Kids should not be exposed to the adult themes in drag culture
By Roshni Riar, Staff Writer
With the growing popularization of drag in the mainstream, it’s been a great couple of years to be a fan of the art form. From watching new queens hit the scene, continually having a plethora of new seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race to watch, and witnessing well-known queens like Shangela and Willam make it to the Oscars—it’s certainly starting to feel like despite inevitable scrutiny and judgement, drag is becoming recognized as a valid and meaningful art and practice.
As drag reaches a wider audience, Instagram in particular is beginning to see the emergence of new, inspired queens. A few months ago, while searching for new queens to follow, I stumbled upon the page of a drag kid by the name of Desmond is Amazing. With an impressive 140,000-plus followers, it seemed like 11-year-old Desmond had really carved out a space for himself within the scene. I decided not to follow him because at the time, I had mixed opinions about a child doing drag. A few months later clips of Desmond performing with Drag Race alumni and appearing on Good Morning America surfaced. As of now, it seems like he—and many other emerging drag kids—is on an upward trajectory in terms of exposure and opportunity.
While I’m happy for Desmond’s success, the more I think about children doing drag, the less I feel I can support them. It’s fantastic that some families are open-minded and encouraging when it comes to drag. However, given the nature of drag with all its oversexualized jokes, themes, and inherently adult setting—most modern drag shows take place in bars—it doesn’t feel like it’s appropriate to allow a child into that mix and expect them to keep up with crass humour and jokes that they shouldn’t understand. Even when attending an all-ages drag show, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable when a drag queen starts talking about a Grindr hookup in graphic detail and there’s a preteen in the front row awkwardly trying to laugh along.
As drag kids gain more exposure, they are also attracting controversy. Earlier this year, a photo emerged of another popular drag kid Queen Lactacia posing with Violet Chachki—season seven winner of Drag Race—who was almost completely naked. Chachki was heavily criticized for posing for the photo, which was taken at the annual convention DragCon. While I agree that the onus was on her to reject it, the part I really take issue with is that this situation was even allowed to get that far. Plenty of queens wear next to nothing—in season seven of Drag Race, there was an entire naked runway theme—and it’s never been a problem when it’s in an adult setting. With drag, it’s better to expect the unexpected and nudity and sexuality are par for the course.
Sure, a drag convention blurs the boundaries around whether it’s truly an adult setting, but Lactacia’s mother runs his Instagram and was the one who snapped the photo and posted it. Instances like this make me wonder how much of a drag kid’s path is set by their parents being superfans of Drag Race and it worries me that their drag personas might just be projections of their parents’ dreams.
In a livestream a few months ago, Desmond is Amazing shockingly joked around about ketamine and even mimicked how to use the drug. While I’d say drug use isn’t something you should ever really joke about, you especially shouldn’t even begin to know how to joke about it as a child. I feel like even if his parents—who also run his account—go to great lengths to protect him from the presence of drugs and oversexualization, exposure to these aspects is inevitable in the industry that he is making a name for himself in.
It’s really inspiring to see families support their children to be their authentic selves, but the world of drag kids just doesn’t sit right with me, especially when that world overlaps and intersects with adult drag queens’ worlds. I don’t think that drag queens should have to tone themselves down or make their sets more family-friendly because of the possibility of drag kids being present. They are adults, in adult settings, who most likely didn’t intend to do family-friendly drag. It’s something as little as swearing or telling a story about a hook-up or a crazy night out—for a kid, none of that is particularly appropriate to hear, let alone be a part of.