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Gory stories

It is no surprise that parents are protesting Drag Queen Story Hour

Artillery Row

For some years now, critics of the LGBTQ+ lobby have warned that its increasingly irrational and bullying behaviour would trigger a backlash. That moment may have come, and it’s not a pretty sight. In the town of Reading, a drag queen by the name of Aida H Dee recently had to be escorted from a library after raucous protests. Aida is one of a troupe of drag queens travelling around the country, as part of Drag Queen Story Hour — a controversial project which invites garishly clad adult entertainers into schools and libraries to read to kids as young as four.

By the time Aida got to Brighton the protestors had swelled to include various fringe groups desperate for publicity, from far-right nationalists to activists that hover round the ex-Labour leader’s brother Piers Corbyn, better known for his climate change denial and being anti-vaxx.

So, what gives? Many parents and feminists worry about Drag Queen Story Hour because it presents children, girls in particular, with an often highly sexualised stereotype of women. Prominent supporters like Stella Creasy MP dismiss such concerns, comparing drag queens with traditional pantomime dames who’ve been entertaining kids for decades.

That argument is disingenuous though. It’s not just that there’s a fundamental difference between children watching a performer on a stage and one visiting their library or school to read stories to them just feet away. Pantomime dames were also … desexualised parodies of older women.

Widow Twankey, for example, was named after a cheap 19th century brand of tea — something unlikely to be confused with anything sexual, which is more than you can say about the name of one of the first drag queens to visit a primary school in the UK. Flo Job’s visit to a school in Renfrewshire in 2020 turned into a public relations disaster after Flo’s instagram site was discovered to be full of highly inappropriate content like this:

Even worse, a day after the event, parents discovered their children’s faces peering out from between the inappropriate images. Flo Job had uploaded their photographs to the site, breaching a time-honoured convention of child safeguarding. Even if there hadn’t been a stream of such safeguarding breaches both here and in the US, there’s a more fundamental reason why the comparison between Drag Queen Story Hour and pantomime is ludicrous.

Advocates can’t have it both ways. On the one hand they claim drag queens reading to kids are a radical new way to teach inclusion but at the same time deny there’s anything new or unusual about this.

The truth is Drag Story Hour proponents always knew the project would be contested. In 2017 the founder of TIE, a Scottish inclusion outfit was interviewed about Drag Story and admitted, “you have to be provocative, quite blunt and in your face”. With five year olds?

How are boundaries maintained if parents’ wishes are disregarded?

In the original UK crowdfunder to launch Drag Story from 2017, performer Thomas Canham suggested it would offer kids an “unabashedly queer role model”. The use of the Q word links Drag Story to the mishmash gospel driving much of the LGBTQ+ lobby: queer theory.

There are good reasons to be concerned about the implications of queer theory for kids. Many of its pioneers sympathised with paedophiles. Gayle Rubin, mentor of Judith Butler, denounced campaigns against “boy-lovers”. Much of Queer Theory disputes the notion of childhood innocence, arguing kids are sexual beings.

Most supporters of “Drag Queen Story Hour” would not defend paedophiles, of course. But Drag Story champions often talk about boundary-breaking of all sorts with an enthusiasm which is deliberately unsettling. A 2020 article tracing the roots of Drag Story, co-written by the founder of Drag Story US Lil Miss Hot Mess, applauded “drag’s penchant for taboo” and suggested it “creates a pathway for … rule-breaking for children without watering down queer cultures”.

The essay also argues Drag Story could help not just to dissolve gender boundaries but “white supremacy”, colonialism and err … capitalism. It’s apparently well-positioned … to “make revolution irresistible”.

In its UK version Drag Story could have evolved away from all this nonsense. Instead it has crystallised it. In an interview the UK founder described how “children love it …especially when you’ve got a six year old boy wearing a princess dress which he isn’t allowed to wear at home because his dad doesn’t like it”. How are boundaries supposed to be maintained if parents’ wishes are disregarded?

Drag Story Time claims to be busting gender stereotypes. That’s a joke. The reading list is full of books that impose regressive stereotypes, like 10,000 Dresses which suggests that a boy who wants to get glittery is really a girl. Of course he is. Chop chop.

Woke warriors like Stella Creasy pompously demean those who protest about Drag Story, when it’s actually supporters like her who haven’t a clue about Drag Story’s weird roots, its weirder motivations and its bonkers ambitions. No sensible person wants the protests against Drag Queen Story Hour to spiral out of control. But there is no point pretending that the anger is without foundation.

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