Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When I was seven years old, I was asked the, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. My response? A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
In all honesty, I wasn’t concerned with anything within the laws of reality, given my slightly obsessive interests in Pokemon and the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I observed the same imagination in many of my peers at the time as well as in today’s children, albeit maybe with slightly less unique aspirations.
So why, when discussing the effects of non-conforming role models on the youth, do grown conservatives project their own perceptions of sex onto kids?
One especially innocuous event has taken so much heat for simply introducing the existence of drag performers — not all of whom are queer, as drag is performance, not gender identity — to kids: Drag Queen Story Hour.
In the evolution of a child’s understanding of the real world, the expression and experience of non-conforming identity is a necessity for developing a more inclusive and just society. Events such as Drag Queen Story Hour, where a usually extravagantly dressed drag performer reads inclusion-oriented stories to kids, need more widespread promotion and attendance to lead to freer expression and generally happier people.
Yet the celebration of a non-conforming identity and conversations about sex are distinct ideas it seems some conservatives conflate to pursue an anti-queer agenda under the guise of caring about their children, who they think could or should never be non-conforming. The same can be said for the lack of specificity in conservative circles surrounding the differences between sex, gender and sexual orientation, or similarly, discussions of race, ethnicity and nationality.
This messaging has turned into action, which has caused some people to go to local Drag Queen Story Hour events and harass storytellers by yelling slurs and baselessly accusing them of being pedophiles. In one event, a person wore a shirt emblazoned with a firearm that read, “Kill your local pedophile.” On the heels of the 31 white nationalists arrested for conspiracy to start a riot at an Idaho pride parade, more anti-queer attacks fueled by inflammatory rhetoric are undoubtedly on the way against the most openly queer generation yet. These threats put both children and adults in more danger than any library storytime ever could.
We will never hear ridiculous ideas about how women grade school teachers who put up pictures of themselves with their husbands and kids are grooming children into the straight sex agenda. When those teachers talk to their young students about loving their significant other or committing to them in a healthy relationship, society rightfully celebrates a special connection. But as soon as these people like to dress up or love someone outside of the societally dictated norm, they have to “keep it in the bedroom,” or they are, as Tucker Carlson puts it, “sexualizing children.”
Beyond that, the theatrical nature of drag performances isn’t all that different from what society considers relatively normal non-sex related hobbies such as cosplaying, enjoying the Met Gala or taking part in Halloween. I haven’t seen any conservative parents lambasting teachers for wearing costumes on Oct. 31. And I mean, the entire sport of professional cheerleading flies under the radar of conservative ire because even though both drag shows and cheer have choreography, effort and art put into them, only one satisfies the heteronormative gaze.
After all, heteronormative and exploitative events such as child beauty pageants damage children’s self esteem and psyches but are not held to the same level of scrutiny as kids being read a story by someone who looks a certain way .
The messaging that being read a story can harm children shows conservative figures don’t care about your kids — they care about using them as pawns to stifle non-conformity.
Drag queens reading to kids about inclusion and diversity is a good thing. It normalizes acceptance of non-conformity and expressions of queerness. Media such as Kendrick Lamar’s new song “Auntie Diaries” illustrate how children conceptualize queer inclusion and acceptance as simply a fact of life. When Lamar tells stories through Spotify about his trans aunt or cousin, that’s acceptance, not grooming. When Shakira gives a stunning Super Bowl halftime show performance children everywhere in America watched, that’s a performance, not grooming. The kids who consume this media understand that, so why can’t conservatives get rid of their unfair double standards?
Drag Queen Story Hours and other queer-friendly events need to be promoted, attended and innovated to broader and further reaching measures, so children have access to the role models many of today’s discriminatory elders never had. This is necessary to build a more inclusive generation, community and society.
After all, kids don’t think about drag queens in terms of their sex lives, they think about them looking cool and telling interesting stories while, in another breath, trying to develop supernatural inter-species morphing abilities and living off pizza in the sewer.
Rohin Mishra is a freshman government and economics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.