Protesters against an all-ages drag brunch in Roanoke, Texas, pushed the town into the middle of a larger controversy over the issue.
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All-ages drag shows have become the front line in America’s culture wars.
Drag performances – classically, a show in which men dress in women’s clothing and perform under a female persona – are about as old as performance itself. History is filled with examples of men performing as women, from Shakespeare to Billy Wilder movies from the golden era of Hollywood.
Drag performance for adults was often something akin to burlesque. But in the era of reality TV, drag also went mainstream. Performer RuPaul’s 1992 radio hit about supermodels had kids across America singing the earworm “You better work.” His hit show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” burst onto television in 2009.
By this decade, experts were estimating that pride events were reaching record numbers in the country’s smallest towns. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was headed toward its 15th season on the air.
“Drag brunches,” where performers mingle with a mimosa-vibed crowd, could be found in most of America’s big cities.
Drag performers and experts say drag is about freedom of expression, about joy, about feeling glamorous and beautiful and outrageous.
But they will also tell you it can be about something more than entertainment.
For some people, drag is a proxy for LGBTQ pride, and a form of acceptance. To some, a drag show, particularly, is a vibrant demonstration for people who feel different, one that tells them: It’s OK for you to be different, too.
But somewhere in the midst of all that pop-culture acceptance, something got polarized in America. And while it wasn’t exactly all about drag performance, it was, people said, all about children.
To some people, it seemed more children than ever were questioning their gender, their own identity. And as the nation grappled with difficult questions about transgender rights, medical care for children questioning their gender and their parents’ right to help them, all-ages drag shows became a proxy battleground for these complex debates.
Because drag shows have traditionally featured risqué content, crude language and even nudity or partial nudity, many Americans questioned why all-ages drag shows even exist. Fed by conservative media, conspiracy theories erupted about these events: They aimed to expose children to sexual activity, opponents claimed. Or to make them transgender. Or lure them into the hands of sexually abusive drag queens.
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