Drag doesn't confuse kids – it just exposes them to diversity

Chrissie Russell

I found pantomimes confusing as a child. Despite being reared on a diet of fiction that usually involved a group of children improbably solving mysteries (without any adult intervention), I found panto plot lines preposterous, and all that ‘He’s behind you!’, ‘Oh no he isn’t’, ‘Oh yes he is’ stuff was just tiresome and unnecessary because, well, he always was behind the person in question. But one aspect that never even really registered with me was that there was usually a man dressed as a woman on stage and a woman dressed as a man. It wasn’t called drag, it wasn’t called anything, it just was, and not one person batted an eyelid.

In fact, drag in various forms peppered my youth: Lily Savage, Dame Edna Everage, Belfast-born May McFettridge... so why on earth do some people suddenly seem to be whipping themselves into a frenzy about the ‘dangers’ of kids seeing drag queens?

A commentator in the US, Candace Owens, last week gave an impassioned speech declaring that parents who take their kids to drag queen story hour events are confusing their child. That they are “under-qualified to have children” and “should have their children taken away from them, because it’s child abuse.”

Since then the internet has been in full swing pointing out the ludicrousness of Owens’ argument. The phrase ‘kids are confused by drag...’ has been trending alongside memes, that gleefully point out some decidedly out-there children’s TV concepts — like the Teletubbies’ Sun Baby or that Cbeebies house with a giant face on it — all of which were unquestioningly accepted by young audiences.

Owens’ outrage was vented in response to the Drag Queen Story Hour event currently taking place in New York. But this isn’t an isolated incident confined to America. In 2019 a similar story-time event for children presented by drag performance group, Glitter Hole, had to be cancelled at a Dublin Library after facing backlash.

“We have been inundated with extremely violent homophobia from a frighteningly large group of bigots who believe that a few drag queens reading books to children amounts to child abuse,” said a spokesperson for the group at the time.

An initiative in UK schools to introduce bringing drag queens in to read stories was met with similar hostility over its ‘appropriateness’.

And once again I’m confused. I just don’t get the argument that drag will ‘confuse’ kids. I’ve listened to my seven-year-old blah on about the intricacies of Minecraft enough times to realise that I’m more likely to be confused than he is.

In my experience, kids get confused by inconsistency — when you say one thing but then do another — but have an amazing capacity for understanding even complex concepts.

In fact, of all of us, children are by far and away the best when it comes to accepting difference. I see it first hand in my own two young sons: they don’t see colour, gender, disability — and it’s joyous. I see my eldest son able to see a rocket in a cereal packet and of everyone, he’s the most empathetic and understanding of my other son’s learning disability. Whether it’s seeing two men dancing together on Strictly Come Dancing or watching Cbeebies’ Mr Tumble dressed as any number of female characters, he’s accepting and understanding. He might be curious but he’s never judgemental.

Why on earth would we want to project prejudice on to our children when it’s most definitely not something any of them were born with?

The case that it’s ‘damaging’ for young people to be exposed to diversity, to meet people who don’t fit within the narrow confines of gender stereotypes is also galling. Do any of those so loudly trumpeting the potentially hazardous impact of drag queens reading stories to kids have any evidence to support it? By contrast, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that making kids feel more seen and accepted could be hugely beneficial. A recent poll by Belong To found that half of Irish pupils believe that coming out as LGBTI+ would result in bullying.

Is exploring diversity and empathy with children really dangerous or something to fear? Well, in the words of every panto dame we all grew up with: Oh no it isn’t.

Sandra Bullock tells it like it is

There’s always an enviable glamour around the life of Hollywood stars. A sense that, from the huge pay-packets to the exciting creative work, the red carpet moments and the luxury homes — these are the lucky few who really have it all.

So there was something very refreshing in Sandra Bullock’s recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter where the Oscar-winning actress admitted she wasn’t coping.

“I’m so burnt out,” she said frankly. “I’m so tired, and I’m not capable of making healthy, smart decisions and I know it.”

She revealed that she was currently taking an indefinite hiatus from work, explaining: “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone’s schedule other than my own”.

Of course, not all of us have the luxury of Bullock’s financial security to facilitate a work break, but it’s a fact that half of Irish workers are experiencing burnout. How many of us are on the hamster wheel taking on ever-greater responsibilities because it’s what we feel we should be doing, rather than what we need to do for ourselves?

So often actor interviews revolve around the delight of ‘challenging’ work, the love of the craft and the quest for more demanding roles. To hear someone of Bullock’s stature confess that she needs to step back from her work and stop using it as a ‘crutch’ to seek validation is an incredibly powerful revelation and a valuable lesson in the importance of saying ‘no’ and one we can all learn from.

I’ll take trash talk over Love Island snore-fest any day

I’ve been sucked into another summer of Love Island but, after watching them all preen for hours nightly and incessantly pull each other for chats, I have an unquenchable desire for a middle-aged version of the Virgin Media show.

A villa-full of folk in sensible swimwear, wisely keeping to the shade and chatting about what day the bins go out — now there’s a show that would really turn my head. And let’s face it, it would be infinitely more entertaining than the snore-fest that is this current series.

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