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Culture War Roundup for the week of October 24, 2022

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A question: Is dressing in drag (that is, a man dressing like a woman potentially with makeup and so on) an inherently sexual act? I ask because it seems to me differing beliefs about the answer to this question are at the root of differences in belief about the propriety of events like Drag Queen Story Hour and perhaps related to trans issues more generally.

For my part, I think the answer is "No". This isn't to say that nobody ever dresses in drag for the purpose of engaging in a sexual fantasy, certainly some people do. Similarly I do not intend to claim drag events are always appropriate for children, I've been to ones that certainly would not be. There does not seem to me anything inherently sexual about someone in drag reading an age appropriate book to children though.

So I guess I'm interested in hearing from people who would answer the opposite way to my posed question and why they think so. Some ancillary questions: If it were a cis woman dressed similarly would it be equally inappropriate? Or is the fact that it's a man dressed that way central to the impropriety? Is there an implied inference that the only reason a man would dress in drag is for a sexual purpose? That seems like a failure of imagination to me.

Certainly something like Trey Parker and Matt Stone wearing dresses to the Oscars is not remotely sexual. Similarly, many college fraternity houses host events where obviously-straight men dress in women’s clothing as a gag. Your question also made me think of the film Sorority Boys and the TV show Bosom Buddies, as well as a number of the films @FiveHourMarathon named already. In every one of these scenarios, the act is not transgressive of hegemonic gender norms at all; in fact, I would say that each of these instances of cross-dressing actually explicitly reinforces traditional gender roles/presentation by presenting the image of a man in women’s clothes as inherently absurd, gross, and comical. The entire joke is “isn’t it weird seeing these dudes dress like women, look how ugly they are, how hilarious to imagine that anyone could actually fall for this transparently unconvincing charade”.

I would contrast these instances of cross-dressing with drag. Drag, as a tradition, has always been aggressively sexual, involving not only bawdy jokes but also a funhouse-mirror, highly-stereotyped presentation of female sexuality. The recent attempt to whitewash drag as a harmless family-friendly form of clowning is transparently cynical. As an analogy, if I invited Mia Khalifa to come read a book to a group of kids, it would be inappropriate and inherently sexual even if she spent the entire event dressed conservatively and never mentioned her career. This is because I could have invited literally any person on Earth to come do this, but I specifically chose her. I went out of my way to put a porn actress in front of kids, instead of, I don’t know, a firefighter or a trash collector or, hell, any type of performer whose milieu is genuinely family-friendly, like a juggler.

The kids are going to be curious about what the odd-looking person reading a book to them does for a living. They’re going to have questions about why this tall and broad-shouldered individual is caked with makeup and wearing women’s nightwear. They’re going to be tempted to learn more, simply as a result of the healthy natural curiosity of children. The choice to invite a drag queen specifically is engineered to produce this result and to increase children’s curiosity toward, and openness toward, alternative gender presentation which is heavily sexualized.

This is a really excellent post. One of my favorite things is 'someone articulating something you've long felt but haven't had the correct words to communicate that insight', and this is exactly that. Reported as a quality contribution as well, thank you.

I think this is part of what "grooming" discourse is getting at- it's almost literally gay recruitment, it's just that no one wants to use that word anymore. And drag queen story hour advocates should defend why they want more children to grow up to become alphabet soup of some description in so many words. Which, to their credit, they do, and I don't know why "groomer" advocates don't cite them.

I mean, James Lindsay is a prominent example of a “groomer” advocate who has, on many occasions, gone into painstaking detail about the academic origins of Drag Queen Story Hour, its connections to Queer Theory and radical Cultural Marxism more generally, and what it’s designed to do on a sociopolitical level.

To the extent that most “groomer” advocates aren’t doing this, it’s because they’re writing for/speaking to an audience that frankly isn’t smart enough or intellectually agile enough to really deal with the complexities of this stuff on a deep level. No amount of citing Judith Butler is going to animate the passions and political consciousness of normie burger-cons.