Drag shows, drag stars are not a threat to society

Jazzy Colbert, Reporter

Currently, at least 14 U.S. states have proposed anti-drag bills with Tennessee’s being the first explicit anti-drag bill to pass. Unsubstantiated hate against drag stars has been seeping into countless communities across our country. Drag shows and drag stars are not the threat to society as some Conservatives and Christian fundamentalists paint them to be.

The real danger to our children is not them being around drag stars or perhaps eventually choosing to do drag themselves, it is the threats to performers’ mental and physical health from people who preach that they are upholding “family values.”

Dylan Gallagher, senior and co-president of People Respecting Individuality, Diversity and Equality Club, said these laws are not entirely about drag since the way they are worded puts trans people in danger and could lead to a great loss of life.

Gallagher said drag is everywhere, from just wearing clothes that make you feel good about yourself or feeling confident that you are expressing your gender the way that you want.

“It’s somebody performing a musical number on stage, or a persona in your day-to-day life,” Gallagher said. “I grew up in the Dominican Catholic Church. That branch of priests, they wear long robes. I want to know what would happen in those states that are banning drag?”

For those who yearn for the days “when men dressed like men,” as if men wearing clothes that are traditionally feminine is a modern invention, I would point them to the Victorian era when men dressed in heels, which was also when the term drag, though unclear in its original etymology, came to be. Men have been wearing heels since the 10th century and makeup since 4,000 B.C.

These rules of how people should look and act if they are male, female or any identity in between are socially constructed, ever-changing and should be phased out in favor of whichever (or none of the above) gender identity the individual feels are.

Caitlin Fotsch, who graduated from California Lutheran University in 2022 and participated in PRIDE Club’s 2022 drag show, said she was inspired by the drag kings she saw at Cal Lutheran’s drag show before the COVID-19 quarantine because she was used to only seeing cisgender men dressing in female drag on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” at the time.

“It’s so hard to be a fun and expressive performer when you’re just dressed as yourself, so like, how cool is it to put on crazy makeup?” Fotsch said. “Not even necessarily as a certain gender, I did the green M&M.”

The primary argument I often hear against drag shows and drag stars is that they are “harming children” who witness them, using the argument that some drag performances feature a sexual component.

Gallagher said that not every drag performance is inherently sexual and many are family-friendly. He also said that your perceptions of what types of dancing are appropriate often depend on your upbringing.

Parents should control the content their children consume as they see fit, but should not persecute drag stars for hosting shows their kids are not allowed to attend. It is the responsibility of the parent to clearly express their moral boundaries to their children, not dilute drag stars’ right to expression.

It is contradictory that some U.S. Conservatives often preach the importance of small government yet advocate for government overreach in prohibiting drag stars from existing. The Revolutionary War started because the British tried to control the colonies in ways they had no right to. I wish passionate patriots would have the same attitude toward today’s diverse groups who are seeking acceptance.

“We’re literally just trying to have fun and do what we love,” Fotsch said. “If that’s jewelry, heels or putting on wigs, who are you to say otherwise? You’re becoming these hateful, bigoted people for telling other people what to do with themselves.”

If children are around drag stars, it is during “drag story hours” (when drag stars read to children at libraries and schools), not drag shows. The fact that these readings are in the process of being banned in many states demonstrates that Conservatives demonize drag in general and not just its mature aspects.

“A lot of times, this hate for the expression of gender and sexuality comes from some void people are trying to fill in their life by spreading hate with other people,” Gallagher said. “It comes from insecurity about your own sexuality or gender.”

A study by a team of researchers in the United Kingdom said drag shows lead to increased happiness and mental well-being of audiences, and they can help ease anxiety and depression. Those who are against drag shows are missing out on a potential pastime that could help them feel free and joyful.

The stigma around drag detracts from these positive mental health benefits for drag stars. The American Academy of Pediatrics said the rate of anxiety and depression among transgender and gender-nonconforming youth is several times higher than the rate of their cisgender peers. These individuals are more likely to seriously consider suicide, which the Psychiatric Times says is caused by structural discrimination in terms of society’s attitudes and the legislative system.

Gallagher said he has helped bring several incidents of anti-LGBTQIA hate to Cal Lutheran’s attention, and he hopes positive changes can be made for the transgender community and other underrepresented communities on campus before he graduates.

“I hate that the school keeps saying, ‘Well, it’s free speech.’ I’m like, ‘No, this is hate speech.’ [People are] threatening and frightening students, and nobody does anything,” Gallagher said.

Drag shows and drag stars are not threats to anybody’s life or well-being. The true threat is the hatred and violence drag stars are forced to endure from others who are adamant about keeping marginalized communities on the outskirts of society. Drag shows and drag stars provide something beneficial and beautiful to the world, and the consistent attacks on them are entirely bigoted and unjustifiable.

“Everybody across the world, across different groups and backgrounds, are struggling to be able to express themselves right now,” Gallagher said. “That’s something that we can all keep working towards, granting everybody that ability.”