The new trend of hosting “drag queen story hour” at children’s libraries has been touted as part of diversification efforts. The practice of librarians bringing drag queens to read to children has come under fire for sexualizing children. Librarians came to the defense of this programming, touting it as innocent and family oriented, but new photographs have emerged to belie that claim, of children obscenely draped over drag queens in a way that would be obviously disgusting if they were female beauty queens.
Such photos taken at a Drag Queen Story Hour event at St. John’s Library in Portland, Oregon circulated on Facebook. Parents complained about the event, showing the photos of children lounging atop of the costumed queens on the floor, grabbing at false breasts, and burying their faces in their bodies.
If the photos are innocent, showing inclusion and queer diversity, then why take them down? Even assuming these story hours were concocted with the best intentions, it seems crazy that librarians could be so blind to the reality that drag, as entertaining and culturally campy as it is for adult audiences, is not sex ed but sex entertainment, and not for kids.
There’s a push to rebrand sex ed as gender and sexuality ed, programmed for younger and younger audiences. The idea is that divergent gender identities are so prevalent that kids need to be informed about them so that if they feel they fall outside of the gendered identity of their biological bodies they have ways to talk about it.
This spring, Lindsay Amer, the host of YouTube channel Queer Kid Stuff, gave a TED talk called “Why kids need to learn about gender and sexuality.” In it, Amer offered what’s becoming a standard rationale for exposing children as young as toddlers to inherently sexual knowledge.
“Most parents want their children to become kind, empathetic self-confident adults, and exposure to diversity is an important part of that social and emotional development,” Amer said. “And gender non-conforming kids, and trans kids, and kids with trans and non-binary and queer parents are everywhere.”
Couched in the language of diversity, empathy, and kindness, which parents typically get behind, is how ideologues manipulate parental compassion because they see children as full participants in concepts of adult sexuality. If parents don’t get on board, they imply, then parents are doing their children a disservice. This is how ideas that feminists had been fighting to do away with come back in full force.
Take, for example, the drag story hours and associated events at the Brooklyn Public Library. “Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) is just what it sounds like—drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores. DQSH captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models,” says a library writeup.
Associated events include makeup tutorials, like this one at the Brighton Beach branch: “Kids and teens are welcome to learn how to apply eye makeup in a fabulous way during this one-hour workshop with Drag Queen Story Hour. Participants will learn techniques for applying eye makeup and then have the opportunity to practice on themselves! All genders welcome. This workshop will: Provide a safe space for kids to express their gender however they like. Provide a positive queer role model and affirmation for teens of all genders and identities. Teach a skill that kids can learn and practice on their own. All makeup and supplies will be provided.”
Makeup tutorials, photos of kids laying atop grown men who are wearing sexualized female costumes, and encouraging gender fluidity gives truth to the lie that drag story hour isn’t about sexuality or sexualizing children. Children are drawn to sparkles and glitter, and using those things to make sexuality seem like mere play is nothing more than grooming kids to be sexual objects, not participants.
Kids experience sexuality, but it is not for adult interference. Parents need to teach their children about their bodies, help them understand their emotions, and make sure they know that adult involvement in their sexuality is completely wrong and unacceptable, without exception.
Sexuality can be play for consenting adults. But sex play for kids opens the door to predatory behavior by adults and much confusion for kids. Sexuality is not glitter and rainbows, it’s not about unicorns, puppets, and makeup tutorials. It is serious, and children are too young to understand how serious.
When sexuality becomes sold to children as dress up, it glosses over the seriousness of the topic, the social, emotional, psychological, and physical consequences, putting kids at risk. Kids don’t have to be taught shame for their bodies or their sexual feelings, but there’s no reason to teach them that these things are the forefront of who they are.
Amer says: “Gender is about how we feel and how express ourselves. Sexuality is about love and gender and family, not about sex. These are all ideas children can grasp.”
Yes, they are all ideas children can grasp, because children can grasp any idea that you tell them to grasp. They have no frame of reference outside the one provided by authority figures and people singing songs with puppets.
But that doesn’t make these ideas correct. That’s why the Multnomah County Library took down their photos. Children laying on the floor with adult men dressed up in sexually provocative and fetish clothing looks like what it is: grooming kids for participation in adult sexual life.
Amer ends with a directive to her viewers: “Talk to a kid about gender. Talk to a kid about sexuality. Teach them about consent. Tell them it is okay for boys to wear dresses and for girls to speak up. Let’s spread radical queer joy.”
Drag story hour lets boys know they can wear dresses, but what does queer sexual liberation have to do with girls speaking up? Girls speaking up is not queer, it is feminist, and it is not even a little bit sexual.
Besides, this standard is never equally applied in this context. The moms who are speaking up around the country against drag story hour and the sexualizing of children in a queer context are being shouted down by men in dresses and librarians, and being told that sexuality is about rainbows and unicorns, not about real bodies, emotions, and responsibility. Moms know better, and they know how to use their words.
Sexuality is about sex. Children’s sexuality isn’t about makeup tutorials, and their bodies are not inclusive. Children need to know not about sexuality first, but about sex first, their rights, their privacy, and their responsibility to protect themselves from predators. That’s why the library took down the photos: men in dresses cavorting intimately with children is very obviously pedophilia in action, and it’s a horror that it’s being presented as education.