women are nothing but sexual objects: Farrah Moan. Women are whores: Eileen Dover. Women are toys: Trixie Mattel. Women exist to be used sexually: Penny Tration. Women's bodies are disgusting and diseased: Lucy Stoole and Sharon Needles. This last performer makes himself up to look like a female corpse and drools blood onstage. The American Library Association says that DQSH is all about "creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive society." I'd love to see them explain the names Anna Bortion, Molestia Child, and Annie B Frank to a roomful of toddlers.
Drag's stage routines and jokes similarly reflect privileging of presumed macho male values that view women as nothing but sex objects, worthy of contempt. In one drag performance, a man dressed as a woman prances about a stage, wiggling his buttocks and fluttering his hands. The message: women are trivial, almost childlike, but without a child's innate dignity. The drag performer is asked, "What is your aspiration in life?" The "woman" is overwhelmed. "She" can't answer such a deep question. She flutters her hands in confusion. She says she wants to be happy. A male voice tells her, "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Don't you want to be pretty like all the other girls out there? Your tits are way too small, and your c--- f---ing reeks." The "woman" is overwhelmed. Her hands flutter some more. She begins to cry loudly, bends over, and juts out her buttocks, as if to be spanked. Indeed, she reaches round and begins to spank herself. The destruction and humiliation of the pretend female is complete. The male audience guffaws and applauds. The "woman" has been put in her place, using presumed macho male standards for female worth.
Drag's denigration of biological females is carried to extremes by Vander von Odd, who in a Facebook video, dresses as a seductive female witch. Black leather gloved hands insert metal hooks into his back. He is then suspended from the hooks. Subsequent photos show close-ups of his purple wounds from having hooks implanted into his back. Self-mutilation is a real problem among young people. Is celebrating Vander von Odd good for toddlers? Just ask the American Library Association.
Drag performers' humor is built around presumed macho male complaints about women: women are fat, women are too old, women are sluts, women are stupid, women are dirty. One joke after another along these themes of fat, old, sluttish and stupid can be heard in RuPaul Drag Race Roasts. "You are so old your colostomy bag is made of wood … Happy ninetieth birthday … You're a whole lot of woman [directed at a fat woman] … You look like you are carrying twins [also directed at a fat woman] … You have lost weight but your vagina is still big … You are such a slut that gonorrhea clinics know you as patient zero … You have had more dicks in you than a urinal at Dodgers' Stadium. The only difference is they get cleaned up after a grand slam … You call your pubic hair the Garden State Expressway … You got carpal tunnel from giving out hand jobs … You are a tired ass ho." I could go on but you get the point. Women are old, fat, stupid, dirty, sluts. There are no jokes on any other topics. The mostly male audience whoops and applauds.
Drag's hostile contempt for women is also reflected in drag's vocabulary. RuPaul's Drag Race awards contestants for "Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent." Spell out the acronym. And then imagine the howls if whites had an Emmy-winning reality show that awards other whites for imitating blacks and exhibiting a series of qualities that spell out the n-word.
In a Guardian interview, RuPaul, perhaps the most high-profile proponent of drag, reveals the depth and intellect of someone who has devoted his entire life to clothes and makeup. The Guardian reports that RuPaul regards the Kardashians as "culture." RuPaul offers a spiritual brief for drag. "It's about recognizing that you are God dressing up in humanity, and you could do whatever you want." Women, however, are not God in the Church of RuPaul. Asked if he would allow actual women to compete on his show, he said he would not. In this arena where women are excluded, RuPaul reports that drag performers say of each other, "'Oh that bitch is c---, she is pure c---', which means she is serving realness … It's the same way that black people use the N-word."
Again. Please imagine the counterfactual dystopia you would have to utilize sci-fi magic to enter in order to encounter an Emmy-winning TV show featuring a white man who encourages other white men to act out hostile stereotypes of black people as sexually promiscuous, diseased, stupid, and frivolous. Imagine that man applauding his contestants referring to each other by the n-word. And imagine real, live black people barred from that arena – because it "serves realness" to keep blacks off a white-controlled stage that defines blackness and appropriates black vocabulary.
I'm one of many Christians who respects the full and equal humanity of gay people. Respecting gays and lesbians does not include allowing drag performers to propagandize children in taxpayer-subsidized, misogynist brainwashing sessions.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery
This essay first appeared at Front Page Magazine here
This essay first appeared at Front Page Magazine here